- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As the Hoyas reclined in their NCAA-assigned locker room yesterday at Joel Coliseum, a TV in the corner droned innocently beneath the clamor of myriad player interviews. While Georgetown players answered questions concerning today’s NCAA tournament opener against 15th-seeded Belmont, an ESPN Classic show called “Great Upsets in NCAA Tournament History” played.

No Georgetown player was paying the slightest attention to the broadcast.

When the potentially disconcerting omen was pointed out to Georgetown’s DaJuan Summers, the freshman forward from Baltimore simply shrugged.

“They’re not talking about us,” he said.

The second-seeded Hoyas (26-6) are neither arrogant nor complacent. They’re simply armed with a handful of commodities that come as close to an opening-round insurance policy as an elite seed can muster.

In addition to last season’s Sweet 16 experience, the Hoyas have a superstar, size and a style all working to foil the classic upset formula. Since the NCAA expanded to a 64-team field in 1985, four No. 2 seeds have fallen in the opening round. Richmond became the first No. 15 to topple a No. 2 seed in 1991, when the Spiders shocked Syracuse 73-69. In the 15 seasons since, Santa Clara (1993), Coppin State (1997) and Hampton (2001) joined the stun fun, upending Arizona, South Carolina and Iowa State, respectively.

None of those victims had Georgetown’s array of upset checks.

The Syracuse squad limped into the tournament in 1991 amid probation talk and had just been dispatched in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

Georgetown rolls into Winston-Salem having won 15 of 16 games en route to capturing both the league’s regular season and tournament crowns.

And as stars go, Georgetown junior Jeff Green is the anti-Billy Owens, an unselfish player who makes his teammates better and always seems to rise to the occasion.

“I’m Linus, and he’s my security blanket. I feel comfortable when he’s around,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said of Green.

Since February, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward has averaged 18.3 points, carrying the team to the Big East championship while earning player of the year and tournament MVP honors.

“What makes Jeff Green so special is that he is someone that has the ability to dominate a game in so many ways,” Thompson said. “His role varies from game to game, but his primary role is to figure out how to help us win. And the beauty of Jeff Green is that’s all the kid cares about.”

The second and third teams to fall prey to No. 15 seeds (1993 Arizona) and (1997 South Carolina) had no inside games. Arizona’s “frontcourt force” was 6-foot-6 Chris Mills. And the Gamecocks of 1997 featured a three-guard attack (B.J. McKie, Larry Davis and Melvin Watson) that simply had an off shooting day against Coppin State.

Conventional wisdom holds that guards dominate in March, but a glance at recent Final Four MVPs perhaps tells a different story. The last four MVPs — Joakim Noah (Florida), Sean May (North Carolina), Emeka Okafor (Connecticut) and Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse) — were all centers or forwards.

Big men are a steadying factor on bad shooting days. Georgetown features two of the nation’s best in Green and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert (12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds), a fact that bodes well against the lightweight frontcourts of Boston College and Texas Tech should the Hoyas advance today.

Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, Georgetown’s style doesn’t lend itself to upsets.

The final No. 2 seed victim, Iowa State, was a dreadful shooting team that relied on Jamaal Tinsley’s penetration and specialized in dubious shot selection.

But the Hoyas rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency according to computer analyst Ken Pomeroy and second in the NCAA field to Florida in points a field goal attempt (1.42).

The Hoyas aren’t sloppy with the ball, take good shots and convert them at an extremely high rate, making upset-inducing scoring droughts a real rarity.

“We take shots that aren’t there. Georgetown will pass up open looks to get the shot they want,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said when asked to describe Georgetown’s strength. “That takes incredible discipline. John [Thompson] III has done an amazing job convincing his kids what a good shot is and getting them to pass on anything else. They are one of only two or three teams in the nation who will do that.”

Belmont coach Rick Byrd saw all of the above upset buffers in play when scouting the Hoyas on video over the last several days. Perhaps that’s why Byrd looked like a condemned man offering up last words before his date with the gallows during yesterday’s press conference.

“They almost always get good shots. They are very precise,” Byrd said. “We felt like we’d be a 15-seed, and they were the 2-seed that we’d prefer not to play. They just don’t beat themselves. … Sometimes when I’m watching their film, I wonder why we’re even bothering to practice.”

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