The personification of calm amid the chaos, Georgetown coach John Thompson III reaffirmed his faith in his reeling squad Thursday afternoon outside McDonough Gymnasium.
“I still believe in this group,” said Thompson, whose Hoyas (13-9, 4-7 Big East) will look to emerge from their monthlong slide Saturday at No. 23 Syracuse (18-7, 6-6). “This [off] week was good because we got some time off to focus on us. … In the course of losing, it’s human nature - you start to doubt and wonder about yourself. And [this week was about] just getting back to remembering that we’re pretty good. We can be pretty good. And we will be pretty good.
“I still have a lot of confidence in these kids, and they’ve been working their behinds off.”
The Hoyas have lost six of seven games dating to an 88-74 victory over the Orange on Jan. 14. Syracuse has been stuck in a similar rut since that meeting, losing six of eight.
“[Syracuse] hasn’t really played recently either,” Georgetown sophomore guard Chris Wright said. “So, it’s going to be two hungry teams looking for a win in a rivalry game.”
The rivalry that helped build the Big East has been somewhat lopsided of late at Carrier Dome, where the Orange have won four straight in the series since 2002. But the Hoyas universally agreed that the team’s first extended respite since the start of conference play yielded some of the best practices of the season. It also allowed the weary roster the opportunity to recharge for a stretch run that will determine its postseason fate.
“This has been a really good week for us,” freshman center Greg Monroe said. “The practices have been good, and it’s given us a chance to get our legs under us a little bit too. I think everybody’s ready for Saturday.”
In a season on the verge of being sidetracked by various subplots and distractions, the 6-foot-11 big man from New Orleans put an end to one divisive rumor circulating by casually confirming he will return to the Hilltop for his sophomore season.
“Yeah, I am coming back [next year],” Monroe said in response to a flippant question from one reporter concerning his intentions. “Seriously.”
Wright and senior guard Jessie Sapp spent a considerable portion of Thursday’s time with the media quashing another misconception: that there is a personality conflict and chemistry issue concerning the team’s two lead guards.
“There’s no problems between me and my teammates or me and coach. There’s none of that at all,” said Sapp, whom Thompson benched for the second half of last week’s loss to Cincinnati. “Coach talked with me before the second half and told me what he was going to do. … This whole stretch has been frustrating for all of us. But that’s life. You’ve got to deal with it like a man. I’m not going to give my teammates the short end of the stick just because I didn’t play last week. No, we’ve worked too hard for that, and that would just be plain selfish. That’s not me.”
Said Wright: “I think our chemistry is fine. We just lost.”
In a rare big-picture moment, Thompson considered the Hoyas’ remaining schedule (seven games and the Big East Tournament) and addressed the team’s postseason hopes.
“We’re not in the position that we want to be in by any stretch of the imagination,” Thompson said. “But when you start looking at strength of schedule [No. 1] and RPI [No. 35] and everything that goes into [evaluating a team] coupled with the amount of games that we have left, we’re not in a bad position relative to the rest of the world.
“I’ve had a team or a couple of teams, at least one, where you look at it and you say, ‘We can’t do it.’ Whatever the factors are, ‘We can’t do it.’ And then maybe you come out here and say, ‘Hey, fellas, woe is me.’ I’ve felt that about teams - that we couldn’t get done what needed to get done. I do not feel that with this group at all. There’s a lot of ball to be played, and I have confidence in this group.”
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