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Top of the Arc - February 7, 2009

Feb. 7, 7 p.m.: One month after playing like a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, Georgetown now faces a very steep climb to the tournament and possesses a worse record than a certain middling team in College Park.

It would be easy to attribute the sudden fall to the fact that a team with a thin bench and poor rebounding failed to measure up against the top tier in the nation’s strongest conference. But victories over Connecticut and Syracuse suggest otherwise.

If Georgetown misses the NCAAs, losses like Saturday’s 64-62 overtime defeat at home to Cincinnati will be the reason. Over the past month, the Hoyas have lost games against West Virginia, Seton Hall and Cincinnati (twice). There may not be a tournament team among the three.

The Bearcats now are two wins up on Georgetown in the Big East standings and own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Hoyas have done more than anyone to help Cincinnati cobble together a decent postseason resume, one that does not look any worse than Georgetown’s at this point.

How can the Hoyas still make the 65-team field? Four of Georgetown’s remaining seven regular season games – Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville and Villanova -- are against likely NCAA tournament teams. The Hoyas will need to win two of them (and beat South Florida, St. John’s and DePaul) just to reach a .500 Big East record. That’s a lot to ask for a team that has won three of 11 games since New Year’s.

The one thing Georgetown has going for it is the nation’s second strongest strength of schedule, a road victory at U-Conn., and a No. 23 ranking (before Saturday’s game) in the Ratings Percentage Index, the mathematical formula the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to help determine berths.

The committee considers every team on its own merits and doesn’t aim to select a specific number of teams from any conference. And there is no loss total that would disqualify Georgetown from consideration for an at-large bid – Arizona in 2008 and Georgia in 2001 both received at-large bids despite having 14 losses on their resumes.

Also remember that a .500 conference record is not required either. Six teams in this decade alone have earned at-large bids despite losing conference records, including last year’s Arizona team, which finished in seventh place in the Pac-10 with a 8-10 record.

One question committee members ask is whether a team passes the eyes test. Until recent games, the Hoyas had done that, playing like a team few schools would want to play. But Georgetown now has a 6-9 record against teams in the top 100 of the RPI. What’s worse, it increasingly looks indistinguishable from Big East teams likely headed to the NIT.

“We have to win games, and a lot goes into that,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. “We just have to win games.”

To reach the NCAA tournament, they’ll have to win four or five more in the regular season, a daunting task.

By Eric Prisbell  |  February 7, 2009; 7:09 PM ET
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