Reporting David Elfin
Georgetown didn’t win last week’s Big East Tournament and the No. 1 seed in the NCAAs that went with that championship, but the Hoyas still have plenty to celebrate this morning.
Picked to finish sixth in the Big East before losing No. 2 scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington to academic troubles in January, Georgetown won the conference’s regular season title. And despite losing to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament semifinals, the Hoyas (25-6) were awarded a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs last night.
Just as sweet for Coach John Thompson and Co. is the locale of Friday’s NCAA opener against Florida Gulf Coast: Philadelphia, just 140 miles up I-95 from campus. With distant Oklahoma and San Diego State the other schools in that pod, the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center should have a definite Georgetown bias.
While Florida Gulf Coast did defeat ACC champion Miami — which was banged-up — in November, the Eagles were dispatched with relative ease by Duke, VCU and Iowa State, were defeated by Maine, and lost five games in the lightly-regarded Atlantic Sun Conference.
Major kudos to anyone who can name even half the schools in that league. Tick, tick. Give up?
Besides Florida Gulf Coast, they are Mercer (which Georgetown beat in the first round of the 1987 NCAAs en route to the Elite Eight), Stetson, Jacksonville, North Florida, Lipscomb, Kennesaw State, East Tennessee State, Northern Kentucky and a school I didn’t know existed, South Carolina Upstate. More a collection of never-weres than the competition the Hoyas are used to in the formidable Big East, which has eight NCAA teams: in addition to Georgetown, Big East Tournament champion Louisville and Syracuse, that list includes Notre Dame, Marquette, Villanova, Pitt and Cincinnati. The Hoyas went 7-4 against those teams, beating each except Villanova and Pitt.
Other than the upset of the Hurricanes, the Eagles’ top victory came over Loyola (Md.). Like the Hoyas, they’re young with only two seniors and two juniors and they have only two players over 6-foot-7 who see significant time. Georgetown doesn’t have a senior and has just three juniors who play much. However, the Hoyas’ starting front line, led by Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter, is each at least 6-8.
This makes two straight years that Georgetown has met the Atlantic Sun champion in its NCAA opener, having dispatched Belmont (which had beaten Florida Gulf Coast in the conference tournament final) last March before losing to N.C. State.
While coach Andy Enfield deserves props for guiding the Eagles the NCAA in just their second year of Division I tournament eligibility, this is Georgetown’s fourth straight bid and 28th in the last 39 years. The Hoyas won the 1984 national championship, lost the title games in 1982 and 1985 and also made the Final Four in 2007, Thompson’s third season and the last time they advanced more than one round.
Presuming Georgetown beats Florida Gulf Coast, San Diego State (22-10), which won one of three matchups against No. 3 seed New Mexico and matched the Hoyas’ victory over No. 6 seed UCLA, could be dangerous with a veteran team coached by Steve Fisher who won the 1989 national champion at Michigan. Oklahoma (20-11), which upset eventual No. 1 seed Kansas five weeks ago, isn’t to be dismissed either. The Sooners lost three of their last five including a shocker to lightweight TCU, but have five seniors and juniors in their rotation and are coached by Lon Kruger, who took Florida to the 1994 Final Four.
Speaking of the Gators, they were the opponent when the Hoyas’ opened the season way back on Nov. 9. The game, which then-10th-ranked Florida led 27-23 halftime was called at that point because the court couldn’t stay dry aboard the USS Baatan in Jacksonville’s harbor.
If No. 3 seed Florida pounds Northwestern State and gets by the UCLA-Minnesota survivor while Georgetown wins its first two NCAA games, the Gators and Hoyas will finally get to see who’s better over 40 minutes. That won’t be until late next week, but as Thompson said, “We plan on being around a while.”
If Porter brings his A game, that while could last into the Final Four.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.