Georgetown's monthlong slide toward oblivion stands as one of the ultimate enigmas of the college basketball season.
On Jan. 14, the Hoyas crushed then No. 8 Syracuse 88-74 by posting the largest single-game scoring outburst of the John Thompson III era to move to 12-3 (3-2 Big East) and improve a postseason resume that already included a blowout victory at then No. 2 Connecticut and three other wins over ranked teams.
The Hoyas had the nastiest stretch of their Big East schedule behind them, the hottest freshman in the land anchoring their frontcourt (Greg Monroe) and a young roster that seemed several leaps ahead of the expected maturation pace.
What a difference a month makes.
The Hoyas (13-9, 4-7) have won only once in seven games since. The squad that staggers into Carrier Dome for Saturday's return date with the Orange (18-6, 6-5) will do so mired in the worst spiral of any Georgetown team in Thompson's tenure.
"At the beginning of the season, I think everybody thought they were a little thin and a little young, but they looked awfully good in Orlando [in the Old Spice Classic] and then up at Connecticut," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "They were a young team you expected to only get better and better. Instead, they hit the skids. ... There's no way to explain it. How do you explain a hitting slump for a guy who's been around baseball all his life? It's mostly mental. It's a total loss of confidence. We've seen it with Texas. We've seen it with Notre Dame perhaps on a more profound level than anyone. And we're seeing it with Georgetown."
During its slump, Georgetown has been guilty of any number of shortcomings. At different times during the six losses and an unimpressive 57-47 home win over Rutgers, the Hoyas have lacked focus, 3-point accuracy, intensity under the boards, discipline, commitment to the system, chemistry, resolve, toughness, ability to finish at the rim and ability to finish games.
But the one constant throughout, aside from a lack of confidence, has been the absence of on-floor leadership.
When the Hoyas collapsed emotionally at Duke after a phantom technical foul call on Monroe, blame fell on lead official John Cahill. It should have fallen on Georgetown upperclassmen DaJuan Summers and Jessie Sapp. Instead of lifting their teammates beyond the adversity, the former spent the remainder of the game missing crucial free throws, while the latter sat on the bench after a spat with sophomore point guard Chris Wright.
When Georgetown lost at Seton Hall a week later, ending the game by attempting four consecutive 3-pointers (including chucks by Summers and Sapp) in direct defiance of Thompson's mandate to pound the ball inside to Monroe, where was the leadership?
When the Hoyas dropped their most recent game in overtime to Cincinnati, where were Sapp and Summers? Sapp sat the entire second half because of what Thompson dubbed a "coach's decision" after the senior guard apparently lost his cool concerning Thompson's wholesale, disciplinary first-half substitutions. Summers? He spent the afternoon fumbling rebounds out of bounds and bobbling passes, the most memorable of which came with just over a minute left in regulation on a backdoor cut that could have cemented the Georgetown victory.
"I think the upperclassmen have been disappointing; I don't know where DaJuan Summers' head is," said basketball guru Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News. "I think they miss Jonathan Wallace a lot more than anybody ever thought they would."
Without any consistency and focus from Sapp and Summers, the leadership role has fallen to Monroe and Wright, a pair who are attempting to learn to handle those reins during their first run through a Big East regular season.
With seven regular-season games and a trip to the Big East tournament left on the docket for a Georgetown team that still ranks 38th in the nation in the latest RPI, the curtain hasn't yet come down on Georgetown's NCAA tournament hopes.
Talent isn't the issue. After all, this is the team that pounded Connecticut in its own building to open the Big East season. But Georgetown's postseason future depends upon all the Hoyas - and particularly the two upperclassmen - playing the final month of the season for their teammates, not themselves.