- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

Georgetown men’s basketball coach John Thompson III doesn’t have to raise his voice to motivate his team for today’s trip to Villanova. Every Hoyas player knows the game will provide a chance to avenge an anomaly.

Since Dec. 5, a compelling case can be made that only top-ranked Florida and No. 8 Memphis have played as well as No. 14 Georgetown (19-5, 9-2 Big East). During that span, the Hoyas have won 15 of 17 games, including streaks of seven and eight victories. Of the 15 wins, all but one (at Louisville) have been by double-digit margins, a remarkable achievement for a team from any league, much less the Big East.

And even one of the two losses, a 74-69 setback at then-No. 7 Pittsburgh, qualifies for praise; in front of the league’s toughest crowd, the Hoyas shot 60.9 percent from the field and committed just 10 turnovers. Given such efficiency, Georgetown didn’t lose that game — Pitt won it.

And then there was Georgetown’s only other conference loss — a 56-52 defeat at home by unranked Villanova. And it was ugly, a 22-turnover throwback to the halting, dispassionate, sloppy early season squad that staggered to a 4-3 start and hadn’t been seen for a month before nor since the Jan. 8 loss to the Wildcats (18-7, 6-5).

That underachieving team now seems gone for good, replaced by a juggernaut on an eight-game tear defined by three keys.

The first and most obvious change for the Hoyas over the last eight games is the consistent quality play of junior frontcourt staples Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. The Villanova loss marked the nadir for the pair, who scored nine points on just seven shots, with Hibbert failing to record a single official field goal attempt.

In the nine games since, the two have combined to average 29.1 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 61.6 percent from the field. Both have been more assertive. And Green finally looks comfortable away from the basket. The 6-foot-9 forward has become one of the Big East’s most accurate 3-point shooters (41.5 percent) while conceding the low block to Hibbert and developing a deadly midrange game around the elbow.

“That area has been open for me pretty much all season because teams are sagging down low on Roy,” Green recently said. “When teams zone us, that area around the foul line is definitely a soft spot I can take advantage of.”

The team’s ball security also has improved greatly during the streak.

After the Hoyas’ season-high 22 turnovers against the Villanova fullcourt press, Thompson tweaked his press-attacking philosophy (moving Hibbert from the press-breaking equation), and the Hoyas have averaged just 11.7 turnovers in the nine games since.

While Hibbert is less involved in Georgetown’s press attack, freshman guard Jeremiah Rivers’s role in the offense has increased.

When the Hoyas lost to Villanova, Rivers played only six minutes in spite of the monumental issues the team’s thin backcourt was having against the Wildcats’ harassment. Since then Rivers is averaging 13.3 minutes and has committed just 10 total turnovers. Rivers has a subpar jumpshot but boasts a serious handle that has addressed the team’s only glaring weakness (ball handling/backcourt depth).

Finally, Georgetown has improved defensively. Thanks to the shot-altering presence of the 7-2 Hibbert and better communication on switches, the Hoyas rank third in the conference in field goal percentage defense (.391). Giving up virtually no interior first shots, the Hoyas have made eight straight opposing offenses look like jack-happy, 3-point renegades.

“They’re so long, and they contest everything — every pass, every shot, every drive,” West Virginia coach John Beilein said Monday after Georgetown beat his Mountaineers 71-53. “They’re like a great baseball team in that they’re so strong up the middle. [Junior point guard Jon] Wallace is so underrated and such a great player. Green is as good a player as there is in this league at the three. And then you’ve got Hibbert. There you go — that’s 1-3-5 and a great team that everyone should really enjoy watching.”

And a team starting to live up to its preseason hype and gaining on the regular season greatness of the program’s most successful squads.

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