I’ve covered Georgetown Men’s Basketball for The Voice for the entire 2001-02 season. I begin in this way not to insinuate that I speak from a position of greater knowledge, but simply to show everyone that I was at every MCI Center game, every Big East Tournament game and watched almost every away game in its entirety. And, unlike all the loyal Hoya fans that did the same, I took notes, on everything. So, I have a pretty good memory for the season.
First, no other team in the Big East played its first-years with as much confidence as Head Coach Craig Esherick. At the helm of a team that lost four seniors from a Sweet Sixteen campaign in 2001, the coach had to give lots of time to first-year forward Harvey Thomas and guards Tony Bethel and Drew Hall. The reliance on first-years intensified when an injury sidelined junior forward Victor Samnick and when former guard Demetrius Hunter transferred to UNLV. So, at some level, all those late-game collapses are not so much the fault of Esherick, but rather the situation he had on his hands this season.
However, it’s ironic that two out of the three times this year where the Hoyas actually pulled out a close game?against Syracuse on Feb. 24 and against Providence in the Big East Tournament’s first round?someone with minimal experience led Georgetown. Sophomore swingman Gerald Riley basically won the game for us in upstate New York, and Drew Hall did the same in NYC.
So, you see, at another level, the late-game collapses that plagued us all year?if we had held on against Rutgers, or up-ended Connecticut, Pittsburgh or Miami we’d have an NCAA Tournament seed right now?I guarantee you we wouldn’t have turned that down?were not the fault of inexperience, but rather, the fault of coaching. No team, even Duke or Kansas, the favorites headed into March Madness in the eyes of most of the college basketball media, puts the ball in the hands of its point guard with no coaching guidance in the final minute of an important game. Duke has the best floor leader in the country in junior Jason Williams; Kansas, in junior Nick Collison, has another great one. We have someone who barely made Third Team All-Big East. When Duke does play close games, such as contests against Virginia, Maryland and Florida State, it calls timeouts within the final minute. You can’t just rely on your players to “push it,” as Hall said Esherick had been emphasizing all season. The close games this season where Esherick made this decision proved this point: Pittsburgh was a failure, so was Notre Dame (in two different overtime periods), Connecticut and Miami in the tournament.
The Hoyas were the universal choice to win the Big East Western Division this season, we ended up as the third seed in the Big East West and participating in no postseason tournament of any kind.
Think about next year. There’s so much promise. With a new recruit from California, 6-foot-8 forward Brandon Bowman, we could run nine deep. But until Esherick and his staff?which might lose one of its great minds, if Assistant Coach Ronny Thompson heads to West Virginia?learns that late-game situations require late-game strategizing, we will never be more than a pi?ata for the rest of the Big East.