- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Newly anointed Georgetown is resolved to cement its basketball status in South Bend.

Two days after recording perhaps the biggest upset in school history, Georgetown was rewarded with its first national ranking in four seasons yesterday. The Hoyas entered the Associated Press poll at No. 21, joining No. 14 George Washington and No. 18 Maryland to mark the first time all three major local schools have been ranked simultaneously.

“It’s good for D.C. when all of us are good,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “We all want to be recognized as the top program in the area, but if we’re all in there it makes it more exciting.”

If recognition from outside the program took nearly 48 hours, recognition from within was virtually instantaneous.

“Everybody loves us today,” said Georgetown senior Darrel Owens minutes after the Hoyas (12-4, 3-2 Big East) dropped top-ranked and previously unbeaten Duke 87-84 on Saturday at MCI Center. “But if we go out and lose to Notre Dame, all the critics will come right back and say the same things. It’s a nice win, but there’s a whole lot of ball left this season, and we know it won’t mean anything, if we don’t back it up.”

If Georgetown shows up emotionally flat tonight against the struggling Fighting Irish (10-6, 1-4), it won’t be because of hubris. Perspective is virtually unavoidable if one plays for Thompson, who was asked Saturday to explain what was going through his mind when the final horn sounded on the defining victory of both his young career and the college season.

Thompson’s cool response: “Notre Dame.”

Nobody who knows how Thompson operates would question his sincerity. He’s methodical, process-obsessed and only slightly more excitable than a cinder block. He has occasionally stewed over defeats, but he has never wasted energy celebrating victories. Saturday’s program landmark, like tonight’s potential personal milestone (career victory No. 100), are things to be savored in retirement.

“I had no idea about [the 100-victory] thing,” said Thompson, who also hadn’t been informed of the Hoyas’ ranking when he contacted The Washington Times just after 6 p.m. last night. “As for beating Duke, there’s no doubt it was a great win for the program, and I don’t want to diminish it in any way. But it’s just far too early in the season to talk about the ramifications of any one game.

“Do you remember that old country song, ‘The Gambler,’ by Kenny Rogers? Well, there’s a line in there where he says you never count your money while you’re sitting at the table. Well, we’re still sitting at the table.”

The new-look Big East leaves little time for relaxation or resume reflection. Eight Big East teams have now been ranked at some point this season, and Marquette (14-5, 4-2) is poised to become the ninth. After the league’s power trio of No. 1 Connecticut (16-1, 4-1), No. 6 Villanova (13-2, 4-1) and No. 9 West Virginia (14-3, 5-0), the league has as many as 10 other teams vying for anywhere from five to seven NCAA tournament slots.

“By the end of the season, the Notre Dame game could end up being every bit as important, if not more important, than [the Duke] game,” Thompson said.

The Irish are particularly dangerous because they are capable, desperate and playing at home, where they have beaten the Hoyas three straight times. Though Georgetown should have a decided edge on the inside against underachieving senior Torin Francis, the Irish have two of the league’s best arc assassins in Chris Quinn (17.1 points, 6.5 assists) and Colin Falls (14.2 points).

And despite the team’s 1-4 Big East start, Notre Dame’s four conference losses have come by a total of only 17 points, meaning the Irish have a case of the same “can’t close” disease that plagued this same crop of Hoyas throughout the better part of their careers.

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