March 11, 2014
WASHINGTON - by Bobby Bancroft
Over the years, Georgetown Head Men's Basketball Coach John Thompson III has been consistent in how he breaks down a season. Thompson, in his 10th season in charge of the Hoyas, views the season in three parts - the nonconference schedule, the BIG EAST schedule, and then the postseason.
After recently completing the first two portions of the season with a record of 17-13 and 8-10 in the BIG EAST, the Hoyas head to the World's Most Famous Arena - Madison Square Garden - to square off with DePaul (11-20, 3-15) for the third time this season in the First Round of the 2014 BIG EAST Tournament.
Georgetown will be meeting DePaul for the first ever time in the BIG EAST Tournament on Wednesday night. The game will be shown live on Fox Sports 1 at 9:30 p.m., with Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery calling all of the action. The radio call from Rich Chvotkin can be heard locally on ESPN 980 AM.
In nine previous trips under Thompson, Georgetown has won its first game seven times, advanced to five semifinals, three finals, and won the Tournament in 2007. It will be just the second time the Hoyas enter the tournament as the seventh seed. The only other time came in Thompson's first trip to Tournament in 2005.
Georgetown's current five-man senior class led by senior co-captains Markel Starks and Nate Lubick are 2-3 in BIG EAST Tournament play - highlighted by last season's appearance in the semifinals, the 21st in school history.
The Hoyas have a strength of schedule ranked No. 10 in the country and have five top-50 wins, including three against top10 teams, but the team goes to New York with the mindset of winning the tournament in order to secure a fifth-straight NCAA Tournament berth and 30th in program history.
"We have to go in like we always do," Lubick explained about Georgetown's approach given the added pressure, "and that's taking it one game at a time."
"In terms of us getting to Saturday [the Final], that's what's most important - being able to completely focus on our upcoming opponent. And that's our goal; our goal is to go to New York and to win it."
For Georgetown to get to Saturday, the Hoyas will have to first defeat DePaul for the third time this season. Defeating the same team three times in a season is never any easy task. The last time Georgetown defeated the same school three times in the same campaign was 20 years ago in 1993-94 (Seton Hall).
Georgetown has never lost to the DePaul (10-0) since the Blue Demons joined the BIG EAST in 2005; having won 14-straight overall dating back to the 1993-94 season. But even with such a winning streak, the Hoyas aren't taking anything for granted.
"It's hard to beat a team three times in a row but I think we are capable of anything," junior forward Jabril Trawick said. "We have to match whatever intensity they bring, whatever effort they bring and we have to go up there and play like we want to win the tournament."
Lubick agreed with his teammate's assessment of the task at hand.
"It's very difficult to beat a team three times but that's something we have to do. We have some success against them and our confidence is high and we know we have to fight for our lives."
In order to make a run in the 35th edition of the BIG EAST Tournament, Georgetown will likely lean heavily on the backcourt duo of Starks and sophomore guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. The backcourt running mates each featured heavily in the season sweep of DePaul by averaging a combined 38 points in the two wins.
Starks (17.1 ppg) and Smith-Rivera (16.8 ppg) also became the first pair of Georgetown teammates to score more than 500 points in a season since the 2009-10 season when a trio actually accomplished the feat (Austin Freeman, Greg Monroe, and Chris Wright). It was just the second time multiple players have scored more than 500 points under Thompson.
In the process both players recently picked up awards handed out by the league. Smith-Rivera earned Second Team All-BIG EAST honors, becoming the fifth Hoya under Thompson to earn that recognition and first since Freeman in 2009-10.
Meanwhile Starks earned a spot on the First Team, making it the fifth straight year and seventh time in the last eight seasons that Georgetown has placed a player on that very prestigious First Team.
"You feel honored that we've been acknowledged consistently by our peers - by the other schools that we've consistently had guys that merit that," Thompson said.
Starks, who went from a seldom used reserve as a freshman to ultimately becoming Georgetown's 44th member of the 1,000 point club, improved each and every season before becoming the third Hoya guard in the last four seasons to earn First Team Honors.
"You feel good for Markel who I've said has worked as hard - if not harder - than anyone that I've had here," Thompson said. "For him to see some of the fruits of his labor, in that way, feels good. It feels good for him."
Without looking too far ahead, Georgetown would match up with second seeded Creighton in the Bluejays first-ever game in the BIG EAST Tournament on Thursday night should the Hoyas move past DePaul.
"We're going to [New York] to win but just like everything else we're systematically going to try and do it one game at a time. So as the third part of the season begins - and with so much still on the line - Coach Thompson III feels as though Georgetown is still in control of its own destiny.
"If you look at our body of work, we are very much, very much in the conversation."