Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: No Longer the Underdog

Yeah, it’s just one win. Sure, this guarantees nothing in terms of postseason success.

True, it’s only the start of a grueling, 18-game Big East schedule that continues against No. 3 Pittsburgh on Saturday. But for a few minutes, heck, maybe even a few hours, the young Hoyas got to bask in the glow of the best win of Head Coach John Thompson III’s tenure at Georgetown.

You could argue that there have been “bigger” wins by the Hoyas since JTIII took over for the 2004-05 season. You could cite the home win over Duke in 2006. You could point to the come-from-behind victory over North Carolina that propelled Georgetown to its first Final Four since 1985. Maybe you could mention the triumph over Louisville last Spring that gave the Hoyas back-to-back regular season Big East titles. But you would be wrong.

In the final seconds against Duke, the Hoyas hung on for dear life. When they faced UNC, they scrambled to overcome a opening-half deficit. That Louisville game? An ugly affair in which the Hoyas turned the ball over 17 times and the Cardinals shot 55.6-percent from the foul line.

Monday’s win over Connecticut was as complete a demolition as you’ll ever see in a contest of two Top 10 teams. The Huskies won the opening tip. The rest belonged to the Blue and Gray.

The Hoyas completely dismantled the favored Huskies and they started by sprinting to a 15-1 lead, holding UConn without a field goal for the first five and a half minutes of the contest.

And they did this on the Huskies’ home court in Hartford.

Georgetown then kept their distance by rendering UConn’s star 7-foot-3 centerpiece useless on the offensive end. Hasheem Thabeet, who flaunts a reputation as the best center in the country and projects as a top-5 NBA draft pick, was a non-factor when the Huskies had the ball. Time and again, UConn failed to get the ball to its big man, and Thabeet finished with four points on just four shots. The vaunted UConn backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker finished with five assists and 11 turnovers.

And this was against the No. 2 team in the nation.

Meanwhile, Georgetown freshman Greg Monroe, giving up four inches to Thabeet, demonstrated a versatility that allowed him to run rings around his taller and more veteran opponent. He finished with four assists, three steals and two picturesque three-pointers en route to a 16-point night.

And this was the first Big East game of Monroe’s career.

Monroe’s early success in this high-stakes environment is a major reason why this might be the most impressive win of the JTIII Era. The Louisville game, the UNC battle in the Elite Eight, even throw in the summary dismantling of an exhausted Pitt team in the Big East Championship game two seasons back, all of those games came at the end of the schedule. Those wins came after JTIII had worked his magic and implemented his systems for a full season, and in some cases three or four years on future draft picks like Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green.

Like the win over Duke, this triumph comes at midseason. But unlike the Duke win, which was led by a combined 40 points from seniors Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook, Monday’s victory was keyed by two sophomores and a freshman. And two of them (Monroe and PG Chris Wright) were playing in their first regular season Big East game.

The gears are already clicking. The pistons are already firing. The machine that is Hoya Hoops under JTIII is fully operational. In December.

The machine may take some hits. It would be all but impossible to escape unscathed from a remaining schedule that includes nine games against teams currently ranked in Top 25 of the Coaches Poll. In fact, four of the next five games are against teams in that poll’s Top 11, and now the Hoyas will have a target on their back.

But after a win like Monday’s, one thing is certain. This year’s machine is no longer an underdog, making its way through the big, bad, Big East. This machine isn’t Wall-E. This machine is Voltron, capable of looking each and every one of its hulking opponents in the eye and slugging it out all season long.