It's a notion Washington sports fans have come to know and grudgingly love, or if not that, accept: there’s always next year.
After four consecutive years of strong seasons followed by losses to double-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament, though, it's getting hard to really embrace the notion of a "next year" at Georgetown.
Let's be fair - this year's team defied expectations. The Hoyas upset Alabama and Memphis when both teams were ranked, beat Louisville in conference play, and forced top-ranked Syracuse to overtime. They did all of this with only 3 upperclassmen on the roster, which was largely why the Big East preseason coach's poll picked Georgetown to finish 10th in the conference in the first place.
It was supposed to be a "rebuilding year." So, when you finish the season ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll and enter the Big Dance as a 3-seed, it's safe to say there's momentum to start with for next season.
However, once you defy expectations, you're expected to meet them. At this point, Georgetown was favored to make it to the Sweet 16. Sure, they finally got the proverbial monkey off their back by beating their first round opponent in Belmont, but as 3-seed, that's what you're supposed to do. Michigan missed that memo.
But when Georgetown went out on Sunday against the 11th-seeded N.C. State Wolfpack, who got by San Diego State in a minor upset, their foes from the ACC exploited the Hoyas’ small size and lackluster offense. The Wolfpack out-rebounded the Hoyas 33-29, and their two senior stars, Jason Clark and Henry Sims, combined for just 14 points.
Sims is, in many ways, the heart and soul of the team. The center spent the past summer training with former Georgetown stars Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, perfecting and molding his game into becoming the lynchpin of a Princeton-style offense. Leading the team with about 5 assists per game, Sims is essential to that pass-heavy, back-cut style offense.
It’s too bad N.C. State figured that out and reduced the center to just 4 points and 2 assists today. Sims was never able to get into a rhythm; a frustration further deepened when Sims fouled out of the game. With a towel draped over his head, the senior watched the clock tick down.
We said all season that the Hoyas are a young team, but in the same breath, we elevated their success by that inexperience. When it came to advancing at the most important point of the year, Georgetown needed, as they did all season, the backbone of their seniors. With those stars reduced to just 14 points, the Hoyas fell into a major hole.
But is it the stars, or was it John Thompson III’s system? We saw a similar plight last season when Austin Freeman and Chris Wright were shut down against Virginia Commonwalth. The Rams made a trip to the Final Four with incredible outside shooting in 2011, but it begged the question about whether the Princeton offense is the right kind.
Evidently, it works well in the regular season. It's tricky to defend, but not impossible. Despite all of Georgetown's talent, they don't really run teams down the floor because of their pace. They’re also prone to long scoring droughts, which doomed the Hoyas during a 15-2 N.C. State run to close the 1st half.
Georgetown has, and always will be able to recruit tremendous players. Until the Hoyas learn how to adapt, and perhaps evolve their offensive style, it looks like more tournament tears are yet to come.