March Madness

By the

March 15, 2001

This week the cover story is in several parts. You can read it all or pick and choose. Each subheading is an independent story. Most of it was written for our regular edition, Thursday, but the first section is the latest update on what the Hoyas have been doing. Enjoy!

Burton lifts Hoyas past Arkansas, 63-61

by Cara Takakjian
The Georgetown Hoyas defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night in Boise, Idaho. Senior small forward Nat Burton hit a running left-handed layup just before the final buzzer, breaking a 61-61 tie and ending a close contest.

The game was the first Georgetown has played in the NCAA Tournament since 1997. It is also the first Tournament appearance since Craig Esherick replaced John Thompson as Head Coach.

Junior point guard Kevin Braswell led the Hoyas with 12 points. He was joined in double figures by senior guard Anthony Perry and first-year forward Mike Sweetney, both of whom scored 10 points. Sweetney also had 12 rebounds, leading the Hoyas.

Georgetown’s next game is Saturday at 6 p.m. against Hampton.

Seton Hall Disaster; Hoyas lose 58-40

When Georgetown reached the Big East quarterfinals in 2000, they scored one of the program’s best wins since Allen Iverson left town. One year later, in the same round, the Hoyas suffered a loss of comparable magnitude.

The Hoyas scored only 40 points, tying the lowest ever in the Big East Tournament. Georgetown was on the other side of the previous 40-point debacle in 1993 when they held Miami to only 40 points.

Despite the final outcome, Georgetown dominated the first portion of the game and held a one-point edge at the half, 26-25.

On the opening tip, first-year power forward Mike Sweetney gained possession and quickly passed off to the wing to sophomore shooting guard Demetrius Hunter. Hunter took the ball straight to the basket and drew a foul. He converted only one of two free throws.

From there, the Hoyas controlled the game with their defense, taking a 10-2 lead. Senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje effectively guarded Seton Hall’s quick forward Eddie Griffin, who beat out Sweetney for Big East Rookie of the year. Boumtje-Boumtje also controlled the glass, grabbing six of his seven rebounds in the first half?all on the defensive end.

Boumtje-Boumtje also fared well on offense, using his mid-range jumper to collect six points early in the half.

Senior guard Anthony Perry and senior big man Lee Scruggs chipped in with some good early shooting.

Scruggs’ second three pointer made the score 24-17 with 4:24 to play in the half. Then, the Hoyas melted down on offense.

Boumtje-Boumtje scored the team’s only basket for the rest of the half on what was supposed to be a lob pass to Sweetney.

The poor offense continued and intensified in the second half. Seton Hall slowly drew confidence form the Hoyas’ struggles and put together an impressive run, scoring the first 11 points of the half.

After a free throw by senior small forward Nat Burton, Georgetown went two minutes before Scruggs hit the team’s first field goal of the half at the 13:10 mark.

Scruggs and, to a lesser extent, Burton were the only Hoyas to make an impact in the second half, as the two scored 10 of the team’s 14 ponts. The 14 point total was the lowest ever in a half at the Big East Tournament.

After the game Head Coach Craig Esherick described the second half as similar to a bad dream.

Rookies must start Hoyas up
(by Cara Elizabeth Takakjian)

At the start of the season, it was evident that the five new members of the Georgetown Hoyas were going to play an important part in deciding how the season would turn out. The only questions were who was going to play what part and how well they would play it. Now that the post-season is here, we know what to expect from the rookies by looking back on their regular season accomplishments.

First-year power-house forward Mike Sweetney has taken the spotlight on this year’s Hoyas’ team. His consistency on both the offensive and defensive ends makes him a reliable presence for Head Coach Craig Esherick to count on. Sweetney, who was picked for this year’s Big East All-Rookie Team, is one of the best all-around players on the team. He leads the team on the boards, with an average of over seven per game, and is a strong defensive force who is able to intimidate most opponents. Offensively, Sweetney is rarely off the mark, leading the team with an average of 13 points per game. He is always aware and ready to score, which he does on a consistent basis.

Sweetney had an unusual game against Seton Hall last Thursday, scoring only six points and contributing only two rebounds. He also turned the ball over five times, leading the team in turnovers. Sweetney’s poor play was uncanny and unexpected, showing the Hoyas’ weakness of relying on the rookie’s talents and their inability to find help elsewhere if needed. If Sweetney has a repeat performance against Arkansas, it will be hard for Georgetown to find the win they’re looking for.

Although Esherick stressed his shooting ability in the pre-season as something to watch, it has been first-year small forward Gerald Riley’s defense that has propelled him into the starting lineup for the Hoyas this season. Although he has a tendency to commit unnecessary fouls, Riley proved especially helpful in setting the rhythm for defending difficult opponents, such as Preston Shumpert of Syracuse. Riley has shown glimpses of his shooting ability, however he has never really demonstrated his skill fully. He was second in scoring to Sweetney at the beginning of the season, but fizzled as Georgetown began playing against Big East teams. Perhaps next year, with more confidence and experience with the team, Riley will feel comfortable enough to take some risks and make some of the shots that Esherick talked about at the beginning of the season.

Sophomore center Wesley Wilson, who did not play last year because he was academically ineligible, has played a key role this season. Mid-season, he played on a consistent basis, providing tremendous defense for the Hoyas and great scoring help. Recently, he hasn’t seen much action due to senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje’s outstanding play, but he was responsible for a few wins during the regular season that were necessary to get the team into the tournament. Hopefully, Wilson will see some floor time this post-season. If Boumtje-Boumtje keeps playing so well, it is possible that the Coach will give the senior the opportunity to strut his stuff and leave Wilson until next year.

First-year guard Ramell Ross has had few and sparse appearances with the Hoyas’ team this season. He most successful effort was against Howard early in the season, and he hasn’t seen much action since.

First-year forward Omari Faulkner has also seen very little action this season. Because the team has reliable small forwards, he hasn’t been needed and, therefore, has seen the least amount of playing time.

None of the players have any NCAA tournament experience, but Coach Esherick doesn’t see that as problematic. He has been mentally preparing his team for the tournament since day one and is counting on his juniors and seniors to help with the “maturity level” of the entire team.

Without the rookies, this year’s Hoyas wouldn’t be where they are today. Georgetown knows it can count on Sweetney. If the other rookies don’t make a contribution and Sweetney doesn’t play his best, it will be hard for the team to get past the first round.

Guards must restore Hoya order

Sophomore Demetrius Hunter and junior Kevin Braswell are usually a dynamic guard combination. Braswell is the quick playmaker, all-around shooter and Georgetown’s all-time steals leader. Hunter is the high rising dunk specialist, three-point specialist and a tough one-on-one defender.

Their improvement this season has driven Georgetown to a new level and given Head Coach Craig Esherick tremendous flexibility with the rest of his lineups.

Last Thursday, Hunter and Braswell crashed against Seton Hall. The guard combo missed 12 of 13 shots and had nearly as many turnovers, four, as assists, five. Beyond the statistics, Hunter and Braswell lost control of the game.

In Braswell’s post-game words, “It just didn’t happen today.”

If the Hoyas hope to advance far in the Tournament, it has to happen for both Braswell and Hunter. Arkansas will test Georgetown’s ability to deal with pressure and Iowa State, the team that will likely await the winner of the Georgetown-Arkansas matchup, boasts one of the top point guards in the nation.

If Braswell and Hunter don’t play their games, the Hoyas don’t have much of a chance to advance.

For Braswell, that means balancing himself. He has to get his teammates involved, but he also has to make sure he has a dynamic impact on the game.

Since he arrived on campus, Braswell’s transition from being a shooting guard in high school to a point guard in college has been a hot topic. The more important balance for Braswell isn’t between shooting and passing, it’s between turning up the tempo and managing the game.

Braswell and the Hoyas are both at their best when they are on the brink of running through brick walls. Georgetown has size, but even their tallest players are at their best in an up-tempo environment. When the tempo is fast, the Hoyas don’t have to dwell on a few missed shots.

For the Hoyas to get hot and go deep into the Tournament, they need their guards to do even more. They don’t need to play like Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson, but they need to get the rest of the Hoya backcourt, including the musical-chairs-small-forward rotation, in control.

Early in the season, Braswell unleashed rookie Gerald Riley’s open court scoring ability. Lately, Riley has been missing in action. Braswell is the one that has to either get Riley on track or make sure he doesn’t get the ball.

A corollary to this issue is managing sophomore Victor Samnick. At times, Samnick looks like a center on the glass and a guard with the ball. Unfortunately, he has a remarkable ability to follow up good plays with turnovers and misses. When Samnick gets too excited after a rebound, it’s up to Braswell and Hunter to take the ball away before the next turnover.

Hunter should either regain his shooting touch or find himself an energizing dunk. The x-factor in his game is how he will perform when Braswell needs a rest. Against Seton Hall, things went so badly when Braswell went to the bench with the Hoyas still in control of the game that Esherick had to call a timeout specifically to get Braswell back in the game.

Esherick said on Sunday that he will try and keep the ball in Braswell’s hands against the vaunted Arkansas press, depending on what type of pressure Arkansas uses.

Esherick also indicated that he would use senior Nat Burton at small forward because he is the “better ball handler.” Braswell and Hunter will have to be on their game when Esherick goes back to Riley and Samnick.

Man in the middle

There are several ingredients to Georgetown’s success formula, but the player whose overall play has most closely mirrored the general state of the team is senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.

Early in the season, he sacrificed his statistics, but dominated on defense. With him waiting near the basket, the Hoyas had free reign to turn up the pressure defense and extend full-court pressure on the perimeter.

Boumtje-Boumtje also had a couple of stand-out offensive performances such as 28 points in the season opener against Bethune-Cookman.

Midway through the season, Boumtje-Boumtje’s inconsistent offense became more of a problem as the Hoyas needed his offense against better opponents. Against Notre Dame and Syracuse in late January he all but disappeared. Head Coach Craig Esherick openly questioned whether Boumtje-Boumtje should start.

By the end of the season, he was back on track. He scored double figures in the final four games of the regular season. On defense, the intensity returned and against Syracuse he had the entire MCI Center crowd on its feet in awe of his shot blocks.

Against Seton Hall last week, Boumtje-Boumtje led the Hoyas to an early lead. When the team struggled, Boumtje-Boumtje went to the bench as the Hoyas tried small lineups. Though the circumstances were beyond his control, Boumtje-Boumtje mirrored the team.

Lost in the team’s poor performance was Boumtje-Boumtje showing off one of his most under-rated skills?perimeter defense. In the first half, he drew the matchup against Seton Hall’s quick forward Eddie Griffin. Boumtje-Boumtje more than held his own as Griffin was held in check until the second half when Boumtje-Boumtje played less.

In the post-season, look for Boumtje-Boumtje to continue his recent inspired play. The keys for the Hoyas are Boumtje-Boumtje playing with the fire that energizes his teammates on defense and his ability to mesh with junior point guard Kevin Braswell on offense.

If Boumtje-Boumtje isn’t out on the floor at the end of the game, it’s likely the Hoyas have lost. They follow his lead.

After Seton Hall loss, mental health is crucial to Hoyas’ chances

Georgetown’s players and coaches are putting the best face on their loss to Seton Hall. After a bad loss, a team needs to convince itself that it won’t happen again. It sounds like the Hoyas have done just that.

Head Coach Craig Esherick went so far as to suggest that the loss only seemed particularly bad because this year’s team is better than the Hoyas of the past three years. He said that losing to Vilanova in the 1985 NCAA Championshp game was a more traumatic loss. In essence, the Seton Hall loss is not that different from any other. It just felt worse because the Hoyas had a realistic shot to win the Big East.

As Esherick said after the loss, “We’ve played poorly before.”

The Hoyas can bounce back. They did it this season on several occasions, most notably by beating Syracuse after losing to St. John’s (in New York, the same place where they lost to Seton Hall). They also did it last season by winning two games at the Big East after a blowout home loss to Notre Dame in the final regular season game of the year.

The key to a Hoya revival against Arkansas is in the brains of the players. Georgetown is solid on both sides of the ball, but the players’ struggles in one area frequently carry over to the other side of the court. The Hoyas almost always have a stretch where their offense bogs down. Reacting positively during that stretch is crucial.

Against Seton Hall, the Hoyas reacted very poorly. Instead of frustrating the Pirates with their domination of the glass, the Hoyas frustrated themselves with poor shooting. Against Arkansas, Georgetown will likely have some similar stretches of poor shooting countered by rebounding dominance. The mental fallout will determine who wins.

So, the burning question is ‘how will they react?’ More often than not, the Hoyas respond well to having their backs against the wall. The key variable is whether they have put the demons of Seton Hall behind them. Sunday, senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje said that the Hoyas “put away” their memories of Seton Hall and are “moving ahead.”

“We try and do what we do best,” Boumtje-Boumtje said. “[We] play hard, play our game and hopefully that will pay off.”

Boumtje-Boumtje will be right if the Hoyas learn from their season and turn frustration with shooting into increased intensity on defense and on the glass.

Matchups breakdown

Point Guards
The matchup at point guard is deceptive: Georgetown’s Kevin Braswell is a much better player than Arkansas’ Brandon Dean, but Dean will get major help off the bench from T.J. Cleveland and Charles Tatum.

Even so, Braswell should have his way in the one-on-one matchups. Fatigue will be an issue here, but it won’t sink the Hoyas.

The bigger issue is what happens in the one to five minutes that Braswell goes to the bench. The potential for a disastrous little moment is real. Head Coach Craig Esherick must make sure that when Braswell sits, Hunter has to get as much help as possible. That means Perry must play at shooting guard and Nat Burton must play at small forward when Braswell is out.

One subplot will be whether the Hoyas go with their press. Using it will make Braswell more tired, but it might expose the fact that Arkansas’ guards, while good on defense, aren’t top-of-the-line ball handlers themselves. Braswell is the all-time steals leader at Georgetown. The Razorbacks can’t press if he comes up with a steal.

If the game is close at the end, the Hoyas should be confident with the ball in Braswell’s hands. Arkansas can’t say the same about its situation. Edge: Hoyas

Shooting Guards
Demetrius Hunter is always a major x-factor for the Hoyas. He is always good on defense and will find some points, but when he gets a big dunk the whole team plays better. Also, when Hunter shoots three pointers it is in the usual rhythm of the Georgetown offense. If he knocks a few down, Georgetown’s big men will dominate inside.

Arkansas’ Teddy Gipson is very similar to Hunter. He’s a slasher and picks his spots from the three-point range. Gipson is left handed, just like Kevin Braswell, so Hunter shouldn’t be surprised by that.

Both Hunter and Gipson are backed up by players who used to start at shooting guard. Anthony Perry (pictured) can give Georgetown a major lift off the bench either by grabbing steals or knocking down shots from all over the court. For Arkansas, Jannero Pargo has not had a great season, but at the least he is another body allowing the Hogs to trap and press. Edge: Even

Small Forwards
Small forward is not the strength of either team. Gerald Riley is not the player he was early in the season. Maybe a non-conference opponent with limited scouting will be just what Riley needs to get going again.

If Riley gets hot, he is a true small forward that can do some of everything?meaning Esherick can have a good mix of size and guard-like ability.

If Riley falters, Esherick has more than one option in senior Nat Burton and sophomore Victor Samnick. Esherick has already indicated that Burton will get more time than usual to help counter the press: In addition to his superior ball handling, Burton has a better understanding of court spacing than Riley or Samnick.

Also, Burton, despite his lack of height at 6’4”, is a natural rebounder. Given enough minutes, he could be one of the team’s top three rebounders. If Esherick needs him, Samnick is a rebounding machine and a great defender.

Arkansas starts Carl Baker, who is just as inconsistent as Riley. At 6’8”, his size could give the Hoyas some problems when Burton is in the game, but Burton, once described at a preseason interview as an animal in the weight room, has the strength to keep Baker from going where he wants. Edge: Hoyas

Power Forwards
Mike Sweetney and Lee Scruggs both could have a future in the NBA, but Arkansas’ Joe Johnson might be a better college player. His physical dimensions (6’8”, 225 pounds) are similar to those of Syracuse’s Damone Brown, who gave Sweetney problems on the perimeter. Scruggs also struggles on the perimeter, so Georgetown may need Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje to help out on this matchup.

On the other side, Johnson will have problems if he ever gets matched up one-on-one against either Sweetney or Scruggs. If the Georgetown guards do their jobs, Sweetney could have a big game inside.

The biggest concern for Georgetown is how Sweetney will deal with the press. He usually inbounds the ball against pressure defense. In his first post-season contest against Seton Hall, he had five turnovers. He must improve his ball handling and passing against Arkansas.

When Scruggs comes in the game, he needs to shoot fewer three pointers.

Up front, the Arkansas depth disappears. The Hoyas should dominate the glass. When needed, Victor Samnick is an excellent perimeter defender. If the Hoyas are ahead, he will see plenty of time on defense because of Johnson’s quickness. Edge: Even

Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (7’0”) is three inches taller than Arkansas’ Larry Satchell. Satchell doesn’t play that much anyway because Arkansas likes to go small with guards or with reserves Alonzo Lane and Dionisio Gomez.

Georgetown still has more depth here, though, with 6’11” Wesley Wilson and Scruggs (also 6’11”). If the Hoyas get a chance to post up Boumtje-Boumtje or Wilson, the Razorbacks will have to send help or get squished. Also, all three Georgetown big men can shoot the mid-range jumper, if the Razorbacks focus on Sweetney down in the block, the center should have an easy time shooting over the rotating Arkansas defense.

The key for Boumtje-Boumtje is how he handles his weakness, ball handling. His basketball instincts are dramatically better than they were two years ago, but they are still less than ideal. If he has problems, the Razorback will be shooting layups and transition threes all game. Edge: Hoyas


Anyone that claims they are confident making predictions about the Hoyas either has a giant ego or hasn’t been following the team. This Hoya team is especially volatile.

Georgetown is seeded lower than the Razorbacks, but the Hoyas have been ranked higher all season?mainly because they have better players. Georgetown’s supposedly weak schedule won’t put any points on the board for Arkansas. Unless the Razorbacks really disrupt the Hoyas with their pressing, the Hoyas are good enough on defense to shut the Razorbacks down. Georgetown also has a major size advantage, which should translate to a major advantage on the boards. Outlet passes will be crucial. If the Hoya big men are aggressive but smart with the ball, the Hoyas won’t have to worry about the Arkansas pressure.

If Georgetown loses it will probably be by a reasonable margin. Though Georgetown has struggled down the stretch this year, they have the better point guard, which should translate to an advantage down the stretch. More likely though, the Georgetown defense will make the difference. Georgetown 72 Arkansas 63.

After that. who knows. We’re biased so we’ll predict they make the Sweet Sixteen. If we’re right, we’ll have more predictions next week.

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