- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

ANAHEIM, Calif. Some teams simply need a little skepticism.

Georgetown was installed as an eight-point underdog against Maryland for tomorrow's first West Region semifinal at the Arrowhead Pond. Perhaps Hoyas coach Craig Esherick should buy a round of beers for every bookie in Las Vegas. Fact is, Georgetown has taken the court six times as an underdog this season. And every time the Hoyas (25-7) have had the last laugh.

"We thrive on it," junior point guard Kevin Braswell said of the team's back-seat status. "We looked in the paper before we played Arkansas [in the first round of the NCAA tournament] and saw they were seven-point favorites. We said, 'Well, we'll see about that.' Just like when the brackets first came out and Arkansas was a seven-seed and we were a 10-seed, we said, 'We'll see about that.' Now it's Maryland favored by [eight], and we're going to see about that, too."

Unlike Maryland (23-10), which began the season ranked No. 5 in the nation, Georgetown's entire season has been an exercise in proving the pundits wrong.

The Hoyas were not ranked to start the season. And even Esherick used a slight to motivate his team before the season, hanging an NIT banner over the team's locker room urinal. Three times during their undefeated run to start the season (at Louisville and twice against Seton Hall), the Hoyas were listed as underdogs. Interestingly, only after the team started 16-0 and gained national acclaim did it begin to flounder, dropping six of 10 games after it cracked the Top 10 for the first time in five years.

The midseason slide produced a second wave of skepticism, and conventional wisdom had the Hoyas on the NCAA tournament bubble until they upset Syracuse and Notre Dame on consecutive weekends to close the regular season. Finally, the Hoyas' embarrassing 58-40 loss to Seton Hall in their Big East tournament opener put them back on the chuckle chart. The NCAA tournament selection committee saddled them with a No. 10 seed, and oddsmakers picked Arkansas to bounce them in Boise.

"When we got in the locker room before the Arkansas game, the first thing I did was walk over and put a big number '10' for 10-seed on the board," Braswell said. "It was supposed to be sort of like our NIT banner back home."

Perhaps Braswell's tactic worked because the Hoyas easily handled the Razorbacks' vaunted fullcourt press, crushed the Hogs on the boards 47-35 and won 63-61 on a buzzer-beating layup by reserve forward Nat Burton. Predictably, the Hoyas manhandled overmatched Hampton 76-57 in the second round. But tomorrow against Maryland, one of the nation's hottest teams thanks to eight wins in nine games, the Hoyas once again have been relegated to underdog status.

"We certainly are the underdog against Maryland," said Esherick, reveling in the woe-is-us role. "We're the 10-seed, and they're the three-seed. They're rated higher than us in the polls. But our guys have responded well all season in this type of situation, and I'm hoping that's the case in this game.

One thing Esherick doesn't have to worry about is an awe factor; unlike the standard No. 10 seed in the tournament, Georgetown is too familiar with the Terps to be intimidated by either their high seed or high caliber of personnel.

"Our guys have watched them play, just like they have watched us play," Esherick said. "Their guys have played against our guys in summer league and high school. So there's a familiarity there."

For Maryland frontcourt players Lonny Baxter and Terence Morris, it could be a familiarity they would like to forget. Last summer in the Kenner League, Baxter and Morris played on a team that met the "Tombs," a Georgetown squad featuring youngsters Mike Sweetney and Wesley Wilson, in the league semifinals. Sweetney and Wilson dominated the Terps' tandem inside, outscoring the Maryland big men 36-14.

"It was just a Kenner League game, but it was fun banging around with them," said Sweetney, who had not played a college game at the time. "I'm looking forward to some more contact [tomorrow]."

That feeling seems to be consistent throughout the Georgetown roster. The Hoyas are intent on proving they can play with their crosstown rivals.

"We've been motivated all season by people who don't think we've got the goods," said Georgetown senior guard Anthony Perry, the team's perimeter stopper. "I'm excited about playing defense on [Juan] Dixon, trying to deny him the ball. My goal is to try and not let him touch the ball, period. I think we're all fired up about little things like that because this game is the ultimate chance to prove ourselves to everyone, including our fans. We've got to impress our fans, give them what they want and win the game. That's all there is to it. We don't want anyone from Georgetown to have to take anything off of anyone from Maryland after this is over. It's a huge game for bragging rights, so we've got to take care of business."


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