Back in October at THE HOYA’s Journalism Conference, someone asked Camille Powell, the Washington Post’s beat writer for Georgetown basketball, about the Hoyas’ chances of qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

“Maybe next year,” she said laughingly. But it was only her desire to humor a classroom of 20 Georgetown students that kept her from saying, “Yeah, and I’m betting on the Charlotte Bobcats, too.”

It’s amazing how things can change in a matter of months. Then again, it’s amazing that Georgetown, picked to finish 11th in the Big East, was able to best Pittsburgh and fall just two shoe sizes short of shocking Syracuse. It’s miraculous that a six-second window was enough for Roy Hibbert to dunk home a victory over Notre Dame and send fans onto the court, twice. It’s fitting that the Hoyas topped Villanova by a 1985-era score of 66-64, simultaneously instructing the Wildcats as to what they could do with their halftime ceremony.

And then there was Boston College. The reality check. After weeks of dramatic win upon dramatic win the Hoyas had appeared invincible, and their diminutive margins of victory had seemed to be simply for the sake of excitement.

But at the Conte Forum, Georgetown not-so-discreetly proved that it was a bit too human to rely solely on divine intervention. Against a 17-0 team – even one as untested as BC – 15 minutes of scoreless basketball won’t do.

Should we panic? Is the dream dead? No, not unless it involves claiming a national title after a 13-15 season that prompted 3,909 students and alumni to sign a “Save the Hoyas” petition. But as far as making the NCAA tournament is concerned, the four-year-old dream is very much alive.

Two months ago, in an interview with THE HOYA, Head Coach John Thompson III wouldn’t even hint at it.

“That’s one of those things where you can start talking about projections and [the] big picture, and you drive yourself crazy,” he said. “Let’s just get better and work hard. Five years from now – let’s be better than we are now.”

It looks as if Thompson’s stated hopes have already been fulfilled. Georgetown received five votes in the AP poll on Jan. 24, making the Hoyas one of only 46 teams that can claim to have electoral support. That Sunday’s RPI ratings, meanwhile, ranked Georgetown at 27. March Madness attendance is hardly a lock, but the numbers bode well for the Hoyas.

Georgetown the team is getting nearer with every close win. And Georgetown the university knows it. Empty seats in the student section at MCI Center are disappearing, and game-night standing room at The Tombs is following suit. Whispers of an NCAA Tournament bid are growing louder.

So get excited, folks. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer. And if you’re waiting for some insurance, you might as well root for a Michael Jackson lawsuit or for President Bush to invoke God’s blessing. Heck, there’s a certain other Big East school of Jesuit affiliation that could probably use your support.

Two Georgetown victories in particular were the most dramatic. Villanova, a school that for 20 years has never ceased enjoying its upset over the Hoyas in the 1985 NCAA finals, decided it would be appropriate to honor its ’85 team during halftime. Georgetown was trailing 36-27 at the break but rallied repeatedly over the course of the second half. With two seconds left and Georgetown leading, a Villanova dunk evened the score, but junior guard Ashanti Cook responded with a quick and colossal pass to senior guard Darrel Owens, who was fouled and put Villanova away with two free throws.

The final score, 66-64, was identical to the one by which the Wildcats defeated Georgetown in 1985. Talk about poetic justice.

Cook’s last-second quickness was a harbinger of events a week later, when the Hoyas found themselves up by two with six seconds left. After Notre Dame’s Colin Falls hit an off-balance three to suddenly put the Irish up by one, the Hoyas rushed down the court, passing the ball from freshman guard Jonathan Wallace to Cook to Hibbert. The freshman center promptly dunked the game-winner at the buzzer, and Georgetown fans spilled onto the court.

They had to go back. The officials weren’t sure if the buzzer had come first. The fans were, and after two minutes’ worth of replays and chants of “Count it! Count it!” Thompson pumped his fist and they stormed the court again.

The Hoyas aren’t quite ready to take the NCAA by storm, but they’ve shown that they’re capable of competing with the toughest of foes – and they’re primed to replicate the feats of four years past. Replicating the feats of 20 years past, meanwhile, is another story.

But maybe next year.

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