Big East Tourney success or bust for the Hoyas

Big East Tourney success or bust for the Hoyas
March 9, 2014, 9:30 am
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Once again, the phrase "small margin of error" came up in connection with a Georgetown loss. Following Saturday's 18-point regular season finale loss to Villanova, the expression certainly describes the Hoyas NCAA Tournament scenario.

As their season progressed and particularly in the post-Josh Smith world, it became clear what it would take for a Hoyas victory. With limited scoring options and a short-handed roster during much of the Big East season, coach John Thompson III coach frequently touched on the same talking points: limit turnovers, avoid foul trouble, solid defense.

Little of that winning formula showed in the 77-59 loss to the Big East regular season champions. Now the Hoyas (17-13, 8-10) are uncertain to show in this year's NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

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Though frustrated with the result, not to mention 18 turnovers leading to 22 Villanova (28-3, 16-2) points and early foul trouble for his side, Thompson recapped the game directly.

"We have a very small margin of error and we came out early and we had unnecessary, unforced turnovers which lead to transition baskets for them," Thompson said. "Then we try to claw back in it claw back in it and we had some missed opportunities."

The Hoyas never led. Committing three turnovers on their first four possessions didn't help. The 18 turnovers matched Georgetown's Big East high and the same amount committed in January's 66-61 home loss to Villanova. The miscues also helped the Wildcats get quality looks and shoot 50 percent from the field.

In between matchups with the Wildcats, the Hoyas valued possession and averaged 8.6 turnovers per game. Against Villanova's forceful defenders, Georgetown often chose the difficult passing path. The Wildcats finished with 14 steals

"Just trying to make home run plays instead of being simple, playing how we usually play," said guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera on the Hoyas numerous miscues. "We just forced a lot of things that we shouldn't have and they came up with steals, got a lot of transition baskets."

Now let's talk whistles. Often this season the Hoyas had starters sitting with foul trouble. Often those players were forwards and centers. Not good, but better than alternative seeing as the backcourt trio of Smith-Rivera, Markel Starks and Jabril Trawick lead the offense in every way.

The unwanted option happened against Villanova. Trawick picked up his third foul with 11:33 left in the first half. Starks received his five minutes later.

The Wildcats' decisive 14-3 run followed, turning a 28-24 lead into a 42-29 halftime score. Villanova attempted 12 free throws before Georgetown tried one. 

"It's more harmful for us when our guards, our perimeter players are in foul trouble because we depend on them to do so much," Thompson said. 

"I think that was a big part of the loss for us," said Trawick, who scored seven points, ending his streak of six straight games with double-digit points. "I know I needed to be on the floor to help my team and when I came out of the game, it kind of shorthanded us." 

That "shorthanded" word is another frequent one in the Hoyas lexicon this season. Greg Whttington suffered a likely season-ending injury last offseason. Then came a Georgetown career-ending dismissal from the program. 

The season for Josh Smith, the Hoyas' lone interior scoring threat, ended after two Big East games due to grades. In the next game, Trawick suffered a broken jaw, leading to Georgetown's courage leader missing five games. The Hoyas lost six of seven in that span. 

The NCAA Tournament selection committee will consider some of this when making its final at-large decisions. It will also consider the Hoyas Big East Tournament results in New York. Georgetown, the seventh seed, faces No. 10 DePaul on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. from Madison Square Garden. 

Lose to the Blue Demons, game over. Win and then comes Creighton. The Hoyas defeated the Bluejays on Tuesday for their fifth victory against a top 50 RPI foe. That's a solid amount of good work, but a loss to Northeastern, two to Seton Hall and 13 overall counters that and then some. 

Beat Creighton again and Georgetown could be dancing - or not depending on other national results or the selection committee's whim. The Hoyas might have to win the tournament for the automatic bid. 

This is the season now: Win four straight at MSG or at least two and then hope for the best. The margin of error is that small. 

"Now we just have to focus on the Big East Tournament," Trawick said. "That's the only thing we can do."