by David Elfin

Back on Jan. 10, I wrote that while it was possible that the Washington area wouldn’t send a single team to the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, I still expected Maryland and Georgetown to receive bids.

I was half-right with the Terps relegated to the NIT while the Hoyas were a second seed in the big dance. But I also write that it looked like we wouldn’t have a Sweet 16 participant for a record sixth straight March, something that seemed unlikely last week with Georgetown playing Florida Gulf Coast and then the San Diego State-Oklahoma survivor.

Ahem. So much for coach John Thompson’s comment that his Hoyas “plan on being around for a while.” Friday night’s shocking 78-68 loss to the 15th-seeded Eagles, whose nickname and locale (Fort Myers) I didn’t know until the matchup with Georgetown was set, was only the latest a string of unexpected early ousters for the Hoyas.

Since Thompson directed them to the Final Four in his third season, 2007, they’ve also fallen in the NCAAs to 10th-seeded Davidson (as a No. 2 seed in 2008), to 14th-seeded Ohio (as a No. 3 seed in 2010), to 11th-seeded VCU (as a No. 6 seed in 2011) and to 11th-seeded N.C. State (as a No. 3 seed in 2012). Georgetown lost in the first round of the NIT in 2009.

To recap, five NCAAs, five losses to double-digit seed, no advances beyond the second round. That’s an amazing record of futility at the worst possible time that has left Thompson bewildered.

“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,” Thompson said after the upset by Florida Gulf Coast. “We have had some early exits against some significantly lower-seeded teams.”

This time around, the Hoyas could blame their youth since they don’t have any seniors and start only two juniors, point guard Markel Starks and small forward Nate Lubick. However, that lack of veteran leadership didn’t prevent Georgetown from going 7-4 against their eight fellow NCAA participants from the mighty Big East Conference, a record that includes a victory over top-seeded Louisville. Sophomore forward Otto Porter, the Big East Player of the Year, and his teammates went 24-5 during the regular season, winning a share of their first conference title since 2008.

However, after finishing the regular season with a 12-1 flourish, Georgetown lost two of its three postseason games, pounding NCAA first-round loser Cincinnati before falling flat in the Big East Tournament semifinals against a Syracuse team it had thumped twice during the previous three weeks and then never really being in the game against Florida Gulf Coast after halftime. Not only did the Hoyas miss 40 of 64 shots (20 of 27 from three-point range) on Friday, their vaunted defense disappeared as the Eagles scored 54 points in the second half, just two shy of Georgetown’s usual allowance per contest.

“We just didn’t get stops,” Lubick lamented.

So while Maryland (24-12) visits Alabama tomorrow for a spot in the NIT semifinals and George Mason (19-14) plays host to Houston tonight in a quarterfinal of the third-rate Collegiate Basketball Invitational before the Patriots join George Washington in the Atlantic-10 next season, Georgetown is done early for a sixth straight March.

“Extreme disappointment,” was Thompson’s accurate assessment.

And yet, if Porter – who made just nine of 30 shots in the losses to Syracuse and Florida Gulf Coast after hitting 49 percent from the field prior to that — goes against the grain and opts to snub his likely place in the NBA draft lottery and return to school, Georgetown’s prospects for 2013-14 are bright.

The Hoyas might welcome back forward Greg Whittington, who was suspended in January because of academic difficulties. Starks, Lubick, sophomore center Mikael Hopkins and sophomore guard Jabril Trawick have now started together for most of a season. Freshman scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has a year of experience while Reggie Cameron, a 6-foot-5, highly-regarded sweet-shooting forward, will enroll in August. So if Porter remains at Georgetown, that would give Thompson an enviable eight-man rotation that doesn’t even include rising senior Moses Ayegba or fellow big man Bradley Hayes and Brandon Bolden, each of whom hardly played as freshmen this season.

The revamped Big East will no longer include Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt, Connecticut, Cincinnati or Notre Dame – NCAA regulars all – nor Rutgers or South Florida. Newly-established powerhouse Butler and formidable Xavier and Creighton will join Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul in the football-less conference. A top six finish in the new Big East will be easier than a ninth-place finish in the current conference.

So the Hoyas who are hanging their heads now could be smiling this time next year. Much depends on Porter’s decision.

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


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