- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

The Georgetown Hoyas are said to be the luckiest team in college basketball this season, at least as Rick Pitino defines a team with a 27-5 record, a number of improbable escapes and a No. 2 seeding going into the NCAA tournament.

The Hoyas are clearly not as imposing as they were last season, when they advanced to the Final Four. They clearly are not as resourceful following the departure of Jeff Green, who was not a dominant scorer but a trustworthy facilitator in the final minutes of a close game.

Even Roy Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 center who hit a lucky 3-pointer to defeat Connecticut, has felt the absence of Green. His field goal percentage is at .601, down seven percentage points from last season.

The difference in shooting percentage is merely one well-placed pass every two games that leads to a dunk.

Hibbert has shown he can be dominant. He also has shown he can be a nonfactor, as he was in 14 foul-plagued minutes against Villanova in the Big East tournament quarterfinal.

That is partly the nature of the college game and partly because of Hibbert’s tendency to be a step too late to the action, especially if he is winded.

Yet as relatively quiet as Hibbert’s season has been — excluding his lucky 3-pointer against Connecticut — his numbers reflect a certain competence.

He is averaging 13.6 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.7 minutes a game. The output does not necessarily compare favorably to the senior seasons of Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, who set the big-man standard at Georgetown.

But the latter three played in a more up-and-down system than Hibbert, and all averaged more than 30 minutes a game in their senior seasons.

Given how the college game has evolved in the last generation — with ever more emphasis on 3-point shooting — the center is sometimes the incidental position. That quality can be exacerbated by a center who has a reserve personality, as Hibbert does.

Hibbert’s uneven senior season and the fortuitous bent of the Hoyas have inspired the talk of luck.

It is not a totally unfair assertion if you are West Virginia, Villanova and Marquette or if you see that the Hoyas are 6-0 in games decided by three or fewer points and 2-0 in overtime.

All favorable officiating aside, that 6-0 mark also can be cited as a testament to the steadying influence of coach John Thompson III.

The Hoyas believe they are going to win the close ones, which is part of the mental struggle all teams must conquer.

And as any coach will tell you, it sometimes is better to be lucky than good.

That is especially true in the single-elimination NCAA tournament.

No play in the Hoyas’ recent past illustrates that more than Green’s skating session that resulted in the Hoyas defeating Vanderbilt 66-65 in the tournament last season.

Green was able to convert the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds left after the referees experienced a momentary bout of blindness.

If the Jesuit-blessed Hoyas are “closer to heaven” than the competition, as Pitino suggests, that is a makeover upgrade from the Papa Thompson era.

As God’s Team, the Hoyas often win in inartistic ways, with a reliance on defense and rebounding.

The Hoyas did neither well against Pittsburgh in the Big East championship. The Hoyas allowed the Panthers to shoot 45.1 percent from the field and ended up with a 41-29 rebound deficit.

The Hoyas are looking to be more persuasive in Raleigh, N.C., this Friday, when they meet the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, who are making their first appearance in the tournament after winning the America East championship.

If Thompson III suspects the Hoyas are looking past their opponent, he could remind them that Vermont upset Syracuse in the first round of the tournament in 2005.

He also could tell them that two weekends’ worth of solid work would put them back in the Final Four and silence the talk of luck.

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