Spiraling Georgetown arrives at Cincinnati in the midst of an identity crisis.
Less than two weeks ago, the Hoyas walked off the floor after an 88-74 pounding of then No. 8 Syracuse feeling pretty good about their season. The team's bench had arrived, making major contributions in consecutive victories over Providence and Seton Hall. The meatiest portion of Georgetown's league schedule was behind it, yielding a respectable 3-2 start. And given the young team's start against the nation's toughest schedule, none of its goals seemed outlandish - from collecting a third consecutive Big East regular-season title to securing a No. 3 seed or higher in the NCAA tournament.
What a difference a fortnight makes.
The Hoyas (12-6, 3-4 Big East) have lost three straight games since that victory over the Orange, authoring the program's first alarming losing streak since 2006 (also three) in increasingly perplexing fashion. A 76-67 loss at No. 3 Duke was followed by a 17-point home loss to unranked West Virginia and a 65-60 loss Sunday to Seton Hall, which hadn't won a conference game.
"It became a war of attrition," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "When that happens, I just think it comes down to who wants it more."
Gonzalez was merely commenting on what everybody at Prudential Center witnessed. The Pirates didn't make a single 3-pointer on the day. They were undersized in the paint and outrebounded (40-30) accordingly. The second of the team's scholarship centers fouled out with 1:30 remaining and the Pirates leading 61-60, leaving 6-foot-7 walk-on Matt Cajuste to defend Georgetown center Greg Monroe (17 points on 6-for-7 shooting).
Instead of pounding the ball to Monroe, the Hoyas ended the game by launching errant 3-pointers on each of their final four possessions, defying logic and Thompson's rather specific instructions.
What did Thompson say to his players during timeouts after each repeated offense?
"I probably don't want to discuss that right now," Thompson said.
There has been some suggestion that perhaps Georgetown's three-game skid is the product of a selfish streak, and the team certainly isn't sharing the ball like it did earlier in the season.
"That is 100 percent accurate," said Thompson, whose team averaged 15.6 assists in their first five Big East games but just 9.0 in losses to the Mountaineers and Pirates. "One of the main things we focused on the last couple of days was making the extra pass and trusting each other."
Team assists leader Chris Wright has managed just three assists against six turnovers since a heated exchange with senior guard Jessie Sapp late in the first half of a loss at Duke. Coincidence?
"I think so," Thompson said. "Those two just bumped into one another on a play, and they were both fired up in the heat of the moment. It happens. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Chris is like most of the guys on our team: He's still learning to deal with the highs and lows of a full season in the Big East. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to play well at both ends of the floor.
"And when things don't go well, as they can't for a full season, he has a tendency to turn inward. We haven't been sharing the ball, but I think it's been because we've been playing tight, not because we're a selfish team."
One thing is certain: Assists are harder to come by when a team can't seem to make a jump shot. And no amount of sharing is going to help the Hoyas surge back into the Big East elite if they don't start connecting on more shots from the perimeter. During their three-game slide, the Hoyas have made just 10 of 53 shots from behind the 3-point arc while opponents sagged deeper in zone defenses.
"Look, I'm a realist, and I know we've dug a little hole for ourselves," Thompson said. "But I'm nowhere close to giving up on this group. I know how good they can be. And I know we're going to get there."