- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Show up and win: That's what everybody expects Georgetown to do tonight against the Villanova Seven in the first round of the Big East tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Show up and lose: If the Hoyas do that, they can expect to have nothing but public embarrassment for losing to a scandal-depleted team and have nothing to show for this disappointing season.

In a roller-coaster year that saw the Hoyas win nine of their first 11 games, plunge into last place of the Big East's West Division and then resurrect themselves with a late-February push to qualify for the Big East tournament, rock bottom wouldn't compare to anything the Hoyas have been through if they lose to the Wildcats.

"The five guys that played [in Villanova's last-minute 56-54 loss last Sunday to No. 5 Pittsburgh] are all good players, all of them were heavily recruited, and all of them have had good seasons," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said of what remains of the Wildcats. "Every one of our guys watched bits and pieces of that game, so I think they understand they better be ready to play. But I'm going to constantly remind them that we better be ready to play because people will look at the fact that they have so many guys that are not going to be able to play on the bench in street clothes."

The Wildcats (15-14), the East Division's fourth seed, will dress only seven players tonight because of a telephone scandal involving the unauthorized use of a university access code. The school suspended 12 players, leaving five scholarship players and two walk-ons to face the Hoyas (14-13), the West Division's fifth seed.

Calls for Esherick's immediate dismissal have quieted of late since the Hoyas qualified for the Big East tournament, although some Georgetown fans expressed their dissatisfaction by holding up anti-Esherick signs in Saturday's season finale against No. 17 Notre Dame at MCI Center.

For now, Esherick's job appears safe. However, a loss to the Wildcats could be the last straw. Earlier this season, there was talk of extending Esherick's contract, but negotiations were suspended when the Hoyas lost eight of nine games from Jan. 14 to Feb. 11.

A loss to the Wildcats would also put the Hoyas on the NIT bubble. There's no guarantee the NIT would even want a 14-14 Georgetown team after the Hoyas snubbed an invitation last season. The NIT is a 32-team field.

If Georgetown loses, then the Hoyas will be the victims of one of the biggest upsets of the year and the punchline of many jokes. Maybe that's why they call this time of year March Madness.

"I'm not looking at seven guys, I'm looking at 10 or 15 guys," Georgetown shooting guard Gerald Riley said. "We don't care what people say about us, we're going in there to get a victory."

Given that Villanova can barely field a team, expect the Hoyas to exploit that advantage by playing uptempo and dictating the game. Against Pitt, the Wildcats walked the ball up on every offensive possession and strictly played a 2-3 zone defense.

By conserving their energy and fouls, the Wildcats were able to stay close against the Panthers. Villanova freshman guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray each scored 15 points mostly on jumpers and nearly pulled off the upset.

Georgetown's game plan for short-handed Wildcats should be simple: Push the ball on every possession, press fullcourt with reckless abandon and dump the ball to forward Mike Sweetney every time down. If that doesn't wear out the Villanova Seven, nothing will.

"They only have seven people so they're going to have to watch the fatigue factor," Sweetney said. "We have to come out and play good basketball no matter what. My guess, with seven players? You slow it down. I don't know how they intend to come out and play."

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