Commentary | GU Hunts for At-Large Bid

With just eight games left in the season, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (13-10, 6-4 Big East) finds itself three games out of first place in the Big East and extremely far off the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The tournament committee takes 36 at-large bids — teams that didn’t win their conference tournament — and given the Hoyas’ inconsistent play this season, it is hard to imagine them winning three games in three days to claim the Big East tournament title.

So, in order to make the tournament, the Hoyas must win enough games, convincingly and against quality opponents, to earn an at-large bid. After losing 87-76 in what would have been a important win on the road against Butler (15-7, 4-6 Big East), Georgetown must now face the rest of its schedule with absolute determination to win every game possible. Two of the games, at Villanova (19-3, 9-1 Big East) and at Providence (18-5, 6-4 Big East), are arguably Georgetown’s two toughest tests of the season, which could potentially give it two more losses.

However, Georgetown has two more very winnable games coming up on its conference schedule, hosting St. John’s (7-16, 0-10 Big East) and playing at Marquette (15-8, 4-6 Big East) — two teams that have been even more inconsistent than Georgetown. Projecting those as wins leaves four games that are essentially toss-ups — home games against Seton Hall (16-6, 6-4 Big East), Butler (15-7, 4-6 Big East) and Xavier (20-2, 8-2 Big East) and on the road at Seton Hall this Saturday. While Xavier is arguably a more complete team than Providence, which recently lost to DePaul (8-14, 2-8 Big East), Georgetown seemed to have Marquette’s number in beating them just over a week ago at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati.

A 6-2 record the rest of the way in the Big East would see Georgetown finish with a 12-6 record in the conference and a 19-12 record overall on the season. This record, despite having double-digit losses, would feature notable wins against Syracuse (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), Butler, Xavier twice and Seton Hall twice.

However, as fantastic of a resume that would be, the rest of the college basketball landscape would have to fall into place for the Hoyas. While conventional wisdom and the history of tournament selection would suggest that a 19-12 record combined with the overall strength of the Big East would put the Hoyas firmly in the No. 10 to No. 12 seed range, anything is possible. There are teams that, despite playing in weaker conferences, have more quality non-conferences wins and fewer bad home losses than the Hoyas.

A bad home loss, according to most bracketologists, is considered a loss against a team well outside the Ratings Percentage Index top 50 teams. Unfortunately for Georgetown, it has taken three such losses this season — first to Radford (13-10, 6-5 Big South) and then to Monmouth (18-5, 10-2 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and UNC-Asheville (16-8, 9-3 Big South).

One final selection factor in the tournament committee’s at-large selection process is the “eye test” — which is essentially based on how good a team looks when it plays. For the Hoyas, that eye test is negative; many of their wins have come at the last second or on inefficient shooting. According to experts, the eye test is beneficial because often, a team is better or worse than its record indicates. A team will undoubtedly lose some games due to off nights and inconsistent shooting, but if the team is playing well consistently regardless of their shooting — on defense and executing well on offense — then the selection committee is more likely to award them an at-large bid.

However, much of this speculation can and will most likely be undone if Georgetown can steal a win at Villanova or Providence, two games they are likely to lose according to analyst Ken Pomeroy’s statistical projections.

A 20-11 or 21-10 record would place the Hoyas firmly in the tournament field, and given the team’s track record for playing up to the level of great teams, anything could happen.

But before any of this speculation can come true or fall on itself, the Hoyas must fix their glaring defensive problems. Instead of keying in on the opposing team’s best players, the Hoyas have let them run wild in the past two games, giving up a combined 124 points to their past two opponents’ five best players, including a 35-point game to Butler sophomore forward Kelan Martin. Georgetown has routinely fallen into a zone defense in the past few games to compensate for its inability to defend man-to-man and its inability to avoid fouling the opposing team.

Over the past two games, the Hoyas have allowed their opponents to shoot an average of 21 more free throws than the Hoyas shoot per game. Foul trouble has and will continue to plague Georgetown if nothing changes from its current style of play — reckless, inefficient and at times, downright clumsy. However, there is hope still, and despite the troubles that the team has faced, it still has one of the nation’s top scorers in senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

The next few games will prove decisive for Georgetown, starting with a road visit to Seton Hall, arguably a must-win game. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

Paolo Santamaria is a sophomore in the College.

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