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Basketball continues to fall as post-season approaches
“We’re as good as we want to be.”
That was Greg Monroe’s assessment of the Georgetown Hoyas after their emphatic 103-90 victory over Villanova last month. Georgetown had just run down the country’s second ranked team, and their potential seemed limitless.
Almost a month later, a ceiling has clearly been placed on that potential. After seeming to have the inside track to a top Big East finish and a double-bye in the conference tournament, the Hoyas, having lost four of their last five games, now must decide if they’re good enough to be in the top half of the Big East.
That is the question facing Georgetown, at least in the short term. Win against Cincinnati this Saturday, and the Hoyas are guaranteed a top-8 seed and first-round bye in the Big East Tournament. Lose, and they’ll be playing at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and looking at a five game road to the championship.
It is a position that seemed unfathomable as the Hoyas celebrated their victory over the Wildcats. But for all its top team bona fides—wins over Duke and at Pittsburgh, for instance—Georgetown has proven to be maddeningly inconsistent, as evidenced by losses to South Florida and Rutgers. The Hoyas are unquestionably talented, but remain an enigma—not a descriptor any team wants in early March.
The season is far from over for the Hoyas, but they don’t have much time to reverse their slide. Heading into the postseason, Georgetown will have to quickly resume playing the kind of basketball that caused some to talk of the team as a Final Four contender. That means again displaying the trust and synchronization so evident earlier in the season.
“I just think the trust comes from being around each other all the time and knowing what people are capable of and what they’re good at,” junior guard Chris Wright said. “I have the utmost respect for everybody on the team, and I trust everybody to the fullest in any situation.”
That kind of cohesiveness was missing in Georgetown’s past two games, back-to-back double-digit losses. Of course, that may have something to do with the absence of junior guard Austin Freeman, who was severely limited by illness against Notre Dame and completely unavailable against West Virginia.
Freeman, the team’s leading scorer, was so sick that he had to return to campus the day before the West Virginia game and was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital, where he was diagnosed with diabetes, according to a Washington Post report.
If there was any silver lining in the loss of Freeman, it was that it allowed Georgetown to address an issue that was a concern even at the highest points of the season, their lack of depth. The Hoyas’ freshman-heavy bench saw a lot more playing time in the absence of Freeman, and used it to showcase their continued development.
Freshman forward Hollis Thompson got his first career start in place of Freeman against Notre Dame and took advantage of the opportunity, scoring 12 points.
Of course, these are the kinds of accomplishments teams can take pride in during November or December. Georgetown’s coach knows that a good game from an inconsistent freshman pales in comparison to a bad loss.
“Hollis might have played well,” John Thompson III said after that game. “I’m having a hard time finding any bright spots right now.”
Freshman guard Vee Sanford had a coming out of his own against West Virginia, with nine points in 21 minutes, both career highs.
“Vee has been coming along since the first day of practice,” Freeman said last week. “He’s been working his butt off and doing whatever he can to help himself get better and to help this team get better.”
If the Hoyas have a healthy Freeman back, and the freshmen can continue their recent strong play, Georgetown might surprise a few people in New York and in the NCAA tournament. But before that, they must take care of business against Cincinnati.
The Bearcats will be no pushover, especially as the desperate squad claws to keep its postseason hopes alive. A 77-73 loss to Villanova on Tuesday likely pushed Cincinnati off the NCAA tournament bubble entirely, but by winning Saturday and making some noise in the conference tournament, freshman Lance Stephenson and company could be right back in it.
At this point, there will be no easy games for Georgetown. The Hoyas will be getting everyone’s best shot, and their margin for error will become nonexistent. But ultimately, this team’s destiny is in the players hands. As they know, they’ll go as far as they want to go.