So I was sitting there at the end of the Georgetown-Duke game on Wednesday night unable to get one thought out of my head: The Hoyas lost to the Blue Devils because Duke just has better players than Georgetown does. It’s that simple. Every member of the Duke squad is better than every single member of the Hoyas except Mike Sweetney, who himself is better than anyone on the Blue Devils. But that just wasn’t going to be enough to topple the No. 1 team in the nation Wednesday night, and everyone pretty much knew that going in.

There’s a reason Duke is ranked No. 1 and Georgetown isn’t ranked at all: They’re really good all the time and we’re pretty good sometimes.

That being said, Georgetown made a lot of hay with their loss on Wednesday night. Without question, playing competitively against Duke on national TV was more valuable to its postseason chances than all of its previous victories combined. Nobody cared that Georgetown made Grambling feel like crying; but on Wednesday they hung tough with a very talented Duke squad. That said something. Kudos to Head Coach Craig Esherick and the Hoyas for having the guts to schedule a supremely tough early season road game.

But let’s not get carried away with what we saw in this game, particularly the Hoyas’ three-point halftime lead. The Hoyas were exceedingly fortunate to have that early cushion. Duke played miserably throughout most of the half, missing more free throws and open shots than most thought possible. And despite what the scoreboard said, Georgetown didn’t play particularly well. They made a ton of baskets off broken plays that resulted in cheap put-backs and running one-handers in the lane.

Probably the best example of this was when senior forward Victor Samnick inexplicably drove from the right elbow and put the ball in the basket. Samnick is an unquestionably valuable member of the Hoya squad, but his value is not found in creating his own shots. It comes from his defense and rebounding. Samnick’s basket was a microcosm of the Hoyas’ first half; a bad idea that worked out in the end and glossed over the fundamental breakdowns in the offense.

Those breakdowns in the offense came only, of course, when the Hoyas bothered to run an offense at all. For large stretches of the game, particularly when Sweetney was on the bench, the Hoyas seemed like they had absolutely no plan at all on offense, hoping for a dribble-penetration or defensive mistakes on the part of Duke. I usually hesitate to criticize Esherick, who I think gets far too much blame for many of the Hoyas’ shortcomings, but blame for a failure to run a coherent offense has to fall at his feet. Granted, his options were crippled because of Sweetney’s foul trouble, but the lack of movement on offense was mind-boggling.

Esherick also deserves some criticism for the way the team completely fell apart in the middle of the second half. Coming out of the timeout after Duke grabbed the lead, the Hoyas took three completely indefensible contested three pointers in a row. That’s unacceptable coming out of a timeout; Esherick should have drawn up a play to work for a good high-percentage shot; if he did draw one up and the players refused to execute it, then that’s another problem entirely. Either way, the Hoyas did what every young team does when it gets down on the road to an overmatched opponent – they panicked. That’s why they took 11 threes in the second half despite the fact that they only made two of them. At some point Esherick has to grab everyone on the team by the ear and tell them to stop shooting the damn ball and run a recognizable play.

The good news from the game was this: Georgetown hung in there with a top-ranked team despite the fact that Sweetney never really got it going because of foul trouble. If it’s possible to have a quiet 23 points, he did it on Wednesday. Think about it this way; he averaged about a point per minute. If he had played for another five or seven minutes, the outcome of the game could have been different. This is good news for the Hoyas: they didn’t put their best foot forward, and they still almost won.

Despite the loss, there was a lot of hope for the rest of the season out there on the court Wednesday. The Hoyas showed that if they can get it together, they can be among the better teams in the Big East, and they gained some national credibility in the process. All in all, not too bad a day – an on-court loss, some off-court progress. I’ll take it.

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