Another bad exit from the NCAA tournament leaves multitude of questions
PHILADELPHIA -- It was because Georgetown had made such successful midseason adjustments that a change in postseason fortunes seemed possible.
But the worst upset of the 2013 NCAA tournament's first weekend, a 78-68 pounding at the hands of No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast, tempered the achievements of a remarkable regular season. Even more so, it raised familiar questions about Hoyas coach John Thompson III's penchant for shrinking on college basketball's biggest stage.
"I'm not sitting here pounding my chest saying, 'Oh, we had a great season,'?" Thompson said Friday after his second-seeded team's defeat at Wells Fargo Center. "But there's so many things that go into a season. I don't know if I would say this was an unsuccessful season."
It certainly could have been a disaster. The Hoyas (25-7), without a senior on the roster, bottomed out offensively Nov. 30 with a 37-36 victory over Tennessee, the second-lowest scoring game in the shot clock era.
That result didn't bother Thompson thanks to an unrelenting defense that had allowed 55.7 points per game heading into the NCAAs, making easy shots impossible for opponents to find.
Two games into the conference slate, Georgetown lost long-armed sophomore Greg Whittington, the team's most versatile defender and second-leading scorer and rebounder, to academic ineligibility. But despite the first 0-2 start in the Big East of Thompson's nine-season tenure, the Hoyas eventually reeled off 11 straight wins, surged into the national top 10 and won a share of the regular-season conference title.
The rise was inextricably linked with the ascension of sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr., an unselfish, all-around talent perfectly suited to Thompson's unique vision of how basketball should be played.
But the unanimous Big East player of the year faded over three postseason games, shooting 12-for-39 (30.8 percent), enough to prompt second-guessing about his potential place in the upcoming NBA Draft.
"When you're the player on that team that makes a lot of things happen, a lot of teams are going to start keying in on you," Porter said. "It makes each game tougher. You have more tape to watch. You can see what you can switch up on them, and it's hard. Winning is hard."
Yet the Hoyas team that faltered against Florida Gulf Coast was soft. Thompson had no answers for why his group was picked apart, unable to execute and devoid of the toughness that had been a hallmark during the regular season. The similarities to a 97-83 blowout loss to No. 14 seed Ohio in 2010 were striking, the outcome all too familiar. Since reaching the 2007 Final Four, Thompson hasn't been able to get to the Sweet 16, losing five consecutive times to double-digit seeds during the NCAA tournament's first weekend.
"I think you have to fall back on what we've been doing all year," Thompson said last week. "It's not like -- well, I shouldn't say that, because we have done a few little wrinkles -- but you're not going to totally reinvent the wheel."
Thompson may no longer have any choice.