Day 1: DePaul
You know what? Day one of the Big East Tournament could have been worse. Your Georgetown Hoyas decided to die another day, exorcising the DePaul Blue Demons from their own miserable season by a margin of 70-53. As usual, senior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas in scoring with 20 points on 7-11 shooting. Center Bradley Hayes also chipped in ten points in his return from a hand injury that held him out for the last six games.
Georgetown's success came in large part due to solid defense, as their full-court press helped them force 17 DePaul turnovers. The Hoyas also held the Blue Demons to a fairly pedestrian 38% from the field. Nobody on DePaul's side seemed to have a great day, but guard Eli Cain ended the night as the only Demon in double figures with 14 points. Still, the Hoyas' offense also blazed the nets by this year's standards, shooting exactly 50% from the field. Interestingly, the Hoyas took more shots from inside the arc than from three point range, reversing what had been a common trend during their losing streak.
This game had quite the fun game day experience, particularly because games in New York at MSG are always great, but also because the Hoya Hoop Club hosted a pregame meetup. I had the chance to meet a range of blog regulars, including users Hoya Saxual, wadetandy, WarmupEwing, and Jwallobjects, the latter two of whom spent a fair portion of our conversation trying to make sure that I understood the risk (and the debt) involved in going to law school, since I had mentioned that I plan to apply. Hat tip to both of them and to all of the lawyers on here who occasionally turn the comments section into a law blog.
Unfortunately, I needed to leave early and pick up my ticket, since the tickets for Georgetown's MSG student section are handed out an hour before game time. Two young ladies joined up behind me to wait for the student ticket line and, funnily enough, recognized me from home games. Even though I was first in line, I had to settle for the sixth row, as the band was up front. Honestly, it was nice, since the two rows in front of me were clear for most of the game.
The student section consisted of only about 30-35 students (plus a similar number of band members.) Between the small group we had, we somehow kept it quite loud, and of the four fan contingencies that showed up Wednesday, Georgetown probably had the loudest. I tried to maintain that enthusiasm, making sure to clap, lead cheers, heckle, and dance as usual. Student fans stayed amped up for pretty much the whole game.
On Wednesday night, students succeeded in seemingly affecting the on-court events. On one loose ball that went out of bounds in the first half, the officials awarded the ball to DePaul, until the Georgetown student section gave them some flack. Two officials consulted and proceeded to give the ball back to the Hoyas. I seemed to have some luck with heckling as well. Before one DePaul in bound, I inquired, "How does a Catholic school have a demon for a mascot?" The inbounder, DePaul's Aaron Simpson, threw the ball away for a turnover. On at least three occasions, I shouted at DePaul's Eli Cain as he shot free throws, "Cain is not able to make this free throw." He missed, and only made two of his six free throw attempts on the night. I even had the chance to make a timely pop culture reference when LJ Peak connected for his only three of the night. I remarked, "LJ Peak is like Frank Underwood. He's from Gaffney, and he has the killer instinct!" (The Peak/Underwood parallel sounds like a potential future blog photoshop project.)
At halftime, there was a funny moment between me and former St. John's coach and current Fox Sports analyst Steve Lavin. HolyLandofHoops, a Twitter account covering may things Big East-related had tweeted that Lavin supposedly called Georgetown a "bad team." The media had their tables right next to our section, so when Lavin walked over, I shouted for his attention. When he saw me, he waived, and I waived back first, kind of disarmed by his friendly gesture. While I still had his eye, I threw my hands up and shouted at him, "You called Georgetown a bad team? C'mon man!" Sure it's probably true, but I couldn't bear to hear anyone say it. I followed up by retweeting the original post.
A bit later, I got a personalized response, wherein he admitted that he's coached his own share of bad teams and hoping that we'll be good again soon. Good to see he's self-deprecating about his tenure at St. John's. I'm sure Chris Mullin is just ecstatic right now.
Meanwhile, the second half saw the crowd move in and out of the game, as they would fade out as the Hoyas built up their lead, but come right back into it when DePaul tried to claw their way back. In one instance where the Blue Demons trimmed the double-digit halftime lead to four, the crowd willed their Hoyas on to a stretch where they held the Demons to just four points in a six-minute span. The student section also received a special guest, Georgetown athletics marketing director Chris Grosse, who took some time to be a fan for a bit. I guess at one point, he saw me and thought I didn't have a belt, so he joked that he'd pay me back for all the games I've been to with a Georgetown belt. I'd be happy to take his offer.
And of course, there was what my handle suggests–dancing, gyrating, etc. During one second half timeout, the MSG scoreboard operators broke out the dance cam, and I ended up getting a fairly long stretch on the scoreboard where I taught the crowd how to Dougie and had enough camera time to point at the camera and even blow a kiss it's way.
The Hoyas had the win in hand with around one minute to go, and brought in their reserves, including Trey Mourning, Riyan Williams, Kaleb Johnson, and even manager Ra'Mond Hines, who reportedly dressed in case the shorthanded Hoyas needed an extra player. Things were in the bag for the Hoyas and at that point, I could breathe easy. Garbage time had arrived (P.S. for FS1- you have a show by this name. Step up your cross-promotional game!)
It was refreshing to see the Hoyas enter a late-game situation like that on the better end of it. Instead of being on the losing end, we were going out on top, even if it was just against DePaul.
So this piece, much like the Big East Tournament sessions, is a doubleheader. If you've read this far, take a breather.
You ready? Let's talk about Villanova.
Day 2: Villanova
This was the team I've come to know this season. A win looked tantalizingly close at some points, as the Hoyas played Villanova tight in the first half. But just like the games at home against Xavier and Butler, the Hoyas let their opponents steadily build an insurmountable lead. The small group of Hoya faithful, totaling no more than 25 students (not counting the band which was there in full again), tried to make their presence felt, but the larger crowd made it feel like a Villanova home game.
When it comes to in-game issues, the biggest problems in my eyes were two usual suspects: bad defensive rotations that allowed for open perimeter shots, and fouling the ball-handler driving into the lane. Villanova nailed 13 of 21 three point attempts, good for 61% from downtown, as the Hoyas failed to contain outside threats like Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, who connected for a combined 11 of those treys.
The first half confused some Hoyas fans, who would look up at the scoreboard after particularly sloppy sequences and realize that the game was nearly tied. The Hoyas failed to take advantage during Villanova's cold stretches in the first half. The Wildcats made just one of their last ten shots in the first half, but the Hoyas missed the last seven shots of their own. Also confusing to some fans was the utter lack of shooting fouls. It took until the second half for a single free throw to be attempted by either team. While many fans and observers (myself included) seemed to think Georgetown earned free throws on at least couple of occasions in the first half, the referees, in an interesting twist, let the two teams play with limited whistling.
Georgetown even held its own through around the midpoint of the second half, but the doors came off after the under-12 timeout. The Hoyas failed to match Villanova's run, as the Wildcats outscored the Hoyas 25-9 in the nine minutes succeeding that timeout. The Villanova faithful ate it all up and continued to get louder, but the previously enthusiastic Georgetown contingent faded. We were kind of trapped on an island. A bunch of Nova fans surrounded us in the arena. Since we switched sides, there was no Steve Lavin to shout at this time. The court somehow felt like it was miles away, even though I was no further from it than I was last night. Maybe the fact that I had spent as many hours (four) shouting at basketball games as I did sleeping in the preceding 24 hours. Or maybe it was the season just slowly but surely fading away.
As the Villanova run continued, Georgetown fans seemed to just want this game, this season to end. During the under-4 timeout in the second half, after this run, the T-shirt toss occurred, and I shouted "I've suffered through Georgetown basketball all season. Can I at least get a t-shirt?" A few non-student fans gave me stern looks. I shrugged at them as if to say, 'sorry, I don’t want it to be true, but it is.'
It's nothing against this team. I'd imagine they suffered too, since they probably expected a lot from themselves this year. All of those guys, all the staff, the cheerleaders, the band, everybody involved with the team puts in so much work. But there will be little in the way of recognition for their efforts, at least in terms of a chance to continue on to some sort of postseason. There will be no "one shining moment" in March Madness for this team this year. And that's a darned shame.
Having watched this team all year, sometimes it seemed like effort wasn't there. I'm sure that it was, but this season has brought many glaring issues to the forefront as this team somehow found a result for this season that was worse than almost anyone's worst-case scenario. The delusional side of Hoyas fans should tend toward the idea that the big problems will be fixed. (The cynical side sees no fix in sight, but there will be much more time to pout over the questions about your weekend plans and lunch documentation posts that are sure to come on this site this offseason.)
Having watched many of the games this season, including most home games in person, this season has taken its toll on the fan base. Students, who expect short-term results, tend to lean toward wanting JT3's ouster. Attendance has plummeted as students, alumni, and longtime fans see little point in coming out to watch a losing team. To sign up to watch this season's team, to watch all of the hope and lofty expectations fade away, has been nothing less than an act of basketball masochism. It has not been a question of if the gut punch will come, but when. It’s miserable. But for some strange reason, I love it. I can't give up and I'd assume most fans sufficiently dedicated to read this blog on a regular basis can't give up either. Maybe it's school pride, the tradition, an attachment to the players, or the idea that it all should work out. Either way, something brings us back. I don't know what it is. It's like The Godfather: Part III (admittedly the weak link in the series), where Michael Corleone says, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
Regardless, I'm happy to scream and dance and document the proceedings for you readers. If there are any postseason games or other interesting happenings, I will document those as well. In recent days as this season has wound down, I've thought about all the opportunities that have come to me through Casual Hoya. I've met so many great people (commenters and non-commenters alike), and even in the bleakest moments, the fact that I have the privilege to chronicle it all for you keeps me going. Pour one out for this season. I'm looking forward to doing it all one last time next season, hopefully with more Kate Upton GIFs and less existential misery.