Asked about his expectations for Georgetown this season, senior guard Markel Starks did not need any time to ponder the question.
"Well, obviously, to get out of this hole," he replied immediately. "This NCAA hole."
Standing in Georgetown's on-campus practice gym, Starks gestured with his right hand toward banners representing the Hoyas' most recent trips to the national tournament. There's one for 2007, with "Final Four" written at the bottom. Next to it, there's one for 2008, with no words underneath. Then come signs for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 — all devoid of any words denoting a lengthy run.
Over the last four years, coach John Thompson III and Georgetown have won a grand total of one NCAA tournament game. The latest early exit came against No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast last season, a key motivator for the Hoyas this season.
"I'm sick of looking up at those banners and not having any letters up under it. So finally trying to get over that hump is the main objective of this year," Starks said. "Every day, I come in, and I have to look up there and there's nothing there. So for me, as a leader of this team, it's heartbreaking."
As Thompson knows, his team's — and his — success is mostly measured by results at tournament time.
Last season, led by do-it-all sophomore forward Otto Porter, Georgetown went 25-7, made it all the way up to No. 5 in The Associated Press poll, tied for the Big East regular season title and earned a No. 2 seeding in the NCAAs.
What lingers is how things came to a sudden, surprising close against the high-wire act from "Dunk City."
It's part of a pattern: The Hoyas' past five tournaments ended with losses to teams seeded 10th or worse — No. 10 Davidson, No. 11 Ohio, No. 11 VCU, No. 11 North Carolina State, and No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast.
"People forget that we had a very, very good year last year. We did win the Big East. Most of the people in this gym and most of our fans were happy on many more nights than they were unhappy," Thompson said. "And I think that gets lost when it ended as it did."
Here are five things to know about Georgetown, which starts the season Nov. 8 in South Korea against Oregon:
GULF COAST EFFECT: Thompson vowed to re-examine everything after his latest NCAA disappointment. "There absolutely is carry-over," he said. "You just have to take a step back and go through the process of introspection." One element he pointed to is tougher out-of-conference scheduling; this season includes a game at Kansas on Dec. 21. "We have to continue to analyze and figure out how we can not end like we did," Thompson said.
OTTO'S GONE: It'll be tough to replace Porter, an All-American and No. 3 overall pick in the NBA draft after leading the Hoyas in scoring, rebounding, steals and 3-point shooting percentage. "There's not one person who's going to be able to fill in for Otto," said senior forward Nate Lubick, someone Thompson says can provide additional scoring. Also missing: Greg Whittington, a junior forward, out much of last season because of academic problems and now sidelined indefinitely after knee surgery.
'BIG FELLA': Georgetown has a great tradition of topflight centers, from Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo under John Thompson Jr., to Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe under JT3. There wasn't that sort of paint presence last season, and the Hoyas are hoping UCLA transfer Josh Smith — all 6-foot-10, 350 pounds of him, according to the team's media guide — will change that. Lubick referred to Smith as "the big fella," and said about practicing against him: "He's the least fun person I've ever boxed out in my entire life." The NCAA ruled Smith has two full years of eligibility, so he can face Oregon.
TRIPLE THREAT: Starks, Smith-Rivera and junior guard Jabril Trawick form a versatile trio at guard. Starks is the facilitator, Smith-Rivera the scorer, Trawick the defensive specialist. "We have one of the best back courts in the country," Smith-Rivera said.
NEW BIG EAST: For the first time since 1977-78, Georgetown does not have Syracuse on its schedule. UConn's gone, too, thanks to the reshaping of the Big East, which added Butler, Xavier and Creighton. "It's strange," Lubick said. "Growing up a Big East kid, following Big East basketball, I expected to play against Syracuse for four years. ... I wouldn't use the word 'disappointing.' I guess it's just change."
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