This Ain’t Their First Rodeo – The NCAA tournament is a stage unlike any other in basketball, and only those who have performed under its bright lights know how hard it can be to withstand the pressure. When it comes to the Big Dance, it’s helpful to have a few old hands who have shaken, rattled and rolled before. Of the 845 players participating in this season’s tournament, only a handful of players know what it is like to reach the Promised Land of the Final Four. Two of last season’s Final Four squads – Florida and Ohio State – will be watching from home, and of the other two – UCLA and Georgetown – only the Hoyas return with the core of last year’s team intact. Eight Hoyas played in last season’s semifinals loss to Ohio State in the Georgia Dome. Seven of them are back. Veterans like Jon Wallace and Roy Hibbert should help Georgetown outlast potential second-round foes Gonzaga and Davidson, who have limited tournament experience. As the Hoyas advance in the Midwest regional and the stakes grow higher, veteran leadership will become more and more crucial. While top-seeded Kansas may be the bracket’s most talented team, the Jayhawks haven’t advanced past the Elite Eight since head coach Bill Self took over in 2003.

“We’re led by a veteran group that knows what it takes,” Hibbert says. “We can’t look at those guys and think that we are just going to beat them,” adds Jessie Sapp. “It’s the tournament, and this tournament is different. It’s different from the rest of the season, these great teams got here for a reason.”

Of the last 10 championship teams, only one (2002 Syracuse) was a team led predominately by underclassmen, and four of those squads had been to the Final Four the previous year.

They’re gonna go inside, they’re gonna go outside – When you have a 7-foot-2 all-American looming in the paint, it is easy to get labeled as one-dimensional. But anyone who watched Georgetown’s Big East quarterfinal game against Villanova knows the Hoyas are far from a one-man show. With Nova’s defense orbiting around center Roy Hibbert, guards Jon Wallace, Jessie Sapp and Austin Freeman rained a meteor shower of threes on the Wildcats, draining a school-record 17 threes. The next day, when West Virginia clamped down on the Hoyas’ backcourt trio, Hibbert exploded for 25 points.

“The nature of our team is when any particular guy is not doing well, we have other people that can step up,” says Thompson III. “Our team is confident in everyone.”

History shows that the best teams know how to divide and conquer. Florida took the last two titles with the lethal combo of big men Al Horford and Joakim Noah and guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey.

Defense wins Championships – It may be the oldest cliché in the book, but it also happens to be true. In a month famous for its maddening inconsistency, stellar defense can be a team’s one steadying constant, and Georgetown is among the stingiest squads in the field of 65. The Hoyas lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense and rank near the top in points allowed per game. The Midwest is littered with lights-out scorers – four of the nation’s eight top scorers are in the Hoyas’ bracket – so the Hoyas will have to D up. A lesser team might shy away at the possibility of confronting Davidson’s Stephen Curry (25.1 ppg) in the second round, followed by either Kansas State’s Michael Beasley (26.5) or USC’s O.J. Mayo (20.8) in the Sweet 16. Not the Hoyas, who held West Virginia’s Joe Alexander to 12 points following consecutive 30-point outbursts in the opening rounds of the Big East tournament and have been praised by awestruck opposing coaches all season.

Defense will be at a premium in the Midwest – Kansas and Wisconsin were also among the top defensive teams in their respective conferences this season. Whoever can lock down tightest goes the farthest.

Coming through in the clutch – Nothing defines March Madness like the buzzer beater. Or overtime. Or double, triple or even quadruple overtime. No matter how lopsided the matchup looks on paper, chances are it will come down to the wire on the court. So when a team is undefeated in games decided by five points or less, as Georgetown is this season, it possesses a marked advantage. No matter how palpitating the moment, Georgetown has displayed an uncanny ability to remain even-keeled.

Not only has Georgetown shown a propensity to sink the clutch shot – four different Hoyas have hit a game-winning bucket – but the Hoyas can lock down on D with the game on the line. Just ask Syracuse’s Johnny Flynn, who was stoned by Jeremiah Rivers on the final possession of overtime on January 27, or West Virginia forward DeSean Butler, who had his buzzer beater swatted by Ewing Jr. a week later.

Call it poise, luck, or whatever you else you like, but the Hoyas have it. And they will need it to survive the last-second drama of the NCAAs.

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