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Dick Heller: Youthful squad an enigma

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2009

Georgetown stunk up the joint Saturday at Verizon Center, blowing a 12-point second-half lead against a so-so Cincinnati team.

Georgetown staged a heroic effort Saturday at Verizon Center, overcoming a terrible start to take a dangerous Cincinnati team into overtime.

If you're not sure which of these assessments fits the Hoyas' 64-62 loss to the Bearcats, don't ask coach John Thompson III. Chances are he doesn't have a clue either.

What we do know is that the Hoyas, now a shaky 13-9 overall and a poor 4-7 in the Big East, are a totally unpredictable gang that could bop highly ranked Connecticut on the road last month and then flop embarrassingly against lesser foes.

Young teams are like that, so this inconsistency should be no surprise. In the fifth season of JT3's roundball reign on the Hilltop, the Hoyas start two sophomores and one freshman. Their rotation includes three sophs and two frosh. And as more than one seer has noted on other fronts, what you see is what you get.

Meaning if Thompson had any hair on his head, he'd be tearing it out by now.

Imagine this dialogue between the head of the Hoyas and his illustrious father (and predecessor once removed):

JT3: "Daddy, why did I want to become a basketball coach like you?"

JT Jr.: "Darned if I know, son."

While the elder Thompson whiles away the time uttering sweet nothings on his daily sports talk radio show, his perplexed offspring must figure out what ails his basketball team - and he's running out of time.

The Hoyas probably need to finish at least 9-9 in the Big East to rate at-large NCAA tournament consideration, which would mean winning five of their last seven league dates against such toughies as Marquette (unbeaten in the league), Syracuse, Louisville and Villanova.

In a word or two, forget it - especially for a team that just might be unraveling faster than bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill.

The Hoyas came out so flat against Cincinnati that Thompson briefly yanked all five starters less than five minutes in with the Hoyas behind 11-2.

After the game, freshman center Greg Monroe termed the mass sit-down "embarrassing." A much stronger objection apparently was voiced at the time by guard Jessie Sapp, the Hoyas' floor leader and only senior starter, who thereafter got less floor time than the Hoyas' cheerleaders.

"Was Jessie sick or hurt?" a reporter asked Thompson.

"No," the coach replied, offering no other explanation and leaving the subject open to raging conjecture.

Monroe, who probably hasn't learned to keep his mouth as tightly shut as his coach would prefer, also commented that the Hoyas lack togetherness. We can only hope they find it before next Saturday's game at Syracuse, but don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati is staging a nice little resurgence under second-year coach Mick Cronin several years after the highly successful Bob Huggins was allowed to depart because of alleged recruiting misadventures.

The Bearcats now have defeated the Hoyas twice in 11 days on the way to a 15-8 record after enduring their first losing season (13-19) in 21 years last winter. Nobody is comparing this outfit to those of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Oscar Robertson sparkled beyond belief and the 'Cats subsequently won two NCAA titles under Ed Jucker, but at least the Queen City has something positive happening in sports.

No thanks, of course, to the Reds and Bengals.

Against the Hoyas, Cincinnati finally prevailed in overtime after scoring the last five points in regulation. The Bearcats had some help, though, from Georgetown's misguided shooters, who flubbed their last six shots plus all eight in overtime.

Yet there was one positive note at the finish.

The Hoyas' bulldog mascot didn't make a mess on the floor, which is more than can be said for its human counterparts.