Hoyas prep for NCAA's as Big East grows

Hoyas prep for NCAA's as Big East grows
March 20, 2013, 10:45 pm
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Georgetown's recent stretch of NCAA Tournament frustration extends four seasons.

The so-called Catholic-7 conference now officially goes 10-deep.

On the day the Hoyas prepped one last time at McDonough Arena before heading to Philadelphia for Friday night's second-round game against Florida Gulf Coast, Butler, Creighton and Xavier became part of the retooled Big East. Three schools join Georgetown and the other basketball-centric programs that previously broke away from the conference's football schools. The formal announcement about the new venture, which opens play next season, took place Wednesday in New York.

"I'm extremely excited about our league as we go forward. I'm extremely excited about this new chapter of the Big East," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said on Wednesday following practice as the team prepares for Friday's NCAA Tournament opener.

Of course, all the new-league talk is about next season. The Hoyas, No. 2 seed in the South Region, have work ahead of them this week, starting with dispatching the No. 15 seed and exorcising those recent early exit demons.

Since reaching the 2007 Final Four, Georgetown (25-6) has not advanced past the NCAA Tournament's first weekend, sporting a 2-4 record in that span despite three times holding a No. 2 or 3 seed. Last season as a three-seed, the Hoyas lost in the round of 32 to NC State.

"I've never lost that feeling," said junior guard Markel Starks, a member of the last two Georgetown teams to lose earlier than anticipated. " I did promise myself that if we were to be in this situation again we wouldn't be in here with sad faces."

For Starks and the Hoyas to reach next week's regional in Arlington, Texas, they must first beat back the Eagles (24-10), the Atlantic Sun conference champions. With a win, Georgetown would face either No. 7 San Diego State or No. 10 Oklahoma on Sunday.

"We're the quote unquote top dog in the tournament right now, we're the two seed," Starks said. "We're going to bring it to them. We're not going to sit back and let them bring it to us. Come on now."

Earlier this season behind the backcourt of Sherwood Brown and Brett Comer, the Eagles stunned Miami, the No. 2 seed in the East region. Comer's poise and court generalship impressed Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who also received a walk down defensive scheme memory lane while studying the constantly-shifting Eagles.

"I've seen just about every defense I've seen in my life watching them," Thompson said.

Rather than trying to find a perfect solution for every potential dilemma, the coach is planning on sticking largely with what has worked. Good plan considering Georgetown enters the tournament having won 13 of 15 games, sporting Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter and one of the nation's nastiest defenses.

"At this point I think you have to fall back on what we've been doing all year," Thompson said. "It's not like we're going to totally reinvent the wheel because of what they do."

Meanwhile the Big East continues to reinvent itself.

Butler, NCAA Tournament runner-up in 2009 and 2010, and Xavier are departing the Atlantic 10, Creighton the Missouri Valley conference. Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Saint John's, Seton Hall and Providence round out the Big East's 2013-14 lineup. Additional programs could join the league in future seasons.

"At the end of the day, as I felt all along, we're hitting the ground as one of the best basketball conferences in the country," Thompson said.

Georgetown, Marquette, Butler, Creighton and Villanova are in this year's NCAA Tournament. Xavier missed the tournament for the first time in eight seasons.

The Hoyas played Butler in 2009 and faced Xavier six times, the last coming during the 1995 NCAA Tournament. The last time a Georgetown-Creighton game took place came during the 1970-71 season.

"Just like the members that are breaking off, that have left, new rivalries, new traditions, new animosities will be built over time," Thompson said.

While not part of the official announcement, reports indicated the league would have an 18-game regular season with home-and-home matchups for each team.

"Looking at the numbers I got to believe it makes sense that we're going to do home and home," Thompson said. "I'm pretty sure that's going to happen, which is good. That helps to define, establish a lot of those traditions, those rivalries because you get them there, they come here. Some of that is lost when you're not playing everyone twice."

As for now, Georgetown's plan is simply to avoid that losing NCAA Tournament feeling.

Asked to reflect on the NC State loss, junior forward Nate Lubick said, "The feeling afterwards was terrible. We knew we could have gone farther...It's really about putting that behind us at his point. This is a new tournament, we've got a new opportunity ahead of us."