Postseason lapses loom over Hoyas
Georgetown coach John Thompson III isn’t shying away from it, but he doesn’t fully embrace it. It’s impossible to ignore, however, hanging over what has been a stellar season by nearly all measures.
This particular albatross happens to be the Hoyas’ recent performances in the NCAA tournament, where favored Georgetown teams have been sent packing in shocking fashion in the team’s opening game the past two seasons.
Those recent failures loom over the thirdseeded Hoyas (23-8) as they prepare for their tournament opener Friday against No. 14 Belmont (277), the Atlantic Sun champion and a popular upset pick for those looking to shake up their brackets.
And it’s hard to blame everyone from pundits to parakeets picking against Georgetown, after its flameouts in 2008 (a 74-70 loss to Davidson in the round of 32), 2010 (97-83 to No. 14 Ohio) and 2011 (74-56 to No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth).
“It’s no need to hide from it,” Thompson said. “The seniors, they haven’t had a postseason win. That’s something that we strive for. We’re not happy about it, but we’re not running from it either.”
Many of the principals from those teams are long gone, replaced with energetic freshmen such as forwards Otto Porter and Greg Whittington. And the Hoyas that were part of those teams, including Jason Clark and Henry Sims, had much smaller roles than their current linchpin duties.
“This group that we’re going to take into the game on Friday didn’t play in any of those games,” Thompson said. “Some of the people did, but this group as a whole, the team that we are now, is 00 and I think that’s important.”
That’s not to say Clark and Sims have forgotten the Hoyas’ struggles. From the start of the season, both players spoke repeatedly about making the tournament and winning a game as necessary elements to closing out their careers.
“We are very motivated,” Clark said. “[The losses] don’t leave your mind at all. You think about it all the time, and you know you can’t wait get to get back to this point so you can prove yourself. This team is a lot hungrier than the teams in the past.”
Now the Hoyas are back to this point, and they face a dangerous opponent in the up-tempo Bruins, who are one of the hottest teams in the country, coming into the tournament on a 14-game winning streak.
Belmont is fourth in the country in scoring at 81.5 points per game and fifth in the nation in assists at 17.4 per game.
This is the kind of classic “contrast in styles” matchup the tournament committee loves to create, testing Belmont’s explosive offense against Georgetown’s rugged defense — 13th in the nation in points allowed per game, first in opponent 3point field goal percentage.
“They get out in transition, but then they are extremely efficient in the half court,” Thompson said. “They get good shots and make the shots they get.”
While on the surface the Hoyas would appear to be better served playing a low-scoring, halfcourt affair, they actually seem to have a better offensive flow when the game is played at a faster pace.
“We can play at any pace,” Thompson said. “This team has not been constructed to have to play fast or in the middle or slow. We can and have had success at many different paces.”
The Hoyas do have tournament experience with the Bruins, having played them in the first round of their 2007 Final Four run. They thumped Belmont 80-55 in a game Thompson said has little significance for Friday.
“I’m not going to look at tapes of their 2007 team and they aren’t going to look at tapes of our 2007 team,” he said.
And even though the Bruins are streaking into the tournament, Belmont guard Drew Hanlen suggested Georgetown won’t be that concerned with its gaudy win totals.
“Obviously momentum is big in basketball, but I don’t think Georgetown really cares how many games we’ve won in a row,” Hanlen told the Tennessean earlier this week. “They’re going to look at our schedule and they’re going to see Atlantic Sun opponents and they’re not going to respect our win streak because they’re in the Big East.”
Hanlen, however, might be wrong about that. The history is too fresh and too painful for the Hoyas to overlook anyone come tournament time.
“You have to be ready to play,” Thompson said. “The numbers next to the names are irrelevant. Every team in this field is good and confident about who they are. You have to have a good game.”
Bradford Burgess’ goatee could use a trim. But the scissors and razor will have to wait.
Virginia Commonwealth’s versatile 6-foot-6, 225-pound guard-forward has a duty to fulfill as the team’s lone senior: passing along one of the traditions of last year’s Final Four group.
“At this time last year, we were not getting our hair cut and not shaving,” Burgess said. “I kind of started that back up a little bit early.”
VCU (28-6), the 12th seed in the South Region, will make its third appearance in the NCAA tournament in Burgess’ four years when it plays No. 5 Wichita State (27-5) in the second round Thursday in Portland, Ore.
In some ways, this trip is more rewarding for Burgess, the only regular left from last year.
After being a complementary player throughout his career, the first-team all-caa pick has been the leader and centerpiece of the ninth-youngest team in the country.
“I definitely wanted to go out the right way my last year, making it to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I just wanted to be doing the right thing and leading the guys in the right direction.”
The hometown guy from Midlothian has been more than the Rams could have imagined for an unselfish player who doesn’t seek the spotlight. He’s led with his voice as much as with performance while taking VCU to a school-record 25 regular-season wins and the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title.
Junior point guard Darius Theus, a backup last season who has emerged as another leader, remembers Burgess taking charge at a critical point early in the season. After the Rams lost the first two games of the Charleston Classic and were 1-2, Burgess, visibly upset, spoke his mind in a long team meeting.
“It really bothered him,” Theus said. “I guess he felt like it didn’t really bother a few guys. From that moment, I think he just made sure his voice was heard. He let us know that we’re not going to let everybody be right about doubting us and that we weren’t going to be too good this season.
“The way he said it, it just hit us. It was very powerful.”
VCU went 27-4 thereafter. Burgess (13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds) continued to be a guiding force despite a midseason shooting slump.
“He’s just been our rock,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “A lot of things don’t show up in the stat sheets that Brad has been terrific about [like] great leadership, great talk.
“If you don’t talk as a team out there, you’re going to get beat. Minus Brad in November, we were one of the quietest teams in college basketball. The younger guys got better, but they still needed Brad to kind of hold it all together.”