To say that people were expecting a down year from the Georgetown men’s basketball team before the start of the season may be an understatement. The Hoyas were picked to finish tenth in the Big East in a poll of the conference’s coaches, their lowest ranking since the conference expanded to 16 teams in 2005. They didn’t receive a single vote in the initial Associated Press Top 25 poll. Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident “bracketologist,” had the Hoyas missing the NCAA Tournament in his preseason projections.
It’s hard to say those predictions were unfair. John Thompson III lost three senior starters and returned with a roster featuring 10 freshmen and sophomores. If last year’s veteran squad couldn’t win a game in March, no one was foolish enough to say that the 2011-2012 iteration of the Hoyas was going to do better.
After four straight seasons where Georgetown attained a top-ten ranking with zero Sweet Sixteen appearances to show for it, the Hoyas finally had to start from scratch. But while those seasons started off promising only to fall apart later on, this one looks like it may be running in reverse—six games in, and it’s already time to start raising our expectations.
It took all of three days in Hawaii. The Maui Invitational is a tournament where a team can make a name for itself—national champion UConn, also picked to finish tenth in the Big East, stormed into the conversation by winning it last year. While the Hoyas didn’t quite replicate the Huskies’ dominant performance, they notched a marquee victory over then-No. 8 Memphis after nearly knocking off Kansas in the first round. Showing that those preseason rankings should be taken with a truckload of salt, Georgetown hung with what are supposedly some of the best teams in the country.
No one knows anything before the season starts—not analysts, not coaches, not bracketologists. And now that we’re three weeks in, well, we still don’t know much. Sometimes two months isn’t even enough time to accurately assess a team, as any veteran of Georgetown’s 2008-09 campaign knows. But that doesn’t mean Georgetown fans can’t get their hopes up.
Maybe by the end of the season, Memphis and Kansas will be exposed as mediocre teams propped up by inflated preseason expectations. Even if that’s the case, the Hoyas have shown things in those contests, as well as their other four games, that indicate this is an objectively better team than everyone thought a month ago.
Trying to read the minds of college basketball coaches is a dangerous game, but I think it’s safe to assume that Big East coaches didn’t expect the Hoyas to have a 6-foot-10 center capable of posting a 24-8-5 line against a top-ten team. Henry Sims did just that against Memphis, and it wasn’t far out of line with his performance in the rest of Georgetown’s games. The senior big man has had a rocky college career after coming to the Hilltop as a highly-touted recruit from Baltimore, but it seems like Sims has finally harnessed his talent. He’s displayed an array of post moves, flashed a competent mid-range jumper, crashed the boards, and even shown off a deft passing touch.
The Hoyas’ other unexpected asset is the play of the team’s newcomers. This offseason, Thompson brought in his most highly-ranked recruiting class in years, and they’ve shown a precocious ability to compete at the college level. Forward Otto Porter is leading the charge, averaging 9.6 points through the first six games and leading the team in rebounding with 6.5 boards per game. In Maui, Thompson told ESPN that Porter was “the most prepared freshman that I’ve coached.” As the rest of Porter’s classmates catch up to his level, Georgetown should only surpass its Maui performance.
The season is still young, but the landscape has already shifted such that a clear path is open for Georgetown. While the Hoyas have yet to break into the top 25 in either of the major polls, the preseason Big East projections seem far off-base now. Six of the nine teams picked ahead of them have already lost to unranked opponents, including conference co-favorite UConn. It’s hardly time to start calling Georgetown a favorite, but there’s reason to believe that the Hoyas can make some noise once conference play starts. If this young squad can keep its composure in the face of the raucous crowd in Tuscaloosa tonight against Alabama, it may be time to elevate those expectations even further.
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