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When Duke roared back into the national consciousness in 1978, after the dismal
early '70s, Sports Illustrated wrote: Duke. Now there's a proud but
forgotten name in college basketball. Duke had a hard fall after the Bubas
era. Georgetown has had a tough time after the departure of John Thompson,
Jr., the often controversial coach who put the Hoyas on the map, but now, with
his son in charge, Georgetown is on the way back.
Thompson the elder is now a legendary figure in college basketball, but he
had a difficult time establishing himself at Georgetown. After a brilliant
stint as a high school coach, Thompson took over at Georgetown, where he
struggled briefly to be accepted. At one notorious point, a sign was put
up at a Georgetown home game reading "Thompson the nigger flop must
Thompson was anything but a flop. Within three years he took Georgetown
to the NCAA Tournament, and when he signed high school sensation Patrick Ewing,
his team suddenly looked a hell of a lot like his old pro team, the Boston
As a freshman, Ewing was incredible, and played a lot like a young Bill
Russell, blocking shots ferociously, then getting out and finishing fast
breaks. In his freshman year, Georgetown just absolutely destroyed Oregon
State in the first two minutes of an NCAA Tournament game in one of the most
impressive displays ever seen in college basketball.
Of course they lost to UNC in the finals, after a terrible error by Fred
Brown, who threw the ball to UNC's James Worthy, and although it seemed as if
the Patrick Ewing era was beginning, in fact, it was the Michael Jordan era.
After the Ewing years, and then the Mourning-Mutombo years, Georgetown began
to go into decline, and in 1999, Thompson resigned suddenly, saying that he had
family issues he wanted to deal with.
His assistant, Craig Escherick, who bears a more than passing resemblance to
Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, took over, but the decline continued, and any
fear Georgetown had once caused was long gone when he was fired.
Thompson's son, John III, took over, after a very sharp job at Princeton, and
is currently rebuilding the Hoyas.
His father casts a long shadow over the program still, and it may be a lucky
break for the younger Thompson that he mastered the Princeton system.
Although the elder Thompson enjoyed a brilliant career and is a seminal
figure in college basketball history, his teams were noted much more for defense
than offense, and in later years, watching Georgetown with the basketball was a
good cure for sleep disorders.
And while his father gets enormous credit for building Georgetown from
absolutely nothing, his son has the benefits of his father's experience and a
legendary coaching tree at Princeton. He had the advantage of playing for
Pete Carrill, who can only be called a genius, and then working on his staff for
three years. He also coached under Bill Carmody before Carmody left for
After taking over at Georgetown, Thompson spoke of incorporating elements of
the Princeton offense, which he understands as well as anyone, with his father's
Perhaps a good analogy for what he hopes to accomplish is what has happened
at N.C. State and West Virginia, where the Princeton principles have been wedded
to aggressive defenses.
At Princeton, most of the offense began at the perimeter and penetrated on
screens and cuts. At schools which can draw more athletic players, the
floor is still spread, but players like State's Cedric Simmons can take full
advantage of the way the offense spreads the court to operate inside.
Young Thompson showed last season that he could coach, almost taking
Georgetown back to the NCAAs in his first season. This year, he's off to
an 11-4 start, and has shown that he is a strong recruiter as well.
His losses have come to credible schools - Vandy, Illinois, West Virginia,
and UConn, and the Hoyas weren't blown out by anyone.
On the other hand, though, they aren't racking up the points, either,
averaging 67.7 ppg., while holding teams to 58.2 ppg defensively.
They are, however, the best shooting team in the Big East, hitting .482 from
the floor and allowing .426. They are hitting .367 from three point range and
giving up .350.
Georgetown has been starting a fairly tall lineup, with 7-2 Roy Hibbert and
6-9 Brandon Bowman and also 6-9 Jeff Green up front. But they have been
erratic, and Thompson says they are capable of beating anyone or losing to any
team in the country. He also has been concerned that they rely too heavily
on three point shooting, something Duke defends well. They run hot and
cold from behind the line, but Darrell Owens can light it up like few others
when he gets hot, and when they go small, they are a very dangerous outside
But they have yet to have a game where everyone is on the same page
Clearly, though, they see this game as a huge opportunity. Owens told
the Washington Post that "[i]t can mean a lot of things. It can mean
we beat the No. 1 team in the country. It can mean things that you personally
want to achieve before you finish basketball in college, saying you beat Duke.
And it can also mean, when it's tournament time, the selection committee can see
that you beat Duke when they were number one in the country."
So what to expect from Georgetown? Well, if they don't know, how would anyone
else? We do expect a tremendous effort. Duke will have a tough time
matching their big lineup, and will need a lot from Josh McRoberts, who can
counter their size advantage. If they go with that lineup, they'll have to
have someone chasing J.J. Redick around who is considerably bigger, and on
offense anyway, that's an advantage to Redick, who can just run them and run
them and then run them some more. If they go small, it's going to be a
really interesting matchup between two teams capable of outside fireworks.
Our hunch is that, like Indiana, Georgetown will see this as an absolutely
huge game and a chance to return their program to prominence, and they'll be sky
high. Duke usually matches that level of intensity, and we don't think you
need for us to get into Duke's players too much at this point in the
season. You likely know most of what you need to know at this point in the
We hope of course that Sean Dockery's foot is a non-issue, and if DeMarcus
Nelson could play, that would be a huge boost to Duke.
Duke will probably take whatever Georgetown's best shot turns out to be, in
front of a highly partisan homecrowd, and fire back with greater
intensity. It's a dangerous game against a rising opponent, and obviously
Shelden Williams and McRoberts will need to stay out of foul trouble against
such a big team. When Lee Melchionni is in, he may well be in against a bigger
man, which may leave him open on the perimeter a fair amount. If he is
hot, it's a major advantage for Duke.
And obviously, Georgetown's defensive scheme will begin with J.J. Redick and
Williams, and proceed from there. We'll see what they have in mind