I have thought a lot about the loss yesterday and I've read some things and heard some things about how the program has a trend of losing in the tournament and how there is clearly something fatally wrong with the program because of it. This upset me and I wrote a rambling, stream-of-consciousness rant reacting to that talk.
I am an unabashed Georgetown homer and an ardent supporter of John Thompson III. I think he is absolutely the right person to lead Georgetown’s program and 4 straight tournament exits to double-digit seeds has done nothing to change my mind on that. I’m saying that up front here to point out my obvious bias as I dig in against the wave of folks (both in the national media and among the Georgetown fan base) that are building narratives about Georgetown’s lack of success in recent NCAA tournaments and using that as an indictment of everything that JTIII has built at Georgetown.
2008: As a 2-seed, Georgetown builds a 17-point 2nd-half lead only to see Steph Curry suddenly start to light it up from deep and lift 10th-seeded Davidson over the Hoyas. They continued their run by knocking off Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen and absolutely took eventual-champion Kansas to the wire in the Elite Eight before falling 59-57. This one stung a lot because of the lead, but Davidson was pretty clearly under-seeded and a very good basketball team. Sometimes, good basketball teams lose to other good basketball teams.
2010: As a 3-seed, Georgetown gets blown out of the gym by 14th-seeded Ohio. Ohio simply would not miss from deep and the Hoyas had no answer on defense. This one sucked a lot. It was brutal.
2011: As a 6-seed, Georgetown gets beat up by 11th-seeded VCU. There are a couple things to consider here. First, VCU went on to make it to the Final Four and were in a tight one with Butler to advance to the championship game. They were a good basketball team that hit their stride late in the season and played like a great basketball team in the tournament. Additionally, this was Chris Wright’s first game back after a broken hand injury that saw him have to miss the end of the Big East season and the Big East Tournament. Georgetown lost all the games they played without him. They were pretty clearly demoralized by losing him and never got their groove back on his return.
2012: As a 3-seed, Georgetown dominated 14th-seeded Belmont in the second round, only to run into the buzzsaw that was NC State. This one stung. A lot. It was 100% a winnable game. Unlike previous tournament exits, Georgetown was not undone by otherworldly three-point shooting (though NC State did shoot for a decent percentage), nor were they truly undone by turnovers (Georgetown actually had more points off turnovers than NC State did). They were absolutely slaughtered on the offensive glass. NC State created all sorts of second and third chance opportunities off of offensive rebounds (including twice on missed free throws). There was a stretch in the first half that doomed the Hoyas when NC State went on a 15-2 run. They continued the run in the opening minutes of the 2nd half, but the damage was truly done in that stretch of the 1st half. During this stretch Georgetown didn’t run their offensive sets, instead settling for long, often contested jump shots. It was brutal to watch. Tehy also had to play for long stretches without arguably their most important player, Henry Sims, who was saddled with foul trouble throughout.
None of this is to excuse any of the losses here. Outside of VCU, Georgetown probably should have won each of these games (VCU just kinda throttled everyone that year and Georgetown was a dead team walking.) However, it’s hard to call them a trend, really. Or blame it on JTIII’s scheme. Each of the games were lost in different ways and for different reasons. Single elimination tournaments are tough markers for any team, it’s why so few number 1 overall seeds win the tournament. Teams that get in the tournament are good teams, capable of beating anyone and no one gets a second chance. Building a narrative based on these individual game failures is lazy and, frankly, wrong. It ignores the work that Thompson has done in building the program and ignores the work that his teams have done to get into the position to have their seasons called failures by pundits and fans alike for having the gall to lose a single elimination game to what has generally been a good team peaking at the right time.
Let’s take this year specifically. The Hoyas were picked to finish 10th in the Big East and were considered a preaseason bubble team at best. They stormed out of the gate and every time the signs of stumbling came up, the Hoyas picked themselves up and won games they needed to. They ran into a hot team that wasn’t the best matchup for their talent and their most important player was saddled with foul trouble during that game and they lost.
If that game happens in December or even February, everyone chalks it up to a bit of bad luck, looks at the areas they need to improve to prevent it and moves on. But since it happened in March in an elimination game, it becomes part of a narrative on the failures of the Georgetown program and coaching staff. Nevermind the fact that this team was dead in the water in October. Nevermind that the coaching staff played an enormous role in the unbelievable improvement of Henry Sims. Nevermind that the coaching staff recruited a solid freshman class and then gave them the run they needed to grow into one of the top freshman classes in the Big East and become solid contributors across the board.
I’m as upset as anyone about the recent tournament struggles from the Hoyas, but I’m not ready to turn it into an indictment on the health of the program or say that they are part of a systematic failure on the part of the coaching staff. This year’s team outplayed all expectations and the future looks great between the freshmen and sophomores on the team, the incoming class of players and the possibility remaining of the top recruit in the country coming to the Hilltop next year. Does tournament performance need to improve? Of course, but the past few years aren’t indicative of some systematic failure and there are few coaches out there I’d rather have coaching the Hoyas than JTIII and his staff.
Add to that, firing a coach with III’s resume won’t exactly endear the program to prospective coaches and the fact that the available coaches aren’t exactly Coach K or Bob Knight and JTIII is definitely the right coach for this program. Building a program takes time. Building a program that goes to the NCAA tournament year-in and year-out (including years that the team is picked to finish tenth in their league) is even more rare. Getting over the tournament hump will happen for this program. It may take some time, but progress is clearly being made. No JTIII coached team played defense like this team played defense. That is progress. We’re on the right track. Please don’t bog that progress down with bullshit narratives about being fatally flawed come tournament time.