- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

Barring an improbable run in the Big East Tournament next week, the Georgetown Hoyas are likely to sit out the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and third time in the last four seasons.

While the year hasn’t gone as planned, Saturday afternoon’s regular-season finale with No. 2 Villanova will be far from meaningless.

The Hoyas will be facing one of the best teams in the nation amid growing questions about the state of the storied program under coach John Thompson III.

Coming off a less-than-stellar season a year ago in which the Hoyas closed 2015-16 with six straight losses and missed the postseason with a 15-18 record, Thompson’s squad has struggled to 14-16 this season. This season’s mark includes just one win against six losses in February.

The collapse has come after a Jan. 9 win over St. John’s that prompted Thompson to proclaim: “We’re close.”

When the Hoyas followed up by beating Connecticut in a non-conference matchup and notched impressive late January wins over then-No. 16 Creighton and then-No. 11 Butler, it looked like Thompson might be right.

Instead, the Big East losses have piled up over the last month, adding fuel to calls for a new direction for the program.

After a home loss to a rebuilding DePaul on Feb. 22, the Hoyas left the Verizon Center court to chants of “Fire Thompson.”

The chants followed the squad Sunday to Madison Square Garden, where the Hoyas fell 86-80 to St. John’s.

On campus, the school newspaper last month ran an editorial arguing that the Georgetown community had lost faith in Thompson, while others started an online petition to gather signatures calling for his ouster.

The uproar surrounding the program gained enough credibility that Georgetown’s coach of 13 years felt the need to address it directly.

“First and foremost, our fans are terrific and have been terrific,” Thompson said in a statement released by the school to several outlets, including Deadspin and ESPN. “They’ve experienced some good times with us, and now, with the stretch that we are having, I understand their frustration. There is no one more frustrated than I am. We are accustomed to winning. I know our players and staff are working hard and playing hard. No one cares more about this program and its tradition than I do.”

Thompson took over a Hoyas program in 2004 that was struggling to live up to the standards and expectations established by his father, John Thompson Jr. The elder Thompson coached the Hoyas from 1973 to 1999, years when the school put a perennial powerhouse on the court, regularly attracted future NBA superstars to the program and won the program’s lone national championship in 1984.

“Big John” — the elder Thompson — is still an integral part of the Georgetown basketball community, sitting courtside at home games and standing in on postgame press conferences. Just before this season, the school opened the 144,000 square-foot John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center.

The younger Thompson’s tenure at Georgetown has been much more of a mixed bag, featuring success early but more adversity as of late.

Thompson took the team to the Sweet 16 in 2006 and the Final Four a year later, but his Hoyas were upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2008 by Stephen Curry and Davidson.

In the years since, the Hoyas have mostly struggled in the tournament, losing in the first round in 2010 as a No. 3 seed, and losing again in their first game in 2011.

In 2013, the second-seeded Hoyas bowed out to Florida Gulf Coast, as the Eagles became the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Hoyas’ most recent trip to the tournament ended with a loss to Utah in the third round in 2015.

No matter what happens after Saturday’s noon tip-off at the Verizon Center with Villanova, the Hoyas are locked into a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Big East, the conference coach Thompson’s legendary father once ruled.

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