- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Georgetown’s loss to Syracuse was basketball’s version of a cold shower.

Fact is, the Hoyas (22-6, 12-3 Big East) were becoming a bit drunk on the idea of their 11-game win streak. And being painfully reminded of their vulnerability was arguably the best thing that could have happened to them heading into the postseason.

Of course, coach John Thompson III and junior forward Jeff Green didn’t see it that way Monday night. Both labeled the 72-58 loss the team’s worst game of the season and stalked away from snowy Syracuse trailing angst fumes.


That’s precisely the state in which a team should enter the postseason: hungry, fiery, intense and focused.

None of those adjectives describes the Georgetown team which trekked to Syracuse. All well-intentioned lip service to the contrary, that team was somewhat smug and satisfied with its 11-game win streak.

Hey, that’s no knock on the Hoyas; in general, this squad is the most humble elite-level college team I’ve been around in a dozen years in the business. But when you win 11 straight games, human nature starts to take over. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you begin to feel somewhat bulletproof. You lose your edge.

The signs were all there. The Hoyas who last week slopped their way through a 10-point win over the Big East fodder formerly known as Cincinnati looked a ghost of the team which consecutively disemboweled No. 11 Marquette (76-58) and No. 23 West Virginia (71-53) at the height of the streak.

Against the hapless Bearkittens (1-13 Big East), Georgetown committed an outrageous 16 turnovers and allowed 19 offensive rebounds. Of course, the Hoyas won, so nobody screamed about the lack of attention to detail, the fading focus. Turnovers … offensive rebounds — those are statistics driven by focus, fire and fundamentals, three commodities the Hoyas have been short on over the last week.

Frankly, Georgetown wasn’t much better against Pitt. The Panthers torched Georgetown for 22 offensive rebounds and attempted 20 more shots from the field. Given the Hoyas’ possession-limiting offensive scheme, those statistics are staggering. The Hoyas didn’t beat Pitt as much as Pitt beat itself by missing every shot in sight. When Green stole that game for the Hoyas down the stretch, it should have been a wakeup call.

It wasn’t.

But the call certainly came at the Carrier Dome. And given the way the ‘Cuse punked the Hoyas (20 points ahead with 1:00 remaining), that alarm is still blaring.

No one Hoya is to blame, though Georgetown junior center Roy Hibbert has been particularly invisible of late. Over the last four games, Hibbert has averaged 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds. When you’re 7-foot-2 and somewhat protected by the Big East player of the year (Green), those numbers are unacceptable.

Sure, Georgetown’s guards still need considerable tutoring in Entry Pass 101. But recently, every time they do throw it down to Hibbert, it’s an adventure. Hibbert butchers at least three gimme Green assists every game. And defensively, Hibbert has never seen a shot he doesn’t think he can block, a mindset which maddeningly takes him out of rebounding position time and time again. It’s all part of the two-steps-forward-one-leap-back that has defined Hibbert’s career.

In the long term, the silver lining for Georgetown fans is that when Green is preparing to make his NBA decision in a couple of months, Hibbert will be preparing for final exams.

In the short term, perhaps Hibbert and the rest of the Hoyas are ready to take another couple of steps forward over the next several weeks.

The beauty of losing to Syracuse on the road, on senior night, in the largest building in the college game, two days after an emotionally and physically draining showdown victory over Pitt is that likely it cost the Hoyas nothing in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee. The Hoyas were walking into an ambush on Monday night, and everybody knew it. Take care of business Saturday against struggling Connecticut (17-11, 6-8), a team the Hoyas should be starved to beat after absorbing 11 consecutive losses, and Georgetown claims the league’s top seed in the Big East tournament for the first time since 1989.

Consider the stagger at Syracuse a perfectly timed reality check for Georgetown, a harsh if gratis reminder that one-and-done March belongs to the focused and the hungry.

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