- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

DAYTON, Ohio — The Georgetown Hoyas certainly seem primed for the show.

Georgetown’s first day in Dayton was defined by the kind of comments and practice session one might not expect from an inconsistent squad making its first NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons.

“We came here to win, not to participate,” sophomore center Roy Hibbert said. “It’s a fight every night in the Big East. We play against Top 25 teams every other week, so we came prepared for this tournament.”

Given the wandering focus Georgetown (21-9) showed at times this season, there was some concern that a self-satisfied bunch would show up still celebrating the school’s renaissance NCAA bid.

But on the eve of its NCAA opener against tournament-seasoned 10th-seed Northern Iowa (23-9), Georgetown was all business. Hibbert’s comments epitomized the team’s demeanor before the team’s walkthrough practice at University of Dayton Arena yesterday.

The Hoyas sandwiched a midday press conference around a morning practice at nearby Wright State and a public shootaround at Dayton Arena. But unlike most of the other teams at the 13,553-seat arena, the Hoyas ran a series of intense shooting drills with coach John Thompson III pushing his team to maintain a game-speed pace.

At one point during practice, the Hoyas knocked down 14 straight 3-pointers.

“Having the opportunity to play in the tournament is special, so in many ways you have to enjoy it. But that was more so for Sunday, after the pairings came out,” Thompson said. “We’re not satisfied just having the opportunity to be here.”

After a pair of consecutive near-misses in first-round NCAA tournament losses to Georgia Tech (65-60) and Wisconsin (57-52), Northern Iowa enters today’s play with a similar mentality as the Hoyas.

“We definitely want to advance,” said Northern Iowa senior guard Ben Jacobson (14.2 points), the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year. “We feel that this is our main goal, and that it is very achievable. So we’re here and we mean business.”

The Panthers built the bulk of their resume before Christmas, when they upset both eventual Big Ten champion Iowa (67-63 in overtime) and dropped SEC power Louisiana State in Baton Rouge (54-50). But an injury to swingman Erik Crawford, a short bench and life in the nation’s toughest mid-major conference saw Northern Iowa finish the regular season with losses in five of its last seven games.

A 10-day layoff following Northern Iowa’s loss in the MVC tournament semifinals has allowed Crawford to return to full speed. But the undersized Panthers still face a major disadvantage in the paint against the Hoyas.

Northern Iowa’s interior includes 6-foot-8 senior Grant Stout (12.1 points, 8.9 rebounds) and 6-6 sophomore Eric Coleman (11.7 points, 7.1 rebounds). Georgetown’s front line has 7-2 Hibbert (11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds), 6-9 sophomore forward Jeff Green (11.9 points, 6.5 rebounds) and 6-9 senior forward Brandon Bowman (11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds).

“Those two guys aren’t that big, but I think they finished one and [four] in the MVC in rebounding, so they maximize their size with their positioning and acumen,” Thompson said. “That’s typical of their entire team. They don’t beat themselves, and they do a great job of putting themselves in positions to succeed. A lot of that is because of their experience. Five of their six regulars are upperclassmen, and the result is a very poised team.”

While nobody expects a Georgetown walkover (the Hoyas are favored by 3.5 points), the Hoyas’ ultimate opponent this season has been the unpredictable play and spotty focus of its seniors. The three in Georgetown’s basic six-man rotation (starters Hibbert and Ashanti Cook and designated 3-point sniper Darrel Owens) scored in double-digits in the same game only twice (victories over UTEP and Duke). And while Green is clearly the focal point of the offense, the consistency of those seniors could be the key to the Hoyas’ NCAA run.

“It’s win or go home, so we have that mentality,” said Bowman, who at least looked the part behind the microphone yesterday. “For me, D.J. and Ashanti, we realize that this is our first, last and only opportunity.”

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