Hoyas’ meteoric rise continues

NEW YORK – The hottest team in college basketball finished eighth in its own conference. Georgetown says that doesn’t matter now, and if you’ve watched the Hoyas play in the Big East tournament this week, you know they speak the truth.

On Thursday John Thompson III’s team beat league champion Syracuse; Friday it walloped Marquette by 23 points; and no one will be surprised Saturday if the Hoyas and their three McDonald’s All-Americans defeat No. 6 West Virginia for the tournament title.

Less than a week before March Madness, Georgetown looks insane. The Hoyas are downright scary – even if they’re too caught up in the moment to realize it.

“I don’t know about scary,” said center Greg Monroe, arguably the top big man in college basketball. “But we’re a good team right now. We’re playing well. Everyone believes in each other.

“No matter what anyone else says, that’s the most important thing.”

The Hoyas (22-9) have been one of the most puzzling stories in college basketball all season. Actually, make that the last two seasons.

After being pegged in the preseason as a Big East title contender, Georgetown finished just 7-11 in conference play last year, failed to make the NCAA tournament and then lost in the first round of the NIT to Baylor.

This year the Hoyas won 11 of their 12 first games but had a terrible stretch in February when they dropped games to unranked South Florida, Notre Dame and Rutgers. When leading scorer Austin Freeman was diagnosed with diabetes near the end of the month, it appeared Georgetown was headed for a lackluster finish once again.

“Two or three weeks ago we were sick – physically sick,” Thompson III said. “We’re healthy now. The kids are extremely focused.”

Georgetown has too many losses to think about being a No. 1 or probably even a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. But make no mistake: If the Hoyas continue to play as well as they have at Madison Square Garden this week, they’re just as big of a threat to reach the Final Four as national title favorites Kansas and Kentucky.

For all of their bad losses, the Hoyas also have an impressive collection of wins.

Georgetown owns victories over two teams (Syracuse and Duke) who are projected to be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Tennessee – which beat Kansas and Kentucky – is the only other team that can make such a claim.

Georgetown will enter the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1 in the nation in strength of schedule and No. 9 in RPI. The amusing factoid circulating around Madison Square Garden Friday was that Georgetown will be seeded higher in the NCAA tournament than it was in the Big East Tournament (eighth).

That speaks to the strength and depth of the league. Not many teams are as battle-tested as the Hoyas, who played six of the seven teams seeded before them on the road during the regular season.

It’s a situation that should certainly pay off in the NCAAs. With Freeman back in the lineup and the rest of the Hoyas’ nagging injuries all but healed, there’s no reason to believe Thompson III’s squad isn’t capable of making a significant run.

“It’s playoff time,” said Freeman, who was referring as much to Saturday’s league tournament championship game against West Virginia as he was to everything else that lies ahead.

That focus, more than anything, is what Thompson III loves about his squad right now.

“It’s March,” he said. “There’s no time to take a breath and pat yourself on the back in March. Your next opponent is very good. Your next opponent is well-coached. Your next opponent is trying to kick your behind.

“So, no, we aren’t satisfied at all. We didn’t come here just to say we beat Syracuse.”

Georgetown’s victory over the Orange hardly seemed like an upset. And if anything Friday’s 80-57 shellacking of Marquette seemed like a mismatch despite the fact that the Golden Eagles defeated the Hoyas during the regular season.

Marquette looked helpless in being outscored 46-22 in the paint. Georgetown outrebounded Buzz Williams’ squad 44-24 and was also effective from the outside, where it swished half of its 12 shots from beyond the arc.

One of those 3-pointers came from the 6-foot-11 Monroe, who is suddenly drawing comparisons to some of the more dominant big men in Georgetown history. During a two-minute stretch Friday Monroe made a running jump shot, a dunk, a 3-pointer and also had an assist on a break before blocking a shot.

“We see that every day,” Thompson III said. “What’s become commonplace for us, the rest of world gets to see every once in awhile.”

Beginning next week, those appearances might not be as infrequent.

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Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Mar 13, 2010