And so ends another season for the Georgetown Hoyas. After a decisive win over a feisty Eastern Washington team, the Hoyas came up short in a hard-fought battle against the Utah Utes. For the 8th consecutive year Georgetown failed to reach the second weekend.
It's difficult for me to wrap my head around this team. The 2014-2015 campaign - my first year as an alumni - was in many ways the most enigmatic one in recent years. No single narrative can really define this team, for better or worse.
Certainly the pieces were there: The most highly anticipated freshman class since the current graduating class largely delivered on perhaps unfairly high expectations. Big East pre-season player of the year D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera proved to be one of the best and most reliable guards in the conference. Big man Josh Smith was just that - a big man, who was very hard to stop when he had the ball.
Nonconference play brought promise. Late-game heroics against Florida and a strong showing against Wisconsin and Kansas had me salivating over our potential. For the first time in a couple years, I had so much fun watching this team. Any substitution was a good one; at the end of the day, JT3 was taking out one deserving player for another.
It was clear early on just how talented this team was. So talented that, for the first time in my experience as a fan, early season losses didn't rattle me. For me, this year was all about March - and only about March.
This was a team that played better when it played fast. It was deeper, more athletic, and more talented at every position than past years' teams. We were primed for March.
Despite the expectations, talent, and depth, this team never quite put it together. They never quite broke out the way I had expected after our trip to the Bahamas. Or the way I was so sure they would after a close loss to Kansas. Or the way I knew they could after a brilliant second half in Madison Square Garden against the Hoosiers (or even after a brilliant second half against Xavier in the BET, for that matter).
But no, this team never quite clicked.
An easy analysis, admittedly - if they had clicked, after all, I would be writing the article at a much later date in March - but the hard part is to understand why.
When I think about individual season performances, a majority of players clocked in much closer to the "best case" scenario than the "worst case." Jabril took a step forward offensively; Josh stayed on the court; DSR brought it every damn night; and the freshmen were ready to play.
Stretches of Big East play seemed to deliver on that promise, but other parts - namely, a combined five losses to Providence and Xavier - were all too recognizable of a Hoya team in recent years. Lazy offense, careless turnovers, and frustrating fouls highlighted all of the team's flaws that proved to be fatal in March.
The question, as it always seems to be with Georgetown, was which team would show up when it counted: the one that lost to Xavier three times or the one that crushed Villanova at home. As it happened, we got neither. The first ten minutes of the EWU game brought flashbacks of losses to Davidson, Ohio, and FGCU. But after an unlikely hero emerged, so too did Georgetown.
And then there was Utah. After a hot shooting start cooled off in the second half, Georgetown struggled to get anything going on the inside - another four-foul performance from Smith certainly didn't help, and even when he was on the court, he struggled to get anything going consistently. As it always seems to this time of year, our shooting faded and Utah simply executed a better game plan. Their bigs were too much to handle, and that opened up plenty of outside shooting opportunities late in the game. The Utes capitalized, and they're the ones going to Houston.
And that's what is most frustrating about this loss - there's nobody to really blame. I'm not even sure if I should be angry or upset. It's an unfamiliar feeling after the end to a college basketball season.
The difference between Georgetown and Utah on paper is almost nothing. The difference played out in the game was just a few points - a missed shot here, a defensive lapse there. And while we were still putting all the pieces together - figuring out how to get the ball inside, how to rotate quicker on defense - they were executing.
And so the difference amounted to something more substantial: another week of playing basketball, another week of staying alive in March. Utah simply brought more to the table; they were a well-coached team that refused to lose.
With the loss, we ended one narrative by playing our final game against a single-digit seed, but a more fundamental one persists. We simply haven't gotten it done in March, and a close loss to Utah - even though they're an undoubtedly great team - does not put an end to our postseason failures.
I find myself making excuses at the end of every year to explain our final loss. After FGCU it was that Otto Porter shot 4-17 from the field and FGCU shot well above their average. A one-off occurrence, I reasoned, that our star player shoots so poorly.
But alas, history repeated itself, as DSR shot just 33% from the field, including 0-7 from beyond the arc. Our bigs once again ended up in foul trouble. And at the end of the day, Utah made the shots when it counted, and we didn't.
Perhaps this year was a step in the right direction. Perhaps next year's team will gel even more as the freshman take a leap forward. Perhaps next March, I'll be writing about the storyline that propelled the team to the second weekend. Or maybe even the third.
There's no reason to suggest it won't happen. The core is strong, and DSR will be back (just think about that for a second. It seems almost unfair that we should get a player as good as DSR for another year). If we can get more out of what we saw from Bradley Hayes these past couple of games, I feel much more confident about the center position - easily the biggest positional question mark going into next season. Add in a few talented recruits and tough-nosed transfer, and we'll have all the pieces in place for next year. Again.
I'm excited, and you should be too.
More words will be spilled on previewing next year, and many more on commending this year's senior class. But I wanted to avoid both of those topics right now. Because at the end of every season, I have to rationalize my fandom to get me through another offseason.
This year is no different.