With a few minutes remaining in the second half of Friday’s first-round game against Florida Gulf Coast, Georgetown fans began streaming out of the Wells Fargo Center, disheartened by another postseason campaign that ended just as it was beginning.
The essential facts are familiar: The Hoyas have reached the top 10 of the AP poll every season since they reached the Final Four in 2007, but they have not made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament — or even the first round of the NIT, in one trip in 2009 — in any of those six years.
How is it that a team that’s notched 136 wins in those six seasons secured just two in tournament play? And what does that mean for John Thompson III and his system on the Hilltop?
Although Twitter was buzzing with references to the failure of the Princeton offense to succeed in big games, it makes no sense to say that the offense that led to wins over overall No. 1 seed Louisville and two defeats of its Sweet 16 mate Syracuse is somehow deficient.
More informed viewers of Friday night’s game would have noticed that it was Georgetown’s defense that failed the Blue and Gray against the Eagles. FGCU guards Brett Comer, Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson ran circles around Georgetown all night, especially during a punishing run midway through the second half.
As the defense flailed, the Hoyas resorted to fouling early and often — which caused three players to foul out and left three others with four fouls when the buzzer sounded. Florida Gulf Coast was able to make 10 more free throws than Georgetown attempted, a difference equal to the final margin of victory.
Those figures would seem to acquit the Princeton offense of blame for Friday’s defeat. The defense has been weak in other NCAA losses as well, allowing Ohio to post 97 points in 2010 and both VCUand Davidson to hang 74 points on Georgetown in 2011 and 2009, respectively.
Of course, the Shaka Smart-led Rams were a Final Four team, and despite Nate Silver’s joke that Florida Gulf Coast “sounds like a regional airport,” there are no teams looking forward to a date against Andy Enfield’s Eagles this tournament.
But the trend remains: Thompson III is a January and February coach who can’t seem to find success anymore in March.
“Trust me — more than anyone on this earth, I’ve tried to analyze it, think about it, look at what we could do, should do differently,” Thompson III said Friday. “And I don’t know.”
Is the answer that he is a reincarnation of Gene Keady, the Purdue maestro who had 22 winning seasons in 25 years but never reached the Final Four?
Probably not. Thompson III has already proven that he can reach the tournament’s final weekend. And despite boasting Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr., these Hoyas were a young team, the kind that is always most likely to choke in March.
Pregame preparation may also be a factor. Smart, Enfield and Mark Gottfried have outflanked Thompson III over the past few years due to Georgetown’s willingness to play to their opponents’ style and reluctance to adapt while the game is in progress.
Still, whether Porter returns or not, the Hoyas will be older, tougher and stronger next year.
That gives Thompson about 360 days to put his pieces in place.
EVAN HOLLANDER is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and former sports editor of The Hoya.