What the hell’s a Hoya?
Well, among other things, a wildly unpredictable basketball team.
Georgetown’s 75-60 drubbing of No. 14 Syracuse last night at MCI Center certainly should revive its flagging NCAA tournament hopes and help coach Craig Esherick sleep better. It also should totally confound folks who think they can tell what’s going to happen in hoops.
The resounding victory came just two days after the Hoyas went woof-woof and rolled over in an 11-point loss to Pittsburgh in the first game of their two oh-so-crucial late January dates in the Big East.
It came two weeks and some change after Georgetown blew out Boston College by 27 points and about 10 days after the Hoyas separated Seton Hall from its collective senses by 26 points.
See what I mean. Don’t try to go figure. You can’t.
Asked after last night’s laugher whether he had a clue to his team’s behavior on any given night, Esherick resorted to coachese. “I wouldn’t say we’re inconsistent,” he insisted. “We’ve played some pretty tough teams, and we’ve got eight underclassmen on the team four sophomores and four freshmen. They’re going to be inconsistent at times.”
Esherick conceded that the rollicking result might give his babes a boost in confidence the rest of the way. Then he added, “But I think we’ve played pretty well the last six or seven games anyway.”
Really? OK then, who was that fellow with the big mustache and little bald spot sitting on the Hoyas’ bench at Pittsburgh? As seen over the tube, it sure looked like Esherick.
In fairness, it must be said that Georgetown had some help in beating the Orangemen to a pulp. For one thing, Big East scoring leader Preston Shumpert lasted only one minute in the second half because of a scratched cornea. Shumpert attempted to play the first half wearing space-age goggles that apparently hurt his depth perception and coach Jim Boeheim’s stomach. He was 1-for-5 from the floor and finished the game with three points, a number that would make it impossible for Syracuse to win just about any important game.
And although the rest of the Orangemen skipped goggles, maybe they should have worn something, anything, at the foul line. Syracuse was a ghastly 8-for-18 shooting free throws, compared with Georgetown’s 25-for-33.
Eighteen free throws for Syracuse to 33 for Georgetown? I hope Esherick remembers to send thank-you notes to Jim Burr, Ed Corbett and Tony Greene, who posed as the zebras.
Yet Georgetown deserves some credit of its own. The Hoyas’ ability to rebound from Saturday’s loss speaks well of their character. So does their ability to rebound period. More than a trifle timid on the boards in some recent games, Georgetown crashed them this time for an official 47-22 advantage that seemed even larger. Center Mike Sweetney was the ringleader with 13, and even the recently invisible Wesley Wilson contributed four.
Despite the Hoyas’ problems this season, Esherick almost certainly will be around for the long haul. Nobody else in his right mind would have welcomed the assignment of replacing John Thompson, one of the nation’s most recognizable and successful coaches during 27 years on the Hilltop. But Esherick, who played for Thompson in the late 1970s and became an assistant coach in 1982, stepped right into the breach.
It’s a little startling to realize that Thompson, who now conducts a radio sports talk show among other activities, has been gone from the Georgetown bench for three years. His sudden resignation on Jan. 8, 1999, could have thrown the program for a large loop had not Esherick been available to move in with a minium of transitional woes.
How good a coach has he been? Different people will offer different evaluations, of course, but he won a lot of friends with last season’s 25-8 record and a trip to the Sweet 16 before unneighborly Maryland ended the Hoyas’ season in the West Regional.
And here’s a tidbit that might give even intoxicated men pause: Esherick’s record is 65-40; Thompson’s mark at the same point of his career was virtually identical, 62-43. So who knows maybe Craig will become an icon, too, before he sells his whistle and clipboard.
On the negative side, the current team appears much too talented to be laboring with the 12-7 record it brought into last night’s combat. Unlike Thompson’s defensively oriented teams, Esherick’s tend to rely on guards for their offensive kick. But once past Kevin Braswell and Sweetney, the young Hoyas have been the kind of team that makes coaches turn to selling insurance.
In one sense, though, the Hoyas have no business running with college basketball’s big dogs. The school has only 6,400 undergraduate students, and its on-campus facility McDonough Arena is a dilapidated relic. Plans are afoot to rebuild McDonough into a 6,000-seat place worthy of luring fans and recruits, but it won’t happen until other campus construction has been completed.
Maybe Esherick and his assistants should do what the coaches at crosstown rival Catholic University used to do before DuFour Center opened at CU.
According to local legend, Catholic U’s basketball people used to drive potential recruits past the huge Shrine of the Immaculate Conception next door, point toward its magnificent dome and say, “That’s our gym.”
Needless to say, they never took the kids inside.