With a hot beginning, a momentum-building middle and an inglorious end, the story of the 2010-2011 Hoyas was many things.
It was a story of streaks.
Head Coach John Thompson III’s team won eight straight to begin the year but lost five of nine to dig itself an early Big East hole. Then Georgetown rattled off eight in a row to rejuvenate its season only to drop six of its final seven games, as the Hoyas could not adjust after senior guard Chris Wright broke a bone in his hand. All of that added up to 21-11 overall and 10-8, or eighth place, in the Big East.
“Is [Wright’s injury] hard to deal with?” Thompson said in the postgame press conference after the Hoyas were blown out at Cincinnati. “I can’t sit here and say everything is peachy. But that’s what athletics are about. There are injuries. You have to play the hand you’re dealt.”
When they were announced as the No. 6 seed in the Southwest bracket, the Hoyas extended Thompson’s postseason streak to seven years — five NCAA tournaments and two NITs, including a Final Four trip and a Sweet 16.
“Is a six seed fair? I don’t know,” Thompson said on Selection Sunday. “At this time of year, seeding is not as important as matchups. Seeding does come into play if you advance. But right now it’s about matchups.”
The Hoyas secured perhaps their most memorable victory of the year on Feb. 9 when they took out Syracuse at the Carrier Dome for the first time under Thompson, ending a six-game road losing skid against their main rivals.
“This Georgetown-Syracuse [rivalry],” Thompson said after the win. “This is big for this conference. This is big to me. This is big to our school.”
And with a tailspin to end the year, Georgetown has now had three consecutive seasons with pedestrian second halves. The Hoyas have gone a combined 29-33 in January, February and March since 2009.
It was also a story of timing.
The jumpshots of Wright, senior guard Austin Freeman and junior guard Jason Clark all went ice-cold at the beginning of Big East play, a major reason for the Hoyas’ 1-4 conference start.
But a rare weeklong break in the middle of the season came at the perfect time for Georgetown, which remedied its poor Big East beginning with a defense-fueled, eight-game winning streak.
“There was definitely a huge focus in practice on competitiveness and defense, and Coach had a lot of drills just testing how competitive you are and just to test your manhood,” senior forward Julian Vaughn said of that week of practice in January. “I think it was really good for us and we know what we’ve got to do now.”
Then in the final win of that streak, a 69-60 victory over Marquette on Feb. 13, Freeman sprained his ankle toward the end of the first half. Although he repeatedly downplayed the injury’s impact, he ended up closing his career on a 7-for-51 stretch from beyond the arc.
“That’s just me missing shots,” Freeman said in the locker room after the Hoyas’ loss to VCU. “That’s me not getting it done.”
Sitting at 21-6 and 10-5 in the Big East just 10 days after the Marquette win, the Hoyas lost Wright for three weeks due to a left hand injury, a broken third metacarpal that had a lot to do with Georgetown’s transformation from a top-15 team into a punchless afterthought.
“We miss Chris, absolutely, 100 percent, both ends of the court, in every way,” Thompson said at Madison Square Garden after Connecticut ousted the Hoyas from the Big East tournament. “The group that’s playing now, that played today, has to be better.”
In its final two games of the season, Georgetown was run off the court first by Connecticut, the eventual Big East tournament and national champion, and then by VCU, one of the most surprising Final Four teams in NCAA history.
“You know, we clearly did not protect the three-point line as we needed to against a good shooting team,” Thompson said after Georgetown fell to VCU in Chicago. “That was not a surprise that they can put the ball in the basket. We just did not do a good job.”
In the end, it became a story of change. On their way out the door are Wright, Freeman, Vaughn, senior guard Ryan Dougherty, rising junior transfer Vee Sanford and if he does not pull his name out of the NBA draft by May 8, rising junior forward Hollis Thompson. Come November, there will be at least three new faces in the starting lineup, and five incoming freshmen with size have signed their letters of intent.
“In many ways,” Thompson said at the program’s annual end-of-season banquet, “a new era starts tomorrow.”
Both capitalizing on and succumbing to things both in and out of their control, the Hoyas achieved regular season success, and like 66 other NCAA tournament teams, their season ended in disappointing fashion. But led by Wright and Freeman, who will go down as all-time great Georgetown guards, the Hoyas remained relevant on the national stage and for a time, they looked like a team poised for a deep March run — a temporary vision ultimately broken along with a bone in Wright’s left hand, leading many to wonder what could have been.