- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

By now, sifting through the wreckage of another Georgetown early exit from the NCAA tournament is as much of a March tradition as hand-wringing over busted brackets, shrieking announcers and on-court dancing of questionable proficiency.

Each of Georgetown’s five NCAA appearances since 2008 have ended with a loss to a double-digit seed.

Davidson. Ohio. Virginia Commonwealth. NC State.

And the latest, of course, 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast.

If that university wasn’t familiar before the Eagles — yep, that’s their nickname — ran Georgetown out of the Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on Friday, you’re not alone. Florida Gulf Coast didn’t play Division I basketball until 2007-08, when Davidson commenced Georgetown’s March misery with a four-point upset.

Just 1.5 percent of 3 million entrants in one online bracket contest picked Florida Gulf Coast to beat Georgetown. History certainly favored that approach. Six No. 15s have managed to beat No. 2s in tournament history, the rarest of March surprises.

But what happened Friday didn’t look like much of a surprise or, save for the delirious postgame dancing, a bracket-crumpling upset. Florida Gulf Coast, the same beachfront university in Fort Myers that didn’t hold a class until 1997 and offers students free water-skiing, looked like the better team. Yes, the better team.

And Georgetown’s tournament ended with the thud of Chase Fieler’s alley-oop dunk with 1:54 remaining. It was the sort of dunk No. 2 seeds throw down on their hapless, small-conference victims, not the Georgetowns of the world.

Thing is, this year’s squad felt different. Looked different. Played different. Aggressive defense. Toughness. All that. A quiet, do-everything star in Otto Porter Jr. Ten freshmen and sophomores. Everyone had a role.

Even coach John Thompson III pledged to a roomful of supporters Selection Sunday that Georgetown planned “on being around for a while.”

That optimism was well-founded. Georgetown captured a share of the Big East regular-season title, won 13 of its last 15 games, and roared into the tournament looking every bit the threat to not just advance, but make a run at the university’s first Final Four since 2007.

That lasted about as long as the meteor that streaked over Washington on Friday night as Florida Gulf Coast locked down Porter to 5-for-17 shooting and thwarted any attempted rally.

Georgetown understands, more than most, the inherent unpredictability of March basketball.

That unpredictability is why we love March, even as we curse spoiled brackets consigned to the wastebasket. Those blood-pumping finishes to see if that university you’ve never heard of can eek out a victory. That unbridled joy on the faces of youngsters who did what 98.5 percent of the country figured was impossible.

College basketball’s world is flattening. A year ago, 15th-seeded Norfolk State — remember them? — stunned Missouri. Top seed Gonzaga already fell in this year’s tournament. For as much attention as seeds receive, they’re just numbers assigned in a conference room, not absolute measures of a team’s value. Even Florida Gulf Coast, after upsetting Miami earlier this season and winning the Atlantic Sun, found its No. 15 seed much too low.

March is about anything happening. And that’s why Thompson’s program shouldn’t be judged on the month’s disappointments.

Forty minutes don’t unravel four months that gave them the Big East’s Coach and Player of the Year. Forty less-than-stellar minutes don’t make Porter any less of a projected NBA lottery pick. And those five NCAA tournament losses in their first or second game since 2008 don’t invalidate the success during those seasons. After all, Davidson advanced to the Elite Eight after beating Georgetown; VCU went to the Final Four.

The only constant through those losses is Thompson, and he’s constantly proven he can win.

If winning in March is the bottom line — throw out the rest of the calendar and any other indicator of success you can dream up from graduation rates to conference titles — then any pretense that college basketball isn’t a business has been obliterated.

There’s more to college basketball than that. At least there should be. More than brackets and upsets and seasons defined by the madness that, once again, sent Georgetown home early and thrust an unknown into the limelight. March is heartbreaking and beautiful and, above all, filled with possibility.