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Hoyas push for tournament positioning down the Big East stretch

- - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Georgetown's unexpected ascent into the rarified air of the college basketball elite is one of the year's biggest storylines. But with tournament season fast approaching, the Hoyas will have to prove once again their top-10 ranking isn't a result of overinflation.

While Georgetown's players have remained low-key about their rapid rise this season, even they realize a different level of intensity is needed down the stretch.

"Around this time, everyone is getting excited for March, and that's part of the game," forward Hollis Thompson said. "But at the same time, if you want to be in a good position when it comes to those tournaments, you need to win now. So everybody is still locked in and focused on the games we have at hand."

With five games remaining, starting with Saturday's contest at Providence, the immediate goal for Georgetown (19-5, 9-4) is to maintain a top-four position in the Big East standings and earn one of the coveted double-byes for the conference tournament, which begins March 6 in New York.

That will be a challenge, given that the Hoyas face two teams ahead of them in the standings - streaking Notre Dame (9-3) and rugged Marquette (10-3), whom they have already beaten this year - and a desperate Seton Hall squad fighting to stay on the NCAA tournament bubble.

"It's big for us," guard Jason Clark said. "We have to hone in and focus on everything that we're supposed to do. The defense has to get tighter, the offense has to get tighter. But we're a confident team."

Delving into the NCAA tournament at this point of the year becomes a numbers game, as the Ratings Percentage Index and strength of schedule get bandied about in discussing the strengths and weaknesses of tournament-caliber squads.

The Hoyas' profile is relatively strong, with an RPI of 13, a strength of schedule of 16 and a record of 6-3 against the RPI top-50 teams.

"It's not quite a top-10 profile, but it could be by the time it's all said and done," said Jerry P. Palm, founder of CollegeRPI.com and a bracket expert for CBSSports.com. "They don't have the real high-quality wins."

The Hoyas also don't have terrible losses, although losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - two teams likely on the outside looking in come tournament time — nicked their profile a bit.

Georgetown also has the opportunity to bolster its resume against Notre Dame and Marquette, plus the Big East tournament, where another matchup with RPI No. 1 Syracuse could loom.

"I don't think they are going to be a one [seed], but a two is possible - they're not that far off," Palm said. "There's still a lot of range left. They could be a two or tank and be an eight."

Palm has the Hoyas as a No. 3 seed in his latest bracket projection, facing off against Iona in the first round in Columbus, Ohio. ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi also has the Georgetown as a third seed, playing No. 14 Drexel in Pittsburgh.

Palm also noted that the Hoyas' recent run of NCAA tournament failures - two straight first-game exits - has no bearing on the committee's seeding for this season.

As for coach John Thompson III, he's not ready to make any proclamations about his team or the tournament just yet.

"It's hard in athletics during the course of a season to step back and say, 'Ah, this is great,' or, 'Ah, this is hell,' " Thompson said. "You have to stay focused on what's in front of you."