- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

The Hoyas have come to the proverbial crossroads.

Even after its worst half of basketball in several seasons cost Georgetown its second loss in three games and sole possession of the league lead, the team enters today’s game at Providence still in command of its fate.

“It’s time for us to come together as a group,” sophomore forward DaJuan Summers said after Saturday’s debacle at Syracuse, where a sloppy first half condemned the Hoyas to a 16-point halftime deficit and a 77-70 defeat.

The Georgetown rally that began on the floor of the Carrier Dome in a somewhat hopeful second half must continue on and off the court over the next three weeks if the Hoyas (20-4, 10-3 Big East) are going to come anywhere near meeting preseason expectations.

Coach John Thompson III begins every season with one primary stated goal: “For us to be the most improved team in the nation from our first game to our last.”

Well, that clearly hasn’t been the trend of late. The Hoyas have regressed since the start of February, playing five their worst games of the season. The fact that three of those performances resulted in victories is a testament to the importance of defense. The Hoyas lead the nation in field goal percentage defense (.357), and their prowess on that end of the floor is the only reason the team isn’t mired in five-game skid.

But the month has produced few positives. By the time the Hoyas take the floor today against the Friars (13-12, 4-9), they will have fallen out of the top 10 in the national rankings for the first time in almost exactly a year. Louisville (20-6, 10-3) will have supplanted Georgetown atop the league standings (by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker). And every player on a team that tripped to the Final Four last season and began this one 19-2 will have had 48 hours to chew on Thompson’s post-Syracuse pronouncement that his charges lacked “hardness.”

And yet the measure of the regular season has yet to be taken. To a large degree, Georgetown’s season will be evaluated on how it responds over the next three weeks and final five regular-season games to the challenges from both its coach and the surging squads from Louisville and Connecticut (20-5, 9-3).

There is no disputing the team has a number of fundamental flaws. Preseason All-American center Roy Hibbert (13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds) hasn’t proved as capable of carrying the team’s superstar torch as departed Big East player of the year Jeff Green. Since Chris Wright was lost for the season to a foot injury, the team has been without quickness, depth and a dribble-drive presence in the backcourt.

The team probably needs a pure power forward and often struggles on the boards. A fullcourt press often gives the team fits, as do zone defenses. Senior point guard Jon Wallace is a suspect defender, while sophomore reserve Jeremiah Rivers can be an offensive liability. Backup center Vernon Macklin seemingly has progressed far slower than expected. Starting swingman Austin Freeman apparently has hit the freshman wall.

A season ago, a Green-driven Georgetown team was in the midst of a 19-1 run in which it swept the Big East regular-season and tournament titles and bolted through the opening four rounds of the NCAA tournament. A year later, Georgetown looks to have so many holes.

Yet in spite of the slump, Georgetown doesn’t need help in the Big East race. Louisville visits Verizon Center on the final weekend of the regular season March 8, and the Hoyas own potential tiebreaking wins over both Connecticut and Notre Dame.

And while Saturday’s first half put an exclamation point on the team’s recent offensive woes, perhaps the second half marked an end to the Hoyas’ tentative offensive approach. The double-digit halftime deficit forced the team to play with a newfound sense of urgency, and Georgetown responded with 48 second-half points, its most productive half in Big East play all season. The Hoyas are at the crossroads, and their five remaining regular-season games could determine whether Saturday’s debacle at Syracuse was a wake-up call or a death knell.

Today’s game

NO. 8 GEORGETOWN (20-4, 10-3) AT PROVIDENCE (13-12, 4-9)

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, R.I.

TV/radio: ESPN2, AM-570

Outlook: The floundering Hoyas arrive in Providence to start what would seem like a three-game, must-win breather (at Providence, vs. St. John’s, vs. Cincinnati) before closing the season with brutal tests at Marquette on March 1 and vs. league co-leader Louisville on March 8. The Friars haven’t performed up to their talent level this season, losing seven of their last eight games, but aren’t without superb pieces. Point forward Geoff McDermott (10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists) is a slightly more inside-oriented Jeff Green. And guards Jeff Xavier (12.4 points), Brian McKenzie (11 points) and Dwain Williams (11 points) give Providence three of the league’s best pure perimeter shooters. But the Friars lack substantial backcourt quickness and a consistent center. The Hoyas have not lost consecutive league games since last January.

Barker Davis

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