Hoya hangover: Friday really happened

bowenDavidson, Baylor (NIT), Ohio, Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina State, and now, Florida Gulf Coast. The list is damning, an indisputable condemnation of John Thompson III’s postseason failures since that astounding run to the 2007 Final Four.

Just one week after taking home Big East Coach of the Year honors for leading his young Hoyas to a share of the Big East regular season title, Thompson’s team crumbled when it mattered most, as they were summarily undressed by No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast 78-68.

All of a sudden, Georgetown’s stalwart leader was a shell-shocked version of himself. “More than anyone on this earth I’ve tried to analyze it, think about it, look at it, think about what we should do differently, and I don’t know,” he said of the recent postseason failure.

Thompson won the award for instilling a sense of toughness unparalleled in the Big East this year. The old school Hoya defense of his father’s day was on full display this season. Until Friday.

A team composed mainly of sophomores and freshmen, with just two juniors and no seniors, played beyond their years. A great deal of the time, we forgot there was a supposed youth void on this team. Until Friday.

A national player of the year candidate in sophomore Otto Porter Jr. looked close to unstoppable and the pieces around him looked to be perfect complements to his all-around game. Until Friday.

It is fairly easy to write off a couple of anomalies, even a short stretch of poor results. Six years of the same, wretched postseason shortcomings, though, lead to a trend that falls squarely on the shoulders of their one common denominator: Thompson. To ignore it is asinine. To call for his job after this many failures, perhaps fair. But neither is the correct answer.

For a fan, it is not some outlandish move to suddenly trust this team. They passed the eye test and had all of the elements of a conventional NCAA Tournament success story. Even the coach on the other side thought so: “I’m not big on history or the past because this Georgetown team was a top-10 team in the country. They just shared the Big East title in the regular season. They’re really, really, good,” said Andy Enfield.

Nothing but time will heal the sting of 40 minutes against the upstart Eagles. This was the largest seeding disparity, the most unknown of opponents, leading to the lowest of lows for the Hoyas. Fans will not be able to shake it off as an otherworldly shooting performance, akin to Greg Monroe’s only NCAA Tournament game against Ohio. Rather, it was a number of defensive lapses and a frustratingly one-dimensional offense that doomed the Hoyas.

As for Thompson, there is an alumni base with larger lens than the excruciating four-year experience current seniors have undergone. If we want to talk about a horrid, six-year stretch, how about 1998 through 2004? That’s about six seasons under Craig Esherick that saw exactly one NCAA Tournament run and a fortuitously seeded run to the Sweet 16 at that. That’s an all-time low for a storied program. NIT appearances are not acceptable.

But one step above that, in Thompson’s case over the past six years, is not much better. To the diehard fan, predicating a season on one game in March belies the waves of a regular season. In Georgetown’s case, there have been a number of thrilling moments – this season’s meteoric rise from unranked to No. 5 in the country at the forefront.

In the context of an instable Big East and Thompson’s upcoming contract extension, I wrote about this at the beginning of the season:

If anything, Thompson deserves an extension, and a lengthy one at that. I want to see what other coach could come in and recruit incredible talents like Greg Monroe and Otto Porter to a school with facilities lacking as much as Georgetown’s. That Nerlens Noel had us on his final list of schools is a small miracle. The main argument for keeping Thompson is one of stability. If Georgetown locks his contract up, Thompson won’t be going anywhere. In such an unstable conference, an elite coach can keep a program above water and in the national picture. To me, JTIII is that man. No one else has such a strong connection to the Hilltop. Name Coach X to replace him and it may or may not produce benefits. But even if it did, these other coaches could easily see past the tradition of Georgetown basketball and use the position as a stepping-stone to a bigger position with better facilities and a lot more money.

There’s a bit of naiveté and whole lot of fandom that went into that earlier column, to be sure. I did not give Georgetown enough credit; the university has plenty to offer as a basketball-centric school, one wrought with tradition, fantastic academics, and a strong alumni base. The Hoyas play in an NBA arena and remain in one of the best basketball conferences in the country.

Someone else can come in and do the job. But call me stubborn as hell, I still think we have the right guy. Soon, Thompson needs a better answer than “I wish I knew” to why tournament failure becomes an annual rite of passage.

Still, it’s not all that farfetched to continually put faith in a man that resurrected the Hoya program from the doldrums. That hope is similar to what we have for the Georgetown Hoyas because soon enough, the disappointment of this tournament will fade. And by this time next year, we may once again blindly pencil the Hoyas in for a magical run to the Final Four.

Note: Otto Porter Jr. has been named one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy. You can vote for him here.

Photo: Keith Levinsky/Georgetown Voice

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