The NCAA Tournament, the most thrilling three-week rollercoaster ride in sports, has begun. Cue the bracket pools, upset wins, and two of the year’s most unproductive work days for college basketball fans everywhere, who will be sneaking a glance at work, at school, or will miss both entirely to take in the thrilling first two days of action. Mid-major teams will see if the slipper fits for a Cinderella run through the Tournament, coaching legacies will be determined, and a new year of All-Americans will attempt to become the next Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, or Shabazz Napier by carrying their team to a national championship.
Fair or not, what transpires over the next three weeks will nullify, or simply supersede, the accomplishment-filled four-month regular seasons of the 68 teams in the tournament field. Especially for programs in the power conferences such as the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, and Big East, it will not matter whether you won your conference’s regular season championship, nor will it matter how many future NBA players your team’s roster boasted. All that matters is your outcome in the Tournament, which has evolved into the ultimate crapshoot of sports.
That’s why this week, as the four seeded Georgetown men’s basketball team travels to Portland, Ore. for its first round matchup with 13-seed Eastern Washington, is the most important week in the history of the program since 2007.
That crossroads year in the history of the program, 2007, the Hoyas traveled to East Rutherford, N.J. with the opportunity to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1985. The team, led by future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, eventually went on to reach the Final Four after nail-biting victories over Vanderbilt and North Carolina, a feat which proved that Georgetown must be taken seriously again as a basketball powerhouse nationally.
But unfortunately for those who bleed blue and gray, that Final Four becomes less and less recent and gives way to the narrative that the Hoyas are impotent in the postseason. Davidson, Ohio, VCU, and (gulp) Florida Gulf Coast, all double-digit seeds when they played Georgetown, have done their part in building a perception of a Georgetown program that cannot succeed in March. And that perception is accurate. Ever since that 2007 run, the Hoyas have failed to advance past the first weekend of the tournament.
As a result of these letdowns, when the casual fan now thinks of Georgetown, the first thing that comes to mind is not “Big East beast”, “powerhouse”, or even the “Princeton offense.” It’s “tournament disappointment,” and that dreaded word association has manifested itself this week throughout the national media when the various bracket prognosticators have picked the four seeded Hoyas as the most likely high seed to fall in the first round to upstart Eastern Washington, who will be making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
It feels like Georgetown is the underdog entering this game, despite nine seed lines separating the two teams. Their reason for doing so does not purely stem from the challenge that the Eagles, the third-highest scoring team in all of college basketball, will present the Hoyas. Instead, it is more based off their past disappointments than anything else. You could fill McDonough Arena with the number of television pundits I’ve heard say that they cannot pick Georgetown to win a tournament game until they prove that they can perform on the biggest stage of college basketball.
That perception has not only taken effect nationally but locally as well, especially with the now beleaguered blue and gray fanbase, to the point that many have questioned the leadership of Head Coach John Thompson III, the one constant for the Hoyas during all those March setbacks.
While these claims are valid, there is no better person out there to lead the Georgetown men’s basketball program. I challenge disgruntled Georgetown fans to find another coach who could take over the program the way Thompson has, and have the Hoyas be the consistent regular-season contender that they have been, as almost every year the Hoyas are in contention in the Big East and are ranked nationally. Georgetown fans go to bed happy after more games than they do sad.
I could list his accomplishments as head coach ad nauseum, but as long that litany does not include success in the March, I will fail to win over the most cynical of those blue and gray fans as well as the college basketball world.
That’s why Georgetown needs to break that prevailing viewpoint that has shackled the program’s reputation over nearly the last decade. And that starts this week in Portland—success in March is all that matters.