Bad has officially come to worse.

The Georgetown Hoyas are now mired in a six-game losing streak, the program’s longest since the 1970s. Since Christmas, the Hoyas are 2-10 overall and 2-7 in Big East conference play. What’s worse, they are all alone in the basement of the Big East-West division after losing to Rutgers Tuesday. Virginia Tech has more Big East wins than the Hoyas do. For the uninitiated, that’s patently unacceptable.

If the Hoyas finish in last place in their division, they will fail to qualify for the Big East Tournament for the first time in the school’s history. Without getting overly dramatic, not making the Big East Tournament would indisputably be the single biggest embarrassment for the basketball program in the modern (since John Thompson arrived) era. And I’m not forgetting about Samurai swordsman Kenny Brunner when I say that.

Figuring out the Hoyas this year has been next to impossible. They have the best player – bar none – in the Big East in Mike Sweetney, who has played as well as anyone in the country all year, yet they take dopey losses to awful teams like UCLA and Seton Hall. They lead Duke at halftime, push Notre Dame to two overtimes and take Pittsburgh to the brink but then turn around and lose to Rutgers and St. John’s. It just doesn’t make any sense. No matter whom they face, the Hoyas play just well enough to lose by a few points. They could play the Golden State Warriors or the Gonzaga High School Eagles and probably end up with the same result, a two- or three-point loss. Does that mean that they are a good team that plays poorly or a bad team that can play well sporadically? It makes them a team that plays up to or down to the level of its competition, which is a textbook signal of a mediocre team.

Three or four years from now, when Sweetney is a star in the NBA, people are going to look back and wonder how exactly Georgetown managed to make the NCAA Tournament just once in his first three years. Here’s the answer, and it’s not the conventional wisdom circulating around this campus about bad coaching. (More on that later.) Sweetney is surrounded by guys who are consistent only in their inconsistency. At times this season (and past seasons), Drew Hall, Tony Bethel, Brandon Bowman and Gerald Riley have looked positively brilliant. At other times, they’ve looked positively befuddled. Other teams know that if they can contain Sweetney, they have a good chance of catching most of the rest of the Hoyas on an off-night.

The Hoyas are the quintessential one-trick pony. They’re the 2002 Indianapolis Colts of the men’s college basketball world. Sure, Marvin Harrison had a monster year without any substantial supporting cast and broke the individual reception record, but when it came down to it, opposing defenses were willing to spot him his 12 catches a game and put every other offensive player on lockdown. The result? The Jets mopped the floor with the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. Sweetney could be the first Big East Player of the Year whose team doesn’t make the Big East Tournament.

The person who has taken the biggest chunk of the blame for the debacle that this season has become has been Head Coach Craig Esherick. A certain amount of that blame is justified. When a team starts out 8-0 and winds up 10-10 midseason, you start at the top when looking for reasons, even when most of those first eight wins came at the expense of Southwest Central Eastern Carolina A&M&T State and the Nevada State Correctional Facility All-Star team. But Esherick has gotten far too much of the blame that ought to be laid at his players’ feet. Yes, for the record, I am a card-carrying member of the Craig Esherick Apologist Society, but in my book you can’t blame a coach when players miss wide-open shots.

That being said, it is becoming incredibly clear that Craig Esherick teams cannot win close games. At the beginning of this season, Esherick told the media that in order to improve on the team’s dismal late-game performance last year, he had compiled a tape of close games from around the country. Apparently, the Hoyas forgot to watch which teams won those close games, because they have been nothing short of terrible in pressure situations. Overtime losses to Notre Dame and Seton Hall and last-second regulation losses to Pitt and UCLA have only confirmed what many people suspected about Esherick’s last-second X’s and O’s acuity.

To put it simply, Coach, the tape didn’t work. Time for Plan B. You’re the coach and I’m the English major, so I’ll leave it to you to figure out what that plan entails, but I’ll offer two suggestions. One, in order to score in end-of-game situations, the team needs to shoot the basketball every single time, no exceptions. Two, if you’re looking to generate some offense, how about that rather talented fellow parked underneath the basket with “34” on his jersey? He seems pretty good at putting the ball in the basket. He also gets fouled a lot. Just a thought.

At this point in the season, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in saying that the Hoyas aren’t going to make the NCAA Tournament. Which makes the question of Sweetney’s future all the more pressing. Before he came to Georgetown, he promised his parents that he would get his degree, and, thus, not leave school early. But if you were Mike Sweetney right now, with at least one commentator (Digger Phelps) projecting you as the first pick in the NBA Draft, would you come back for a senior season with a team that no one has any real reason to think will be better? Promise or not, I would tell Mom and Dad that I would make it up to them with an enormous new house and ditch the Hoyas so fast it would make your head spin. This is millions of dollars we’re talking about; he can’t improve his draft status by staying another year, and he would be risking the possibility of an injury that could lower his potential payday. In most cases, I think it’s dumb for college players to leave early, but in Sweetney’s case I can’t think of a good argument for him to stay.

Keeping that in mind, if I were Esherick right now, I would be clutching my rosary beads pretty darn tight, because if you think this team is bad with Sweetney, can you even wrap your mind around how bad it would be without him?

Of course, there is always the possibility of divine intervention; the Hoyas could rip off a seven-game winning streak to end the season, then capture the Big East Tournament title and make the NCAA Tournament. If God were going to intervene, though, you would have to figure he would have done so by now. Helping a team get a lucky bounce or a favorable call is one thing, but miracles are tiring, even for the infinite deity. And it’s going to take one heck of a miracle to salvage this season.

Isn’t that why most of us went to a Catholic school in the first place?

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