A day after another confounding loss in the NCAA tournament, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III searched for answers about his program’s failure in March. He’ll probably be at it for a while.
There’s a lot to consider when you’ve flopped against much lower-seeded teams in five consecutive tournament appearances. But Thompson still is confident in his approach, and he should be. For the most part, the Hoyas have been highly successful under Thompson. Anyone who disputes that simply is ignoring the facts. Thompson isn’t the type to back down from a challenge — or revise his goals.
“I’m in this to win a national championship,” Thompson said, the determination evident in his voice during a lengthy telephone interview Saturday night. “We will get this figured out. We’ll make the changes we need to make. And we will hang another big banner on the wall at McDonough Arena. We will.”
First, Thompson has to guide Georgetown past teams it’s expected to beat in the early rounds. Seeded second in the South Region, Georgetown was stunned Friday by 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast. But perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised.
Since advancing to the 2007 Final Four, Georgetown hasn’t made it out of the tournament’s first weekend, losing in the first round three times and the second round twice. Each time, the Hoyas got the boot by a double-digit seed.
Thompson would be the first to acknowledge there’s a flaw in his program. Georgetown’s NCAA tournament woes trouble him more than anyone. Throughout our conversation, it was clear how much he was stung by Friday’s letdown.
“A day after, I don’t have the answer,” Thompson said. “But I will find it.”
Apparently, many Hoyas fans seem to think they know what’s wrong, at least based on the e-mails I received.
Some believe Thompson needs to recruit better players. Others think he should scrap his deliberate offensive system and give players more freedom. The consensus seems to be that whatever Thompson is doing, he should do the opposite. Essentially, tear down what he has built and start over.
That’s not going to happen.
“Do I think we need to reinvent the wheel? No,” Thompson said. “I don’t look at it that way at all.
“Obviously, we have to do something. I started by saying I aspire to win a national championship. You can’t do that unless [you get rolling in the tournament]. So you have to find [what’s wrong] and fix it.”
Actually, Thompson made one major change before this season with the tournament in mind.
In past seasons, the Hoyas were physically and emotionally drained by tournament time. Thompson altered his practice schedule to help players be in top form at the start of the tournament.
“I felt we definitely had our legs” this season, Thompson said. “But every year has been completely different in terms of [the tournament losses].
“If it was just one thing you could point to, one thing that needed to be different, believe me, I would make that change. But it’s not that simple.”
That’s for sure. And the situation is further complicated because of Thompson’s strong overall body of work. Thompson has led the Hoyas to at least a share of three Big East regular season championships since the 2006-07 season. That’s the most by any school during that period.
In his nine seasons at Georgetown, the Hoyas have made seven NCAA tournament appearances, including their current streak of four straight. They have been ranked in the Associated Press top 10 in each of the past seven seasons. Only Duke and North Carolina have also accomplished that feat.
Also, don’t forget: In 2007, Georgetown won the Big East regular season and tournament titles before advancing to the Final Four. That’s a nifty run for anyone in Thompson’s line of work.
Then there’s the fact that Thompson directs, by all appearances, a program that’s as clean as it gets. Since 2004-05, every player who has attended Georgetown for four years has graduated.
Fans can focus exclusively on Georgetown’s shortcomings in the NCAA tournament. That’s their right. But university presidents and athletic directors, at least the good ones, take big-picture views of their athletic programs. The fact is, the Hoyas hold up pretty well under the lens.
Georgetown should be good again next season. Even if forward Otto Porter Jr., the Big East player of the year, leaves for the NBA, Thompson will have another talented team. He takes comfort in that.
“There are so many different factors that go into whether you have a successful program or not,” Thompson said. “There are so many things to look at, from whether your kids are graduating, to how you’re perceived [nationally and locally].
“Just many factors that go into it all. So do I think we have a successful program? Absolutely. Do we have one of the best programs in the country? Absolutely.”
Just not one that has thrived recently at NCAA tournament time. But Thompson is working on it.
For more by Jason Reid, visit www.washingtonpost.com/reid.
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