Post­sea­son lapses loom over Hoyas

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY EL­LIOTT SMITH

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.”

Burgess

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