Commentary

Orange just the start for Hoyas

Originally Published: March 11, 2010
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The sign on the locker room said "Georgetown."

The players were wearing Georgetown uniforms.

And the scoreboard said that Georgetown had won, that the Hoyas had just beaten the No. 1 seed and the prohibitive favorite in the Big East tournament, a team that a week ago was the No. 1 team in the country, a team that long ago inked its name among the top seeds for the NCAA tournament.

So why did it seem like the Hoyas had just gotten run out of the gym? Minutes after the Hoyas' 91-84 victory over Syracuse, the Georgetown locker room had the celebratory feel of a funeral parlor and the noise level of a library.

No one talked, no one laughed. Heck, no one even smiled.

"We didn't come here just to beat Syracuse," Chris Wright said. "We came here to win the whole thing. It's not time to get excited yet."

Maybe a full-on celebration was a bit premature, but a hint of a grin certainly would be permissible. The Hoyas, who have waffled between brilliant (a stomping of Villanova) and brain-dead (a loss to Rutgers), reminded everyone that when they play up to their abilities, they are a team to be reckoned with over the next few weeks.

[+] EnlargeWes Johnson
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIWes Johnson looked like his old self, scoring 24 points in the defeat.

Georgetown attacked the Syracuse zone with a vengeance, exposing holes and weaknesses on the baseline and in the corners, blazed out in transition and never crumbled in a game where big leads evaporated in minutes.

"We're in a very good place right now," John Thompson III said. "Mentally, physically, emotionally I really like where we are. There's no doubt that we're clicking."

Syracuse, on the other hand, is slipping. It's not exactly an avalanche but the once impenetrable Orange took an early dismissal from New York, packing a two-game losing streak and the questionable status of Arinze Onuaku with them. The big man injured his right knee late in the game and will have an MRI on Friday morning.

Once a guaranteed No. 1 seed, Syracuse at least will sit down for Selection Sunday less than certain. Working in its favor is a dearth of other choices. Could both a 7-loss Ohio State and a 5-loss Duke jump the Orange? Probably not.

"I believe we do [deserve a No. 1 seed]," Scoop Jardine said. "We've been one of the most dominant teams all year. But it doesn't matter, No. 1, No. 2, we just need to take care of business."

There were two bits of good news for the Orange: Big East player of the year Wes Johnson looked like a player of the year again. Stymied since early February with a hand injury that made it difficult for him to even pick up a laptop, Johnson could finally feel the ball in his hand. He felt it to the tune of 24 points on a dominating 10-of-17 shooting.

The other silver lining: the Orange won't see another Big East team until the Elite Eight.

"Louisville, Pitt, Georgetown, they know how to slow us down and go to the dead spots in our zone," Jardine said. "I think when we get a team that hasn't played against us before, we'll do a better job."

The familiarity no doubt helped the Hoyas.

Three weeks ago, Georgetown nearly crawled out of a 23-point hole to beat the Orange. Thompson refused to claim any sort of moral victory with the comeback effort, calling the loss nothing more than "pain and misery," but in that game tape, the Hoyas did get some valuable insight: They found ways to attack the Syracuse zone.

Georgetown worked the ball inside, using the deft passing of Greg Monroe.

"They made a conscious effort to not let Greg score," Thompson said. "They had two, three and even four bodies around him every time he touched the ball. We'll take that because he's so unselfish."

[+] EnlargeChris Wright
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comWhen Chris Wright gets it going, so do the Hoyas.

Monroe finished with 15 points, but it was his seven assists that were the real killer.

That and Wright. The feisty point guard flew around the court like a whirling dervish, driving the ball in transition on misses and exposing the Cuse zone over and over with drives to the bucket. The Hoyas shot a blistering 57 percent in the second half.

"When he plays like that, that's when they beat people," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Wright, who finished with 27 points.

Indeed the up and down needle on Wright's season is often indicative of how the Hoyas play. In Georgetown's nine losses, he averages 10 points. In their 22 wins, he averages 17.

Wright spurred the decisive 19-2 run that put the Hoyas ahead but it was little-used rookie Vee Sanford who put Georgetown over the hump. His floater from the baseline gave the Hoyas the lead, a lead that grew to as many as nine.

The Orange, though, showed some grit. Even after Onuaku was helped off the floor, Syracuse fought. They cut it to 74-72 late, but Monroe sealed the victory with two three-point plays down the stretch.

"There's always room to improve, but we played very well," Wright said. "With us, it's like coach always tells us, we can beat anyone in the country and we can lose to anyone in the country."

If the Hoyas play like they did against the Orange, it will be much more of the former than the latter.

And who knows? Maybe they'll even crack a smile.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

Dana O'Neil | email

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