There have been a few teams this year that were highly regarded in the preseason, left for dead in the mid-season, and now are playing maybe their best basketball as we near the end of the season.
In other words, these are teams that are back, and who you should hope don’t wind up in your team’s region on Selection Sunday.
Georgetown Hoyas ( # 14 AP / # 16 Coaches)
The Hoyas began the 2006-07 season with plenty of high expectations. They were ranked in the preseason Top 10, were a popular choice to upset Pitt and win the Big East regular season title, and were often mentioned as a legit national title contender.
Then the season began. They started 4-3, with losses to Oregon at home, Duke, and - surprisingly - Old Dominion. They also began Big East conference play 1-2, dropping back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Villanova which consequently dropped the once-heralded Hoyas out of the Top 25 altogether.
The problem clearly lied with their two highly-touted scoring threats, juniors Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. In the team’s losses to Duke and Oregon, the duo combined for 19 points and then just 9, respectively. In their shocking defeat at the hands of Old Dominion, Hibbert had a solid night, putting up 17 points and 8 boards, but Green had just one field goal and three turnovers.
Against Pitt, it was Green’s turn to have a solid effort, posting a 15 point / 7 assist performance against a very good team, but the 7-2 Hibbert only mustered 11 points and, more importantly, just 2 rebounds. Previously, in their loss to Villanova, Hibbert didn’t even attempt a field goal as the pair again combined for just 9 points.
So what has happened since? The Hoyas have reeled off 8 straight conference wins by an average of almost 16 points a game, the only victory within single digits coming against a Louisville team that just upended Pitt on the road. They trounced their last two opponents - Marquette ( # 12 AP / # 13 Coaches) and West Virginia ( # 23 AP / # 22 Coaches) – by 18 points each.
The reason is for the resurgence is, again, obvious. Hibbert and Green accounted for nearly half of the Hoyas scoring in their trouncing of West Virginia., where Hibbert was 12-13 from the free throw line. In their statement win against Marquette, the duo combined for 62% of the total offensive output for Georgetown. In other words, they are now playing every bit as good as we thought they would at the beginning of the season and are carrying their team back to the national spotlight.
This is not to say the Hoyas are strictly a two-person team – they aren’t. The contributions of the backcourt of Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace have been balanced and solid – Sapp especially. Freshman DaJuan Summers has emerged as a credible inside and outside scoring threat, going 6 for 9 from beyond the arc in the last three games.
But the chances of the Hoyas advancing in the NCAA Tournament still rest with Green and Hibbert.
Georgetown is playing better than anybody in the Big East, and most of the country for that matter. They are just a half-game back of Pitt for the regular season title, and right now should be considered the favorites for the conference tournament in New York.
Boston College Eagles ( # 21 AP / Coaches)
After starting the season 1-2 with losses to Vermont and Providence, the Eagles appeared to be finding their form with victories over Maryland and Michigan State. Then came back-to-back losses to Kansas and a depleted Duquesne squad, although Jared Dudley was out the latter game due to a stress fracture in his foot - an injury that still bothers him to this day. The preseason Top 15 team was quickly bounced out of the Top 25, where they have been ever since.
Then came the news. Sean Williams, their shot-blocking specialist who was also scoring 12 points a game along with almost 7 boards, was dismissed from the team along with seldom-used reserve Akida McLain. Without him, the Eagles lost two of their next three, and were suddenly considered a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament without their big man. This despite the fact both losses were on the road to nationally ranked Duke and Clemson, and BC was still 6-2 in the ACC at the time.
Well lo and behold, look who’s back in the Top 25 this week and back atop the ACC. Jared Dudley continues to lead the ACC in scoring and rebounding, not to mention being the emotional leader of the team. Unheralded Tyrese Rice who, like Dudley, plays nearly 40 minutes a game, is actually eighth in the ACC in scoring while averaging 6 assists a game.
The Eagles have a very tough remaining schedule, playing Duke and North Carolina back to back, along with a trip to Blacksburg against a team that feels they can accomplish anything now. However, so long as Dudley continues to play like a first team All-American, there’s no reason to believe that the Eagles cannot advance all the way to Atlanta.
Honorable Mention: Arizona Wildcats ( # 19 AP / # 24 Coaches)
Ranked 10th in the AP and Coaches in the preseason, the Wildcats reached as high as 7th in both polls in early January after achieving a 12-1 record and starting Pac 10 conference play 3-0.
Then they proceeded to lose 6 of their next 8 games. In that time they were swept by Washington State for the first time since 1983 – before anyone on either roster was born. They were also absolutely crushed by North Carolina on national television, the worst home loss in Lute Olson’s career in Tucson. Things were looking bleak, and Lute Olson seemed to be falling to the same bizarre Hall of Famer curse that appeared to be affecting Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski, and Bobby Knight this season.
But things could be beginning to turn around. Chase Budinger had the best game of his brief career, going for 30 points and 10 boards to lead the Wildcats to a huge victory against Oregon on the road recently, tying them with the Ducks for fourth in the Pac 10. They have now won three straight conference games.
Arizona has a home-stand remaining against USC and UCLA before ending conference play with a three game road trip against Cal, Stanford and Arizona State. None of these match-ups will be easy. ASU may be 0-13 in the conference, but you can bet that the fact that an upset over their hated rivals in Tempe would somehow still make their season worthwhile is not lost on their players.
Still, winning three or four of their remaining games would propel the Wildcats right back to where they were perceived at the start of the season – a young, but extremely talented team that could very well go all the way to the Final Four.