RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Georgetown can’t help but feel like it’s been here before. That’s anything but the case for Maryland-Baltimore County.
Once again, the Hoyas are a No. 2 seed, and they’re spending the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in North Carolina for a second straight year.
And with those familiar last names of Thompson and Ewing back for another postseason, they expect to begin their march toward another Final Four in their Midwest Region opener Friday against the 15th-seeded Retrievers—newcomers to the NCAAs.
“There’s nothing that’s changed,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said Thursday. “The fact that we had a little bit of success last year, the fact that we went to the Final Four doesn’t change that drive, doesn’t change the desire of our program—from me on down—to not only get there, but hopefully put ourselves in a position to win.”
With 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert looming large and senior forward Patrick Ewing Jr. looking to lead the Hoyas (27-5) to consecutive Final Fours for the first time since his father did it in 1984 and ’85, Georgetown once again has the look of a serious contender—and doesn’t figure to have much trouble with the Retrievers.
The Hoyas, 16 1/2 -point favorites, are 17-1 in their last 18 first-round games, with the lone loss coming to Charlotte in 1997.
But UMBC (24-8), which is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since moving to Division I some 22 years ago, vows not to be undone by that notorious Hoya Paranoia—unlike Belmont, which Georgetown routed 80-55 in the first round last year in Winston-Salem.
Instead, the Retrievers are intent on delivering the America East its first NCAA victory since Vermont upset Syracuse in 2005 and becoming the first No. 15 seed to win its first-round game since 2001.
“The first thing that you can take from (the Vermont win) is that it can be done,” guard Jay Greene said. “No one gives you a chance, especially us being a 15 seed, but we believe in our team. No 15 seed has ever beaten a 2 seed that didn’t believe they could do it. That’s the first step for us. We know we have a good team, and we’re not going to back down from Georgetown.”
The Retrievers don’t have anyone taller than 6-foot-9 in their seven-man rotation, so if they expect to hang with the Hoyas—much less pull the upset— they must figure out a way to slow Hibbert, an all-Big East player who leads the Hoyas with 13.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
“I think smaller teams are a little bit pesky. They always like to run around in the post,” Hibbert said. “But I’m going to do my job to make sure I attract as much attention as I can so I can get my teammates open, and that will open up a lot of other things for my team and myself.”
That didn’t happen in last week’s Big East tournament final against Pittsburgh, and UMBC forward Cavell Johnson said he has watched tape of that game at least twice to figure out how the Panthers frustrated the Hoyas’ offense and clamped down under the glass.
“I plan on putting all five guys on Hibbert, and I’m going to have my manager come off the bench and bite him in the kneecaps,” UMBC coach Randy Monroe joked.
UMBC had five straight losing seasons from 2003-07 and was the preseason pick to finish sixth in the America East, but three players who transferred in wound up averaging at least 10 points. Two of them—Johnson and guard Ray Barbosa—left James Madison after their junior years in 2005-06, sat out last season and are making the most of their only year at UMBC.
If nothing else, the Retrievers at least have a sliver of familiarity with their opponent. The schools are separated by 40 miles of a Baltimore-Washington corridor—though their only previous meeting, a 30-point Georgetown win, came in 1988-89—and UMBC guard-forward Brian Hodges grew up playing in AAU leagues against Hibbert.
“I don’t think we did stop him,” Hodges said. “He was a dominant force growing up as well.”