Picking Splinters: There’s Always Next Year?

There’s always next year. Except when there isn’t.

That’s the feeling facing the Georgetown Hoyas and their fans right now, after watching one of the more talented senior classes in recent history walk away after a second-consecutive first-round loss in the NCAA tournament.

In the four seasons since Chris Wright and Austin Freeman first suited up for the Hoyas, Georgetown has won a Big East regular season title, made the Big East tournament final twice … and one a single NCAA tournament game. That lack of postseason achievement comes despite a pair of players that rank among the school’s legends. Wright’s 442 career assists place him sixth all-time in school history, while Freeman now sits seventh all-time in scoring, the highest of any player since John Thompson the elder stalked the Hilltop.

Julian Vaughn, a senior transfer from Florida State, will also depart the program, leaving behind a summer full of questions.

There will be scrutiny on coach John Thompson III and his preparation and adjustments (or lack thereof) against Virginia Commonwealth, a team whose inclusion in the NCAA field was highly criticized, a team that had already played an NCAA tournament game two nights earlier. And yet they played the role of the No. 11 seed who ousted the Hoyas, the third consecutive double-digit seed to send Georgetown packing.

Yes, another disappointment will invite questions all around. About character. About focus. About toughness. About strategy. About execution. Not all questions will be valid, but they will come nonetheless, particularly from fans spoiled by the Jeff Green-Roy Hibbert era that preceded this latest faze of Georgetown basketball. When held up to the light of a Final Four berth, two Big East regular season and one postseason title, the past three seasons appear dark indeed.

So the questions will come. And the irrational ones will pass. (No, John Thompson III should not be fired — unless you deem five NCAA tournament berths, one Sweet 16 appearance and one Final Four banner in seven seasons unacceptable, in which case I hope I never have to buy you a birthday present.)

Others questions will linger. For example, how good can the Hoyas be next season without two players who likely fall among the 20 best to ever wear the Blue and Gray? The best response, near as I can gather, is a resounding shoulder shrug. On one hand, the Hoyas will return a talented group that includes a potential scoring dynamo in Hollis Thompson, a budding floor general in Markel Starks and an ever-improving big man in Nate Lubick. Add senior Jason Clark’s defense and perimeter game to the mix and the Hoyas could again rise to be Big East contenders.

But there’s also the realization that none of those same players could step up when Chris Wright went down with a broken hand. None of those players could shoulder the load when they were called upon and the Hoyas lost five straight to end the season.

So where’s the hope for next season?

While the Hoyas bring in 6-foot-5 SG Jabril Trawick and 6-8 DeMatha C Mikael Hopkins, St. John’s, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Villanova all bring in top-25 recruiting classes according to ESPN.

In the recruiting arms race, it seems like Georgetown is lagging. Combine that with the uncertainty surrounding the abilities of the returning roster and you’ve got the recipe for the bad kind of Hoya paranoia.

So what should Georgetown fans cling to over another long summer? The same thing that’s brought them five NCAA berths in the last seven seasons and a Final Four banner … with one of the least-touted recruiting classes in recent history: John Thompson III.

They say that timing is everything, and when it comes to the NCAA tournament, that’s very true. Win a game or lose a game there and it defines your season. But in reality it’s just a series of single games. So is one loss really that bad? No. But while there is no next year for Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, I believe that John Thompson III will again do what he does best: coach up his players and again dispel summer skepticism with a new cast of characters. When you have a talented hand like Thompson’s at the helm, there is always next year.