- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

In the aftermath of Monday night's loss to unranked Villanova, No. 18 Georgetown has retreated to the Hilltop in search of answers.
Why has a team which started 16-0 lapsed into a 3-5 death spiral? How could a team which seemed destined for a high seed in the NCAA tournament a month ago now find itself slipping quickly down the at-large list? And what can be done to remedy the situation and spare the Hoyas (19-5, 6-5 Big East) an ignominious fourth straight trip to the NIT?
We took an analytical look at the Hoyas' slump and found four factors at the core of Georgetown's midseason blues:
1. Rube No individual has been as responsible for Georgetown's recent fade as senior center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje. The 7-foot co-captain from Cameroon began the season as a potential NBA lottery pick but has spent the last month showcasing his CYO game.
In Georgetown's first 15 games, all victories, Boumtje Boumtje averaged 11.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Georgetown offense ran through him on virtually every halfcourt possession, and Boumtje Boumtje responded by making 61.8 percent of his 6.8 shots per game.
But shortly after Big East play began, Boumtje Boumtje went AWOL AWOL. Over the last nine games (a 4-5 stretch for the team), he has averaged just 4.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while making just 35.3 percent of his 3.8 shots.
Eat your heart out Ralph Ellison.
Unfortunately, the stat sheet is the only place on which Boumtje Boumtje can disappear. On the floor, his many deficiencies countless bobbles, grossly errant passes and inconceivably butchered putbacks are so glaring that Georgetown backers who once thought Boumtje Boumtje would blossom into the next great Georgetown center now deride him with nicknames like "Ruben Stiffus Stiffus" and "Bungle Bungle."
In a moment that typifies Boumtje Boumtje's decline, he watched Monday as Villanova's Derrick Snowden, a 6-foot freshman guard, went around a screen at the top of the key and drove all the way to the hoop for a score that gave the Wildcats a 55-51 lead with 1:11 remaining.
Snowden seemed to spend a month approaching the basket, but Boumtje Boumtje never reacted. He didn't step in front of Snowden. He didn't swoop in from the side at the last moment for a block. He didn't even leave his feet or make a pretense of challenging the shot. He simply stood on the low block enjoying the best view in the house as Snowden shoved a stake into the Hoyas' collective heart.
"It would be totally unfair to point the finger at any one person for what has happened lately," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said yesterday. "I will say that we need an inside presence, and that inside presence has to be more than just a freshman [Mike Sweetney]. But all of us have to make adjustments. It's not just any one person. Ruben will be fine."
2. Defensive doldrums In its first 16 games, Georgetown boasted the best field goal shooting defense in the nation and the second-best rebounding margin (plus-13.1). The Hoyas outrebounded each of their first 16 opponents, while playing a swarming perimeter defense that held teams to a paltry 31.7 shooting percentage from 3-point range.
During its 3-5 stretch, however, three teams have outrebounded Georgetown, the team's board margin has been a pedestrian plus-3.8 and its last eight opponents have combined to shoot a torrid 40.3 percent from behind the arc. Quite simply, the Hoyas seem to have gotten away from the tireless, ball-hawking, board-pounding play that has long been the program's trademark.
3. Closing calamity In a recurring problem that has dogged the Hoyas throughout the Esherick era, the Hoyas still haven't learned how to close games. Georgetown is 1-4 in games decided by seven points or less this season. Three of those losses stand out because of epic late-game droughts.
In a 70-66 home loss to Pittsburgh (Jan. 20), the Hoyas failed to score over the final 3:53. A week later in a 78-71 home loss to Notre Dame, Georgetown suffered through a late five-minute scoreless stretch and managed just 12 points in the final 6:30. Finally, the Hoyas scored just nine points in the last 7:55 of Monday's 59-56 loss to Villanova.
Time and again in the clutch, Georgetown has either taken bad shots or failed to capitalize on quality looks. Junior point guard Kevin Braswell developed into a potent designated closer at the end of last season but seems to have regressed.
"My primary concern in those situations is shot selection," said Esherick. "And I'll tell you, against Villanova we got a ton of open shots down the stretch that we should have made. There have been times this season when I wasn't particularly pleased with our shot selection at the end of games. But there have been just as many times when we've gotten good shots and just haven't made them."
4. Shooting woes The Hoyas have a slew of streaky outside shooters but no real 3-point snipers. Senior Anthony Perry was a pleasant surprise through 16 games, connecting on 44 percent of his 3-pointers. But Perry has reverted to last season's form, making only 23.1 percent of his bombs during the team's eight-game skid.
Basically, the team's halfcourt offensive trump has always been its inside height and brawn, featuring Boumtje Boumtje, freshman power forward Sweetney (6-8, 260 pounds), reserve center Wesley Wilson (6-11, 235) and reserve forward Lee Scruggs (6-11, 216).
But during the slide, teams have defended the Hoyas with a sagging zone and Georgetown has been content to bomb away from the outside instead of pounding the ball inside. To that end, the most telling shooting stat of late isn't the team's modest proficiency from outside, but its increased emphasis on perimeter shooting. Over its last eight games, Georgetown has taken nearly six more 3-pointers per game (21.1) than during its 16-game winning streak (15.5).
In the final analysis, the reasons for Georgetown's fade are relatively obvious, while trying to find solutions can leave a coach swimming in Pepto Bismol.
"There's a lot that I've said to them and will say today and tomorrow in terms of challenging them," said Esherick, who has only five regular-season games remaining to prepare his team for postseason play. "But there's only so much you can say. Some of it is … what's the Spanish word [slang for guts]?"
Esherick found the word, let it roll off his tongue and hang in the air like a macho call to battle and then marched off to prepare his struggling squad for Saturday's game at Rutgers.

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