After a surprisingly strong season for a team forecast to finish 10th in the Big East, fifth-seeded Georgetown (22-7 overall, 12-6 Big East) begins its quest for an eighth conference tournament title today against 13th-seeded Pitt.
The annual Garden party in Manhattan has been a feast or famine event of late for the Hoyas, who won the championship in 2007 and reached the championship game in 2008 and 2010 but lost their first game in 2009 and 2011.
While the tournament celebrates its 30th anniversary in the Garden this week with 16 teams in competition for the automatic NCAA berth (although as many as nine Big East schools could receive at-large bids), it’s a much more ungainly affair than it was in 1983 when Syracuse knocked off the defending champion Hoyas in the opening round of the nine-team event, Georgetown’s only failure to win the title from 1982-85.
Considering that John Thompson Jr’s squads also took home the trophy in 1980, 1987 and 1989, that was seven championships during the event’s first decade.
However, that title in current coach John Thompson III’s third season, 2007, is the only time that the Hoyas have cut down the nets since in New York. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 1-for-22, which is beyond dreadful. Boston College, which hasn’t been in the Big East since 2005, has won more tournament titles during that span than Georgetown.
If the Hoyas get by the Panthers who upset them 72-60 on Jan. 28 in Pittsburgh, they earn a date tomorrow with Cincinnati, which beat them at Verizon Center in January. And if Georgetown survives that test, its likely semifinal foe would be second-ranked Syracuse, which is 30-1 overall and was 17-1 in the Big East including an overtime survival of the visiting Hoyas a month ago tomorrow.
Of course, Thompson and his 13th-ranked team know that they’re NCAA-bound no matter what happens in New York, but they can certainly influence their seeding for the Big Dance by how they perform in the Garden.
Playing well this week would also bolster the confidence of a young team (six freshmen and four sophomores on the 13-man roster) that was drilled by Seton Hall and spanked by Marquette in two of its final four games.
Only seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims and junior Hollis Thompson have ever played in a Big East Tournament triumph. And none of them were around when the Hoyas last won an NCAA game back in 2008.
But Syracuse and Marquette are the only Big East teams ranked in the top 20 besides Georgetown, which pounded No. 23 Notre Dame just nine days ago.
Thompson loves his team’s defense and believes that element can carry the Hoyas a long way in March. We’ll begin learning if he’s correct this afternoon.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.