It would’ve been easy to leave, like everyone else had. In the darkest period for Georgetown basketball since the Jack Magee years, it was difficult to be optimistic about a squad with nine new faces and less practice than any other team in the Big East, under the shroud of a global pandemic.
Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair don’t do things the easy way.
“Coach Pat gave me the opportunity. He gave me the opportunity to come here, so why would I back out on him?” said Pickett after the Big East’s John Fanta asked him about staying the course.
Indeed, the seniors were head coach Patrick Ewing’s first recruits, and they have built a Georgetown legacy as rich as those who initially resurrected the program under the late John Thompson, Jr. They built on the work of Hoya greats like Jessie Govan, Kaleb Johnson, Trey Dickerson, Jagan Mosely, George Muresan, and Terrell Allen, players who never quite got to see the fruits of their labor until now.
Culture matters. Georgetown (13-12, 7-9 Big East) proved that in the Big East Tournament, improbably winning four games in four days and leaving no doubt as to their selection for the NCAA Tournament. They easily disposed of Marquette behind suffocating defense, survived a scare from hobbled Villanova behind perfection at the free throw line, weathered a rally from Seton Hall to win with clutch play at the end, and blew the doors off Creighton in a cathartic 40 minutes where everything went right. If it ends here, this four game run will be Pickett and Blair’s legacy, a final push that brought the Georgetown brand back to the national stage, where it belongs.
They aren’t satisfied.
“Winning the Big East Tournament was a huge accomplishment, but on to the next. Basketball ain’t over. We can’t take the Big East Tournament as the end of the road,” said Pickett.
To continue their exceptional last ride, Pickett and the team will have to overcome a formidable challenge posed by the Colorado Buffaloes (22-8, 14-6 Pac-12), who rank among the nation’s elite on both ends of the floor. Per KenPom, they are 17th overall in offensive efficiency and 29th overall in defensive efficiency. They shoot the three at an efficient clip of 36.7%, and they are the second-best free throw shooting team in the nation at 82.2%. They don’t turn the ball over and like to slow opponents down, playing a methodical game to get their preferred shots. Since 2002, every national champion has been a top-30 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and Colorado fits the bill.
“They’re a very good team. They play 4 out, 1 in,” said Ewing. “He [Colorado senior guard McKinley Wright IV] is a dynamic young man. He can score it at all levels, very good defender. We’re gonna have our work cut out for us guarding him, but I think that we have faced some very good point guards in our conference as well, so I think our guys will be up to the task.”
Wright is the centerpiece of this Buffaloes team, with a usage rate of 26.1%. He is also very efficient with his shot selection, sporting a true shooting percentage of 57.1% and getting to the free throw line on 33% of his field goal attempts. He is also a true floor general, with an assist rate of 36.2%, good for 21st in the nation. He helps to set up their big man in the middle, forward Evan Battey, who also loves to get to the line (57.5% free throw rate) and is efficient from close range and at the charity stripe (57.9% true shooting). Elsewhere, the 4 out scheme Ewing mentioned is made possible by the skilled shooting of their role players in junior guard Eli Parquet, senior forward Jeriah Horne, and senior guard D’Shawn Schwartz. Ewing’s comparison of their scheme to Creighton is particularly apt, though they may be more motivated than the Bluejays were last Saturday night.
Colorado is undoubtedly a formidable opponent, and one that Hoyas fans should not take lightly. In recent weeks, the Hoyas have made a living competing with and overpowering formidable opponents, and history suggests that teams with momentum tend to have better outcomes in the NCAA Tournament, adjusting for seeding. Freshman guard Dante Harris will have to continue his torrid stretch of recent performances, during which he has hounded opponents defensively while making smart decisions and going to his killer pullup jumper on offense. Wright certainly presents a challenge, but Harris has held the best of the Big East in check. His teammates certainly have the confidence in him.
“Coach talked about him [Wright] being the heart and soul of the team,” said Pickett. “Dante will be matched up on him. I’m betting on Dante over anybody in the country.”
In the NCAA Tournament, character counts. Everyone has a role to play, but in the end it is the upperclassmen who have to show out with the chips on the table in a single elimination format. In this regard, the Hoyas have a high level of character in their older leaders. Pickett has totally locked in defensively. Blair has accepted his removal from the starting lineup with a high level of professionalism, providing instant buckets off the bench and lifting the team’s play as the energizer he is. Graduate forward Chudier Bile has been a revelation with his physicality and toughness, cleaning the glass, getting to the free throw line, and knocking down three-pointers at a surprising rate. The Hoyas have rallied behind these leaders of the pack, and we should think of them as the 10-4 squad that came out of the COVID pause stronger, not the 3-8 group that preceded it.
For the Hoyas to come through all the adversity they did, it speaks to Ewing’s ability as a coach to get complete buy-in from his team. Georgetown is considered a trendy upset pick because of the grinding that Ewing has done the last four years to build a proper culture. For him, things are coming full circle.
“I feel honored to be the person at the helm,” said Ewing. “To be the coach following in the footsteps of some very good people who came before me, it means a lot.”
“My guys have worked hard to get to this point, and one of the things we talked about today [Tuesday] is that we can’t be satisfied.”
The Hoyas have traveled the hard road to get to this point, and their game against the Buffaloes will be on display for the world to see. The game will be broadcasted on CBS at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 20. The teams will face off at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the Hoyas have a 6-2 record. For more coverage of men’s basketball and spring sports, follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter.