- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

Minutes after No. 22 Georgetown trampled No. 11 Marquette 76-58 on Saturday, a visiting reporter asked coach John Thompson III whether he thought his Hoyas were playing the best basketball in the nation.

“Wow,” a blindsided Thompson exclaimed before recovering to deliver his stock response to big-picture queries. “I really don’t worry about the rest of the country. It’s about us. It’s how much can we improve? What can we focus on? What can we take care of internally? Looking at the big landscape, honestly, I don’t do that. We’ll pick our heads up at the end of the year and see where we stand.”

Thompson might be avoiding the issue, but entering tonight’s matchup with West Virginia at Verizon Center, the Hoyas (18-5, 8-2 Big East) are on a seven-game winning streak that has lifted them to second place in the conference. Pittsburgh, which leads the Big East at 10-1 (22-3 overall), visits the District on Feb. 24.

Since losing on the road to the Panthers on Jan. 13, the Hoyas have won their last seven games by an average of 15.6 points, gradually evolving from early season disappointment to NCAA tournament probable to Big East title contender and NCAA lock. If the Hoyas add another pair of RPI-boosting victories to their resume this week (West Virginia and at Villanova), they will be even closer to where they started the season — ranked eighth in the nation and a chic dark horse pick to crash the Final Four party in Atlanta.

Why the total turnaround from the team that lost at home to Old Dominion and Oregon in November? The simplified answer is that over the last month Georgetown juniors Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert finally started playing like the formidable frontcourt duo coaches expected when they made them unanimous preseason All-Big East selections.

“They’re no longer out there directing and teaching the younger guys,” former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. said. “They’ve realized that they’ve got to take over themselves. … It’s almost like they said, ‘To [heck] with it. We’ve got to go now.’ ”

Thompson the younger feels that’s just half of the explanation.

“It’s not just so much them not trying to help and show,” Thompson III said. “It’s that everyone else now knows what they should do, and they don’t have to do as much helping and teaching. That allows them to just go and play.”

Whatever the reason, the 7-foot-2 Hibbert and 6-9 Green haven’t just been solid of late for the Hoyas; they have been extraordinary. In the team’s last five games, Green and Hibbert have combined to average 37.8 points and 13.2 rebounds. Those points have been produced with an average of just 22.2 shots, resulting in 1.70 points an attempt.

Over the same stretch since Jan. 24, No. 1 Florida’s combination of Joakim Noah and Al Horford (26.3 points, 1.63 points an attempt), No. 4 Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker and Brian Butch (31.0, 1.43), No. 5 North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright (31.3/1.61) and No. 24 Arizona’s Chase Budinger and Ivan Radenovic (31.3/1.44) all have produced less offense and have been less efficient.

Tonight, Green and Hibbert lead the Hoyas against West Virginia, which is coming off a home win against No. 2 UCLA.

“West Virginia is a good team and a tough one to prepare for in a quick turnaround,” Green said. “But they got us twice last year, so there won’t be any problem getting ready for this one.”

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