A tumultuous week came to an ugly end Saturday when Georgetown folded down the stretch of an 81-55 blowout at the hands of its biggest conference rival, #2 Villanova. Following days of national and local media coverage on Georgetown basketball’s demise that featured former players and students calling for a coaching change, the Hoyas looked distracted and dispirited throughout their lopsided loss to the Wildcats. The defeat was Georgetown’s fifth straight and seven in eight games, a discouraging end to a second straight losing season.
Saturday was a contrast between two programs that were once expected to be the standard-bearers for the new Big East but instead have diverged dramatically. Villanova has fulfilled its end of the bargain, winning 63 of 72 conference games since realignment and all four regular season conference titles. At Georgetown, the Wildcats reminded us why they’ve been so successful, playing hard and smart at both ends of the floor for the full 40 minutes. Villanova star Josh Hart—who we are duty-bound to always mention, wanted to attend Georgetown but was never offered a scholarship—led the way, scoring 21 points to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and superb all-court effort.
The Hoyas also played as they have for much of the last four seasons, although in Georgetown’s case that’s not a compliment. The Hoyas struggled to score without giving the ball away, yielding 20 turnovers, and failed to defend without hacking, committing 22 personal fouls. These problems have been constants for Georgetown in recent years, when they’ve won barely half the conference games that Villanova has and enjoyed none of the accolades.
Hart is emblematic of the divergence between the two programs. A solid but unspectacular recruit out of Sidwell Friends in 2013, Hart arrived at Villanova when the Wildcats had just returned to the NCAA Tournament, one year removed from a losing season. At the same time, Georgetown was riding relatively high, having won the Big East regular season title in 2013 and earned a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In the years since, Hart, like many Villanova recruits, has made up for his lack of elite size, athleticism, or shooting with unparalleled effort and significant development from one year to the next. Villanova has consistently hit on recruits like Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Mikal Bridges, during the past four years, turning four-star recruits into all-league production.
During the same time, Georgetown has taken pretty similar clay and failed to mold it into much of anything. The Hoyas completely whiffed on multiple recruits, many of whom were rated just as high as Villanova’s future stars. Most notorious of the misses was Stephen Domingo, whom the Hoyas chose over Hart. Domingo was a bust and eventually was one of four transfers out of the Hilltop in the last five seasons. Others have stuck around without producing consistently, either because they didn’t develop or weren’t good enough to begin with. Of 10 players recruited between 2012 and 2014, only DSR, LJ Peak, and to a lesser degree Isaac Copeland have become multi-year starters.
Despite problems big and small, Georgetown remained within shouting distance of Villanova for much of the game, as the Wildcat lead stood at just 5 midway through the second half. But Villanova closed hard, scoring 35 points in the game’s last 11 minutes, including 10 straight scoring possessions, as Georgetown broke down completely. The Wildcats’ run was jump-started by—you guessed it—Georgetown turnovers and fouls, which led to points on four consecutive Villanova possessions. With the lead still lingering in single digits, Hart stepped up, hitting consecutive three-pointers that put the game away for good.
Today was the worst of both worlds for Georgetown. On defense, the Hoyas yielded a scorching 81 points on 69 possessions. Villanova scored when and where it wanted to, shooting 55 percent inside the arc and 35 percent from three, attempting 30 free throws and giving the ball away just 6 times (not counting an end-of-game shot-clock violation), and only once in the second half. For Georgetown, rotations were slow, positioning was bad, and help was nonexistent. A Hoya team that looked springy and revitalized at the beginning of the season looked sluggish and disengaged today.
The Hoyas were equally miserable on offense, failing to puncture Villanova’s half-court defense and often unable to just get inside the three-point arc. For the day, Georgetown shot just 36 percent, including just 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. Those numbers are bad by themselves, worse when considering the number of possessions that the Hoyas gave away on turnovers.
As Villanova ran away with it down the stretch, the crowd got ugly, chanting “Fire Thompson,” a familiar refrain for a difficult season. This game should have been about something, anything else. In an alternate universe, the Hoyas might have been rivaling Villanova for the conference title or at least battling for post-season seeding. Even in this disappointing season, Saturday could have been a focus on Georgetown’s three seniors, who played their last home game of the season on Saturday. Rodney Pryor, although a short-timer on the Hilltop as a graduate transfer, was the team’s leading scorer this season and today, when he matched Hart’s 21 points. Hayes and Reggie Cameron were more memorable for being good guys than great talents, but both deserved a warm send-off. (Who can ever forget the Henry Sims-Jason Clark embrace during the 2012 win over Notre Dame?)
But instead today ended up being about the ongoing failure of Georgetown basketball under the stewardship of head coach John Thompson III. Georgetown finishes this season 14-17, 5-13, its worst two marks since the Esherick Era. The Hoyas also finish their second straight losing season since just before JT3’s dad took over. After an off-season of supposed introspection and reinvention, Georgetown retooled only compile its worst offensive under JT3’s tutelage, and its fourth-worst defense. Despite changes in staff, personnel, and supposedly strategy, the Hoyas continue to toil in irrelevance.
Perhaps worse than on-court collapse is the absence of accountability at any level regarding the program. In a week in which ESPN, the Hoya, and the Washington Post all published negative articles about the program, suggesting that Thompson should resign or be fired, JT3 and Athletic Director Lee Reed managed no more than recycled statements to the press. Yesterday, the team provided no media availability, a pregame routine, particularly a home game, not to mention Senior Day and a nationally televised visit from the second-ranked team in the country.
While a busy week of travel and game preparation could explain non-responsiveness before today’s game, there was no such excuse for what happened today. During the game, the Verizon Center blasted loud music to drown out the jeers calling for Thompson’s removal, and fans reported having signs confiscated, or worse. Just one week after JT3 himself acknowledged that fans had ample reason to be frustrated, Georgetown basketball stifled those fans’ expression of their frustration.
The post-game was no better. After suffering a humiliating defeat at the end of a second straight unsuccessful season, JT3 chose not to say anything that would acknowledge that failure and take responsibility for it. Rather, Georgetown held a press conference that lasted under four minutes, during which a reporter seeking information about the future of the program was instructed to keep it to “game-related questions.”
We may be rapidly approaching a point of no return, if we’re not there already. By consistently drowning out paying fans, and by refusing to be responsive to routine media inquiries, Georgetown basketball risks alienating fans in ways that go far beyond wins and losses. A program that has descended into irrelevance in the past two seasons, and has seen declining attendance figures, cannot afford to isolate itself from its base, driving a diminishing group of fans ever farther away. And yet, that’s precisely what Georgetown did this week.