- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

NEW YORK | An autopsy always follows a suspicious death.

Hence, the tenor and direction of the questions directed at Georgetown coach John Thompson III following a 64-59 opening-round loss to St. John’s in the Big East tournament Tuesday were no surprise. After all, a Hoyas team that started 12-3 with victories over potential No. 1 seeds Connecticut and Memphis spiraled to a 4-11 finish that included two losses in eight days to the lowly Red Storm.

“That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it?” Thompson said when one reporter referred to his team’s “flop.” “It’s a long season — I say that from the first team meeting and the first news conference. During the course of the season, you have to handle the highs and the lows. And we haven’t responded well this year to the lows — whether it be a single possession on the court or a loss. The ability to forget, to learn from the emotional part and move on, we have not done well this year. And I mean in every aspect, from play to play and from game to game.

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“And I think a large part of that is youth. I’m not trying to place all the blame on that, but it is a factor when you have only one senior and one junior and start three players going through their first Big East seasons [Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Nikita Mescheriakov].”

While the Hoyas (16-14) await word on an NIT bid, perhaps they can sort out their offensive devolution. The team wasn’t adept on either end of the court this season, but Thompson said the team’s punchless offense frustrated him most. In its last four games, only one of which came against one of the league’s better defensive teams (Villanova), the Hoyas averaged 54.8 points.

Monroe and other key young players may have hit the proverbial “freshman wall” of fatigue. It’s also possible that Georgetown’s Princeton-based offense, which relies on its players’ near-instantaneous read-and-react abilities, is too complex and counter-instinctive for younger players.

“It’s not rocket science. I think people talk about our offense too much,” Thompson said. “Any player at any level, you go through a growth and maturation process. Everyone has a system they run, whether it’s us or any other team in the NCAA or in the pros. It takes time, and it’s taken this group a very long time to get into a rhythm. But I trust in their intelligence. I trust in their decision-making. I trust in their offensive skill sets that they can make reads. And in doing that, eventually it will make us more difficult to guard and make them better basketball players.”

Perhaps the only truly good news is the Hoyas are likely to suffer fewer personnel losses in the offseason than virtually any team in the Big East. Sixth man Jessie Sapp is the only senior on the roster.

Nobody is likely to depart early for the NBA. Summers’ pro stock has plummeted with the team’s fortunes and has stated he will return for his senior season. And moments after collecting the Big East’s rookie of the year honor, Monroe said he “definitely” will return for his sophomore season.

The Hoyas expect to return nine of the 10 players in this season’s rotation and welcome top-50 national recruit Hollis Thompson (who greyshirted this season). And Thompson confirmed last week that he is searching for another big man to help resolve the team’s chronic rebounding issues.

So next year’s team won’t be able to tab youth or a lack of talent as an excuse.

“I’ve said this over and over again this year: We have to move on,” Thompson said. “This has been a year of a whole lot of moving on. If we get the opportunity to play in the NIT, we have to start fresh, get a little bit of a rest here and hopefully come out a different team. …

“We will figure it out. Obviously we will have that core group back next year. And not that it’s time to talk about next year right now because I felt confident in every game we went into this year, but what hurt us this year hopefully will help us next year.”

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