Hoyas hoping for no more Philly heartbreak

Hoyas hoping for no more Philly heartbreak
March 7, 2014, 9:45 pm
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John Thompson III isn't shy about showing his superstitious nature.

Before starting his media session on Friday, the Georgetown basketball coach asked all involved to move from one side of the McDonough Arena lobby to the other. There would be a Q&A before the Hoyas (17-12, 8-9) headed to Philadelphia for Saturday's Villanova rematch. Just in a different spot.

"We haven't had much success on the road this season when we talk over there," the coach explained.

Twice last season the Hoyas played at Wells Fargo Center, both times in March. First, their 11-game winning streak ended against Villanova. Just over two weeks later, Florida Gulf Coast ended Georgetown's NCAA Tournament.

Then consider that a victory over the No.6 ranked Wildcats (27-3, 15-2) on Saturday could secure an at-large berth into this year's NCAA Tournament and perhaps a first-round bye into next week's Big East Tournament.

Therefore, we can imagine changes must be coming for the Hoyas once they arrived in Philadelphia. Different hotel, new locale for pregame meal, something, anything, right, coach?

"No and I'm very superstitious."

Well, perhaps the only changes Thompson needs are the ones his squad has undergone since losing at home to Villanova on January 27.

The setback extended Georgetown's season-high skid to five games. Since then, the Hoyas are 6-3 including wins over Michigan State, Xavier and Tuesday's 75-63 triumph over No. 13 Creighton.

On the season, Georgetown has five wins over teams in the RPI top-50, more than 14 of the schools ranked in the AP top 25 poll. Currently seventh in the conference standings, the Hoyas could move into sixth place and avoid playing in Wednesday's first round with a win and a Saint John's loss at Marquette on Saturday. With a loss, Thompson's team would likely need a deep run in the conference tournament for a any hope of reaching the NCAA's again.

In the 65-60 loss, the Hoyas committed 18 turnovers, matching their Big East high this season. Since then, the team is averaging 8.6 per game and had only seven versus Creighton.

"Our team is not built such that we can turn the ball over," Thompson said of the eighth highest scoring team in the 10-team conference. "We have to get good shots, we have to manufacture points. Because of that we can't keep giving the ball away."

Part of manufacturing points means getting to the free throw line. Back in January, Villanova attempted 28 while Georgetown took nine. Opponents have taken 98 more free throws than the Hoyas this season, but it's a virtual push in the nine games facing the Wildcats.

One clear factor for improvement in both areas is the return of Jabril Trawick. The junior guard faced Villanova only after the medical staff cleared him earlier that day following a five-game absence with a broken jaw.

Now that Trawick has his rhythm and legs back, he's provided the Hoyas with another ball handler, a third scorer with fellow guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, and a consistent presence at the free throw line. The Philly kid already provided the team with toughness, the physical and mental kind required for such a pressure-packed moment.

"Whenever I play I'm always focused, I'm always going to give it all I got," said Trawick, who averaged 13.3 points over the last six games. "That's what we're going to do tomorrow. I know I'm going to give it my all and my teammates are going to follow me. We know what's at stake tomorrow. It's a big game for us."

Villanova is 9-1 since facing the Hoyas and enter Saturday on a five-game winning streak. The Wildcats clinched their first outright Big East title since 1982 in Thursday's 77-70 victory at Xavier. Led by guards James Bell and Darrun Hillard plus center Daniel Ochefu, Villanova tops the conference in field goal percentage defense and ranks second in turnover margin.

Bell paced the Wildcats with 16 points in the first meeting while Starks topped all scorers with 20 points. Georgetown's senior guard leads the Hoyas with 17.0 points per game. He knows what a win - or a loss - could do to the program's chances for a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

"I don't think I've ever been in this type of [regular season] situation where the importance is [this] heightened," Starks said. "Everybody hears the whispers. It's a just matter of us going out and kind of putting the whispers to the side and just going out and competing."

If the coach has any say in the matter, just don't step on sidewalk cracks on the way.