WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – As if Georgetown hasn’t had a tough enough men’s basketball season with the loss of forward Greg Whittington to a knee injury and center Josh Smith to academic issues, the Hoyas (16-12, 7-9 Big East) have to try to keep their NCAA hopes alive by upsetting No. 13 Creighton at home tonight before an even tougher task at No. 6 Villanova on Saturday.
“We gotta win,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said succinctly. “We win, we get in.”
That’s not just winning against the Blue Jays and Wildcats this week, but probably running the table during next week’s Big East Tournament. The Hoyas did shellack Xavier, currently in third in the conference, on Feb. 22, but they’re just 4-4 otherwise – including a second loss to Seton Hall, which is 3-11 otherwise in the Big East — since losing 76-63 at second-place Creighton on Jan. 25. That came just two days before a 65-60 loss to conference leader Villanova at home.
“With our personnel, everybody has to show up every night,” Thompson said. “We can’t have some no-shows. If everyone shows up, we’re a very good team. … We don’t have a big margin for error. If any one person doesn’t show up, we’re not that good.”
Creighton (23-5, 13-3 Big East, 15-0 at home) is a very good team led by Player of the Year favorite Doug McDermott, who leads the nation with 26.0 points per game. Georgetown, long known for its defense, held McDermott to 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting that night in Omaha. However, the rest of the Blue Jays shot .514 while the Hoyas, who trailed by 10 at halftime and never caught up, managed just .393.
“They don’t lose at home,” Thompson said. “They have the best player in the county and a terrific coach [McDermott’s father, Greg]. You’re not gonna stop McDermott. We probably did as good a job as anyone on him the first time around and we lost by 13. He’s in perpetual motion. If he was not a good offensive player, he would score 10 points a game just on his effort.”
Thompson is upset with the schedule that his Hoyas have played, but not because they have to face a pair of top 15 teams in their last two games before next week’s Big East Tournament. What has irked him during the first season of the re-constituted conference (with Butler, Creighton and Xavier replacing seven schools that play FBS football, including Syracuse, Georgetown’s long-time archrival) is that so many league contests have come with little preparation time.
“The schedule is the single biggest thing that the league has to work out across the board,” said Thompson, whose Hoyas have played a conference-high six Big East games with just one day of practice beforehand. “It truly affects wins and losses. The day after we lost to Marquette, I ended up being at the same [high school] game as [Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams] and for literally half the game, we were going over the scheduling issues. We have to get a point where you’re putting yourself in the position that the most number of teams can get into the NCAA Tournament. If TV’s driving the engine, that might not always happen.”
Thompson’s five seniors, including point guard Markel Starks, will play their final home game tonight. Starks leads Georgetown in scoring (17.0), assists (3.9) and minutes played (36.9). Only sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is even close in any of those critical statistics. Among the players whom Thompson has coached during his 10 seasons in command on the Hilltop, Starks has joined Jeff Green, Jonathan Wallace and Chris Wright as the fourth to rank among the Hoyas’ top 30 in career scoring and top 20 in career assists.
“When I look at the people that I have coached [Markel] is one that will go into the special category,” Thompson said. “[He’s] someone who has given so much of himself, someone that has been extremely coachable. His agenda is Georgetown’s agenda. From day one, he’s wanted to give me everything that I’ve wanted. For four years, he’s the first one here and the last one to leave. On your day off, you have to kick him out of the gym. He’s the hardest worker that I’ve coached. And I’ve coached some pretty hard-working kids. He’s going to be tremendously missed.
But unless the Hoyas get red-hot over the next 12 days, Starks and Co. will miss the NCAAs in which his record is just 1-3. It will be up to his successors to restore Georgetown to postseason glory.
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.