An essential component to being a fan of any competitive college basketball program is the ability to manage one’s expectations. With over a hundred Division I schools and just one champion, satisfaction with one’s team at the end of the season can be measured only partially by simple wins and losses; since almost everyone finishes a loser, a team’s real narrative comes from its success or failure in the eyes of its fans.
The Georgetown men’s basketball team has embodied this cruel reality in recent years. Despite gaudy regular season records and accolades for individual players, the team has been harshly criticized for its failure to win a single game in the NCAA tournament since 2008.
Over the course of this young season, many have attempted to differentiate this group of Hoyas from those since 2007, in hopes that perhaps this team can be the one to get the squad winning in March again. Coach John Thompson III has primarily praised the team’s depth, length, and youth as crucial attributes that distinguish it from its predecessors. Additionally, the team’s experiences in China helped galvanize the team and foster a collective spirit of toughness that previous teams might have lacked.
But look beyond the composition of the squad and its preseason bonding, and it seems that the narrative of the Hoyas’s 2011-12 season is so far eerily similar to those of previous years in which they dramatically failed to meet expectations. In every season since 2007-2008, the Hoyas have dropped exactly one nonconference game before the start of Big East play, just as the Hoyas did this year after a tough loss to perennial juggernaut Kansas in Maui. Just as in past seasons, the Hoyas’s dominance out of conference helped catapult them to a top-10 ranking, only to lose and regress once they’ve reached that coveted plateau.
Meanwhile, for the fourth January in a row, the Hoyas have lost to at least one unranked Big East opponent, while beating at least one ranked conference foe.
Sadly, this familiar trajectory also predicts a gloomy forecast for February, in which the Hoyas have lost at least three conference games in each of the past three campaigns. In fact, the Hoyas’ current record is only marginally better than the 12-4, 13-3, and 14-5 marks they posted at this point in the season in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively. While these intriguing correlations among seasons hardly constitute hard science, they certainly begin to poke holes in the notion that this is a renaissance season for the Hoyas.
But despite that the results are hardly distinguishable, it is undeniable that fans watch this year’s Georgetown team with emotions that are markedly different from the frustration of previous seasons.
Just a few months ago, many experts had Georgetown picked to finish 10th or worse in the Big East. It took three gritty performances against nationally touted opponents to jolt the Hoyas into the rankings, an honor Hoya fans have started to take for granted during Thompson’s tenure as coach. Unlike in the past, when we have expected the Hoyas to perform for us, this year fans were simply hoping to witness some progress and avoid embarrassment. By transforming the way in which we view the program, there has been more joy in Hoya victories and less vitriol in defeat.
So while this year’s Hoyas are not quite a revelation from recent teams, the positivity surrounding the squad is tremendously refreshing. Though Georgetown’s early success is no indication of an end to the postseason dry-spell, we can only hope that fans can keep this season in its proper context. The Hoyas have outperformed any of our wildest dreams, even if this season does finish with more of the same.
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