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Georgetown in March, Part I

Do the Hoyas really have a problem?

In recent years, March has been a difficult time to be a Georgetown Hoya fan. The Hoyas have famously set a record by losing to double digit seeds in five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, going back to 2008. After John Thompson III’s quick revitalization of the program and a Final Four appearance in 2007, this string of March failures has been frustrating, to say the least. The losses have been so difficult that more than a few Hoya fans have called for Thompson’s ouster, on the grounds that he cannot succeed in postseason play. A 2009 blown lead in an NIT game at Baylor and this year’s Big East meltdown to DePaul haven’t helped matters.

The goal of this article is to examine Georgetown’s recent NCAA performances one by one, and try to get a sense of just how egregious they were. A future article will compare Thompson’s tournament performances with that of other coaches. The aim is to try to get a handle on whether Georgetown has a real problem.

2008 Second Round – (10) Davidson 74, (2) Georgetown 70

The 2008 was basically the same squad that made the 2007 Final Four, minus the early departure lottery pick Jeff Green. It was a great team (eighth overall on Pomeroy) with a suffocating defense (sixth overall), that excelled at both making shots and preventing opponents from making shots. The Hoyas went 27-5, didn’t lose a game a home, and became the first team ever to be the top seed in the Big East Tournament two years in a row, losing to Pittsburgh in the final. They easily dispatched Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The loss to Davidson was devastating at the time and remains so. Primarily, it hurt because Georgetown blew a huge lead in the second half. But let’s be real here. Davidson was a small school who had never anything like this kind of success before, but it was not your typical ten seed. For one thing, how many teams out of the Southern Conference have a future NBA superstar (Stephen Curry)? The Wildcats finished the season seventh overall on the Pomeroy ratings, one spot ahead of Georgetown. Davidson would go on to pound Wisconsin (Pomeroy number 5) before falling one shot short of defeating eventual national champion Kansas. In short, Davidson was a really good team, much better than a normal 10 seed or one bid league champion. To add to the situation, the game was played in Raleigh, North Carolina, a virtual home game for Davidson.

This game might have hurt, but it wasn’t a bad loss.

2010 First Round – (14) Ohio 97, (3) Georgetown 83

The 2009 Hoyas had a great start, which culminated with a beatdown of top ranked Connecticut on the road in early January. From there the season collapsed and the Hoyas ended up in the NIT, where they blew a large lead in the first round at Baylor. The 2010 team was essentially the same, but Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Jason Clark came back a year older and with more success. Still, the team was inconsistent throughout the season, finishing with a 10-8 Big East record. For instance, they clobbered Duke, but lost to Rutgers, South Florida (at home), and Old Dominion (at McDonough Arena). The team played its best basketball of the season in the Big East Tournament, getting to the final where it lost a close a controversial game to West Virginia. This impressed the Selection Committee enough to give the Hoyas a 3 seed.

Ohio, ranked 79th in Pomeroy ratings, was certainly not the quality of Davidson, but was the quality of team that wins NCAA Tournament games every season. The reason behind their win in this game was simple. They shot the ball unbelievably well, particularly from three point range. Armon Bassett in particular, who shot just 34% on the season from long range, hit bad three after bad three. It was a completely fluke shooting performance from the Bobcats, and it buried Georgetown.

This was a bad loss, but one that was completely understandable and had all the hallmarks of a fluke. It was the sort of thing that has been known to happen in the NCAA Tournament.

2011 First Round – (11) Virginia Commonwealth 74, (6) Georgetown 56

Chris Wright broke his hand on February 23. In Georgetown’s last four games of the season without him, they were completely uncompetitive. He returned for this game, but he wasn’t the same. Under the circumstances, it was unlikely that Georgetown would win this game. It didn’t help that VCU, a mediocre shooting team, couldn’t miss. They would continue this hot streak through all the way to the Final Four. This was not a bad loss.

2012 Second Round – (11) North Carolina St. 66, (3) Georgetown 63

This was a close game, and if Otto Porter hits an open jumper at the end of the game, it goes another way. North Carolina was a pretty good team, 44th on Pomeroy, and their winning this game was hardly out of the question. This was a game Georgetown was favored in, but probably had a one in three chance of losing.

2013 First Round – (15) Florida Gulf Coast 78, (2) Georgetown 68

Of all of Georgetown’s recent NCAA losses, this is by far the most inexplicable. Florida Gulf Coast looked like a typical 15 seed. They had lost to Lipscomb twice and East Tennessee St. But, they were playing their best basketball at the end of the season, storming through the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, including a blowout win at Mercer in the Championship Game.

The Hoyas got out to an early lead, mostly due to successful driving by Markel Starks. But Starks got in foul trouble, and FGCU quickly took the lead, and eventually pulled away on a 21-2 run after halftime. FGCU famously converted several fast break dunks, and John Thompson III never made the adjustment to get an extra man back in transition defense. The Hoyas eventually came back with some increased defensive pressure which used Georgetown’s athletic advantages, but it was too late.

This loss was by far the worst of recent March’s. But, let’s not overstate the meltdown. Otto Porter played the worst game of his career, going 5-17 from the field and seemingly suffering from butterfingers on several lose balls. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera also struggled, going 3-11. If those two have their normal games Georgetown wins.

So in conclusion, we see that of the five recent Georgetown meltdowns, two came in games where Georgetown, if they shouldn’t have even been considered the underdog, had substantial chances of losing the game under any circumstances. One came in a close game to a very good team. Another one was the direct result of ridiculously fluky shooting. Only last year’s game against Florida Gulf Coast possibly points to any wider problem, and you can’t make any conclusions on a sample of one.

A closer analysis of recent March performances points to bad fortune more than any systemic problems in leading to Georgetown losses. Next time, we’ll look at other coaches and see if John Thompson III is unique in suffering from this problem.