PHILADELPHIA — Markel Starks returned from Columbus, Ohio, last season after Georgetown’s NCAA tournament loss to No. 11 seed N.C. State and went right to the gym. Then he went back.
“I haven’t missed too many days,” the sophomore guard said. “I’ve dedicated myself to get back to this point, to be in a better situation.”
The Hoyas seem to be in a better situation than a year ago. Friday they’ll open the tournament at Wells Fargo Center as a No. 2 seed against No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast with memories of that upset fresh in their minds.
“Hopefully us a team, especially for the returners, they remember that experience,” Starks said. “And I’m sure they do. It wasn’t a happy feeling. We’re here to play.”
Starks said he’s been gearing up for this moment for a year. That loss as a third seed strengthened a dubious reputation started when Georgetown was a No. 3 and lost its NCAA tournament opener to No. 14 Ohio in 2010.
No players remain from that crushing defeat, but Starks said of early exits: “How we learn from them is on our own.”
The events of Nov. 13, 2012 could play a role, too. That’s when Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami, an impressive victory on the resume despite Durand Brown not playing for the Hurricanes. Miami is also a No. 2 seed in this tournament.
“That has helped, but I think just Coach [John] Thompson influencing that it’s a win-or-go-home situation and they have nothing to lose,” freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said. “I think that concept has brought our attention to dial in and focus on what we have to do.”
Facing a team out of the Atlantic Sun doesn’t inspire a lot of fear, but Florida Gulf Coast beating Miami and winning its conference tournament by 13 on the road means it will command more respect than a traditional No. 15 seed.
“That’s what this tournament is about: It’s about those guys getting chances to win,” junior forward Nate Lubick said. “But we think about our high seed being something that we’ve earned. We came in and we earned this seed, and we’re not going to let somebody take that away from us. We’re going to play our game, we’re going to be aggressors the entire game and we’re going to go out and take what’s ours.”
Not just sit back and expect it to happen. Players credit coach John Thompson III for getting them prepared.
“We weren’t [going to] overlook any team that we play,” sophomore guard Jabril Trawick said. “That’s something you don’t want to do because that can easily put you in a bad situation. We’re going to go out there and look at them as they’re any other good team in the country. They’re here for a reason, so we have to play them, we have to win a game tomorrow. We’re not taking them lightly.”
But as the rest of the Big East found out, taking Georgetown lightly is a fool’s errand. The Hoyas won a share of the conference title and earned the top seed in that tournament by beating Louisville and Marquette.
A season’s worth of big victories like that has the Hoyas confident they won’t fall victim to another upset.
“I think the defense has definitely played a major factor in that,” Smith-Rivera said. “I think offensively we have so many options that it’s hard to contain us every night. When you look at the scouting report, it’s different guys that you have to worry about. Once you try to contain Otto Porter, then you have to worry about Markel Starks. And when you can’t contain Markel Starks, you have to worry about Nate Lubick. It’s just a different mixture of guys who can play well at any time.”
Led by Porter, a player of the year candidate as a sophomore, this is a better team than Georgetown had a year ago. That’s more reason to believe it could be different this time around.
“I’m not saying that we weren’t deep enough last year, but I think we are extremely deep this year,” Starks said. “We can throw guys in through crucial points in the game and have them give us production.”
Trawick said there was belief last year. It just didn’t work out.
If the Hoyas are able to make a run in the next couple of weekends, it’s not hard to see that loss to N.C. State as one big reason. But there are others.
“When you look at every year, you think that this is the year,” Trawick said. “I love this team. We’ve got a lot of great dudes on this team. I think everyone is for each other on this team and that’s why we’ve been able to have the success we’ve had so far.”