- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2013

Past the flag-wavers and gyrating pep band in blue and gray polo shirts, expectation drifted through the Leo O’Donovan Dining Hall like the smell of burnt blue cotton candy.

“It’s never been like this,” one man muttered.

An hour before fifth-ranked Georgetown learned its NCAA tournament fate Sunday night, pom-poms and scarves and balloons and hoodies insisting “I bleed Hoya blue” clogged the sprawling room.

Young and old gobbled free hot dogs and pizza and make-your-own nachos and tried, sometimes in vain, to find a spare seat and carry on conversations amid the din.

“You better move over!” thumped speakers high above the gathering.

This felt different, same as the team they support.

How much different will be determined beginning Friday, when No. 2 seed Georgetown faces 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in Philadelphia. The Eagles beat Miami earlier in the season, captured the Atlantic Sun tournament, and, as a reward, face John Thompson III’s young, surging group.

To appreciate Georgetown’s remarkable journey this season, go back to last year’s Selection Sunday. Same room. Same floor-to-ceiling projection television. Same live look-ins by CBS. Same free hot dogs.

The similarities end there.

Among the onlookers was Nerlens Noel and his hi-top fade haircut. Then the country’s top recruit, Noel eventually took his shot-blocking wizardry to Kentucky (announced by the university’s logo shaved into that trademark haircut).

Georgetown lost out on the big-time center. Its leading scorer, Jason Clark, graduated. Another gifted contributor, Hollis Thompson, departed a year early to pursue professional basketball.

And somehow Georgetown improved. We’re not talking incremental, building-a-program sort of steps forward. No, Georgetown won 13 of its last 15 games, defeated nemesis Syracuse at the Carrier Dome and Verizon Center, and captured the Big East’s regular season title.

This is the sort of transformation that the endless bracket projections and avalanche of numbers March brings — ratings percentage index and strength of schedule and so on — can’t quantify.

Ten freshmen and sophomores are on the roster. Not a problem. The group has adopted the quiet poise of one of those youngsters, do-everything Big East Player of the Year and likely top-five NBA draft pick Otto Porter, and created a defense that allows just 55.7 points per game. They are a calm, workmanlike group with a star from small-town Missouri who doesn’t act like one, at least off the court.

Much of that success came without third-leading scorer Greg Whittington, limited to 13 games because of academic problems. Didn’t matter. Talented center Tyler Adams missed the season because of a heart condition. Didn’t matter.

Story Continues →