The 1985 Georgetown Hoyas were coming off a national championshipand with future #1 NBA draft pick Patrick Ewing back for his senior season, a repeat title looked like destiny. Ewing’s shotblocking skills were without peer in college basketball, his offensive game was solid, and head coach John Thompson had the big man surrounded with a deep team that attacked defensively and could score enough to win.
The Big East was the center of the basketball world, as Georgetown and St. John’s were the top two teams in the country throughout the year and with a split of regular season games, plus a victory in the conference tournament final, the Hoyas got the #1 seed in the East Regional.
1985 was the first year the NCAA Tournament went to 64 teams and Georgetown opened up by making life miserable for eastern Pennsylvania, beating Lehigh and Temple and earning a spot in the regionals held up in Providence.
Defense ruled the day in Providence, as they faced top backcourt scorers in Loyola-Chicago’s Alfredrick Hughes and Georgia Tech’s Mark Price, a future NBA mainstay for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Hughes was held to eight points, Price shot 3-for-16, and while the Hoyas got strong challenges in both games, they were able to get their third Final Four trip in Ewing’s four-year tenure.
The Final Four was in Lexington’s Rupp Arena and a familiar foe in St. John’s was waiting. In fact, the 1985 Final Fourwas a Big East feast, as Villanova also made it, the only time in history three teams from the same conference have made college basketball’s showcase event.
St. John’s was a worthy opponent, led by future NBA guard Chris Mullin and center Bill Wennington, who would go on to a good pro career in Chicago. It was the best team ever fielded by head coach Lou Carnesecca, but they couldn’t match up with Georgetown. Mullin only got eight shot attempts, Williams scored 20 for Georgetown and it was a 77-59 rout. Villanova would be the last obstacle in the way of a repeat national title.
Villanova’s 66-64 upset win is now one of college basketball’s great Cinderella stories and everyone correctly remembers how they shot the lights out, at 79 percent from the field. Overlooked in this analysis is that ‘Nova had a huge edge at the free throw line, outscoring Georgetown 22-6 from the stripe and while there weren’t a lot of rebounds to go around, ‘Nova fought their rival pretty evenly, losing only 17-14.
It was a disappointing end to the Ewing era, although this four-year stretch of basketball was one of great dominance for Georgetown, as they won one national title and came within a basket of two others.
The 1984 Georgetown Hoyas were an intimidating force and physically manhandled opponents en route to a national title. Patrick Ewing, the 7’0” center, whose defense defined every game, was in his junior year, and the team looked like it had in 1982, with a very deep team surrounding him. They played defense, hit the boards and were the #1 seed in the West by NCAA Tournament time.
In the age before the shot clock was used in tournament play (while it was used in the regular season in 1983, it didn’t become standard for NCAA Tournament games until 1986), underdog teams could slow the pace down dramatically and that’s what SMU did in a second-round game. After a first-round bye, Georgetown barely survived the Mustangs in a 37-36 final, but they were on their way to Pauley Pavilion, home of UCLA, for the West Regional.
In Los Angeles, customary Hoya dominance returned. In their two wins over UNLV and Dayton they won the rebounding battle by a combined 76-48 and won both games by double-digit margins. It wasn’t only Ewing on the glass, but forward Bill Martin, who pulled down ten boards in the win over Dayton in the final. The Georgetown defense shut down the Flyers’ top scorer in Roosevelt Chapman and once again the Beast of the East was the Best in the West.
The Final Four was in Seattle, where Ewing had anticipated battles against top centers in Kentucky’s Sam Bowie and then a potential final game matchup with Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon.
Saturday’s game against Kentucky shocked the entire country. Everyone knew the Hoyas could D it up with anyone, but no one expected them to hold Kentucky to 11 second half points and 3-of-23 shooting after the half, as a 29-22 Wildcat lead at intermission turned into a 53-40 Georgetown victory. Bowie was the only Wildcat player who could get a rebound and even with a poor game from Ewing, point guard Michael Jackson picked up the slack.
Houston barely survived Virginia to make the Monday night championship game, but their offense could match up with Georgetown’s defense. Cougar point guard Alvin Franklin successfully broke down the Hoya D off the dribble and scored 21 points. Michael Young scored 18, although at 8-of-21 shooting, Thompson was probably willing to concede that. Ewing only scored 10, while Olajuwon scored 15, but the depth around Ewing was vastly superior and Houston couldn’t guard people on the perimeter the way Georgetown could.
Swingmen Reggie Williams and David Wingate scored 19 and 16 points respectively and bald-headed enforcer Michael Graham delivered 14. Georgetown led by ten at the half and went on to win 84-75.
Thompson was the first African-American coach to win a national championship. Ewing had won his battle with Olajuwon and even though the Houston center would get his revenge in the 1994 NBA Finals when he was with the Rockets while Ewing was with the Knicks, that was a long way off. In the spring of 1984, Ewing, Thompson and Georgetown basketball were on top of the world.
The 1982 Georgetown Hoyas were a program steadily on the rise in a Big East Conference that was much the same. With big John Thompson, the 6’10” head coach, patrolling the sidelines, the Hoyas made a regional final in the 1980 NCAA Tournament before losing by one point to Iowa. Then Thompson made a huge splash when he signed stud freshman center, 7’0” Patrick Ewing, the nation’s most coveted recruit. The stage was set for great things.
In the spring of 1982, Georgetown rolled to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, being shipped out west. The Hoyas were a little bit under the radar, as ACC powers and fellow top seeds North Carolina and Virginia got most of the ink, but basketball observers knew that Thompson’s smothering defense and deep bench worked brilliantly around Ewing, while guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd could hit from the outside and prevent defenses from collapsing on the freshman center. The NCAA field was 48 teams in 1982, so after a first-round bye, the Hoyas dispatched Wyoming and headed to Provo for the regionals.
Georgetown was renowned not only for great defense, but an inability to shoot the ball. They gave lie to that reputation in Provo, hitting 64 percent from the floor in a win a 58-40 win over Fresno State and then nailing 74 percent of their shots in a 69-45 rout of second-seeded Oregon State.
Floyd was voted the regional’s outstanding player, scoring 38 points in the two games, while the Hoyas’ combined rebounding advantage was 48-27. Thompson was the first African-American coach to reach the Final Four.
The Final Four was in New Orleans, but Thompson opted to house his team in Biloxi, MS and bus them in. It was the nation’s first exposure to what would be called “Hoya Paranoia”, regarding Thompson’s closed door relationship with the press. Someone else might call it just wanting the media off your back.
Saturday’s national semifinal was a tough battle with a Louisville team that had won the national championship two years earlier. Floyd was held to 3-for-11 shooting and Ewing only scored eight points, but defense and rebounding carried the day in a 50-46 win.
The 1982 NCAA final was one of the best ever played, as Thompson went toe-to-toe with his friend Dean Smith, the Carolina coach after his first national championship. Ewing scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Floyd popped in 18. But a Tar Heel team that had future NBA forwards James Worthy and Sam Perkins, and a freshman guard named Michael Jordan wasn’t as easy to stop offensively.
Thompson tried a gambit of having Ewing block every shot coming his way in the early part of the game, but the five goaltending calls did nothing to psyche UNC out. Worthy scored 28 points and Carolina led 63-62 late.
Georgetown guard Fred Brown brought the ball over halfcourt looking to hold for the last shot. He inexplicably threw the ball directly to Worthy, was able to run out the clock. The lasting image for Georgetown is Thompson hugging the inconsolable Brown. Georgetown had come up short, but the Ewing era was just beginning.
The Georgetown Hoyas are coming on strong and after Friday night’s win in Cincinnati, the Hoyas have won seven straight and sit in a three-way tie with Syracuse and Marquette atop the Big East conference. Curiously, their rise to prominence has coincided with the suspension of a key player and a fairly tough schedule stretch. Clearly, this is team that needs to be on our radar of potential Final Four picks, so with that in mind let’s do a deeper evaluation of the Georgetown basketball team.
John Thompson III’s team did not start Big East play well. They lost three of the first five league games. One was a 28-point thrashing at the hands of Pitt and the other was a loss at South Florida. The latter loss on January 19 proved to be the nadir of the season, because the Hoyas have not lost since. Their ensuing seven-game win streak includes road scalps at Notre Dame, and again at Cincy. It also includes tough home wins over Louisville and Marquette. It includes another not-so-easy home victory over St. John’s. And the last four games of the streak—starting with the St. John’s win and including Marquette and at Cincy—have come without sophomore forward Greg Whittington, suspended indefinitely for academic reasons.
Whittington was hardly an incidental loss—with a per-game average of 12 points/7 rebounds he was a key piece of a team that’s built on the quality of its frontcourt. Fortunately, sophomore forward Otto Porter, already the team’s best player, has stepped up his game to new heights during the win streak, and Thompson also gets good work out of another sophomore in forward Nate Lubick. Whittington is also a sophomore, so if he gets his act together this entire group—including role player Mikael Hopkins, also a soph—can do a lot of damage over the next year or two.
The backcourt is run by junior Markel Starks, who shoots the ball efficiently from the floor and is a sharp 42 percent from three-point range. He’s not a tremendous playmaker, meaning the Hoyas also have to rely on freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera in this regard. Overall, the lack of a clear playmaking point guard is the one thing that can slow this team down—they shoot the ball fairly well, they’ve got the aforementioned frontcourt talent and they have a clear go-to player in Porter, but Starks has to be able to both score and handle distribution if a big NCAA run is going to be forthcoming.
For the time being though, everything is clicking in Hoya Nation. The win streak started in South Bend back on January 21, where a great defensive and rebounding effort, along with 53 percent shooting from the floor, keyed a 63-47 win. Porter scored 19 rebounds and grabbed nine rebounds. Five days later he delivered a 17/12 and was the best player on the floor against Louisville, the biggest reason Georgetown ground out an ugly 53-51 victory. Porter scored 20 in a rout of Seton Hall, while the entire team played lockdown defense and forced 24 turnovers.
Then came the Whittington suspension and the subsequent 68-56 win over St. John’s. Defense was the key, as the Red Storm were held to 32 percent shooting from the floor and it was Lubick was the day’s star, with a 16/10. Porter was back in gear in February 9 win at Rutgers, posting a 19/14 and the team played its best offensive game of this win streak, shooting 57 percent from the floor. It was a night they needed it, because it was also the one subpar defensive effort, and the final score ended up 69-63.
This past week it was a 63-55 win over Marquette for ESPN’s Monday night audience, with the defense forcing 19 Golden Eagle turnovers and Porter scoring 21 points. Then on Friday, the defense went into lockdown mode again, holding a good Cincinnati team to 32 percent from the floor, with sharpshooting Sean Kilpatrick only going 3-for-13. On the negative side, it was the first time in this seven-game stretch where Georgetown was decisively outrebounded.
Georgetown’s winning formula is clear and sustainable—they’re a very good defensive team, in the tradition of the best teams put out by Thompson’s father in this program’s glory days. The 2013 Hoyas usually hold their own on the glass and more often than not, get an edge here. They have a top dog in Porter who can take over games—he’s averaging 18/8 in this winning streak. And there’s a good secondary scoring option in Starks, who’s averaged 15 ppg over the last seven games.
I don’t know where I’ll ultimately pick Georgetown as far as the NCAA Tournament goes—I don’t have them on a par yet with Miami or Michigan State, teams I feel very confident in as Final Four-caliber teams. Over at the blog Stat Intelligence, blogger Jeff Fogle compared the Hoyas to other teams projected in the 3-4 seed range.
What I will say right now is that what the Hoyas are doing is eminently sustainable—this isn’t a win streak built on a soft schedule, or on an insanely hot shooting streak that you know will cool down. Defense, rebounding and a clear identity on where you want to go with the basketball offensively are virtues that are there every night and it’s why we all need to have the Hoyas on our radar as a possible pick to be in Atlanta for the Final Four come April.
MARYLAND’S BUBBLE BATTLES
The other power conference team on the D.C. Beltway is Maryland and they got a big win last night over Duke. The 83-81 home win realistically kept the Terps’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive, as they are now 18-7 overall and 6-6 in the ACC.
Maryland has been built around the consistency of 7’1” sophomore center Alex Len, who averages 13/8, and was even better last night, with 19 points and 9 rebounds against the soft Duke interior, where no one really helps Mason Plumlee on the rebounding side. The Terps destroyed the Blue Devils on the glass, the single biggest reason they won.
But the second-biggest reason Maryland won is that they got consistent help in the backcourt thanks to Seth Allen, who scored 16. The backcourt is an area where the Terps have been frustrating—albeit understandably, since head coach Mark Turgeon is still dealing with a very young backcourt. They’ll need players like Dez Wells, Nick Faust or perhaps Pe’Shon Howard—suspended for last night’s win for undisclosed reasons—to play consistently down the stretch. Maryland also has a key win over N.C. State, and their final two regular season games are against fellow NCAA contenders North Carolina and Virginia. Last night gave the Terps the chance to play their way into the field.