Hoyas make believers at Legends

Updated: November 21, 2012, 3:25 AM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- They left disappointed. Not coach cliché insincere or this-is-what-you-say-when-you-lose-even-though-you-never-thought-you-might-win disappointed.

No, the Georgetown Hoyas were genuinely disappointed they lost in overtime to No. 1 Indiana, 82-72.

The people in the locker room might have been the only ones who thought they could upset UCLA and Indiana on back-to-back nights, but the Hoyas truly believed it.

And that should tell you everything you need to know about Georgetown.

Looking for an early-season team to circle as one to watch? A former sleeper about to go viral? Try the Hoyas. They have the perfect combination of hubris and cluelessness -- talented enough to own their bravado, yet too young and blissfully naive to realize they aren't supposed to be doing this just yet.

Tossing a roster of sophomores and freshmen onto a Barclays Center court that sounded an awful lot like Assembly Hall should have been akin to throwing kittens in front of a pack of rabid dogs.

The Hoyas should have wilted, especially when the Hoosiers built an eight-point lead with less than four minutes to play.

Instead they just ho-hummed their way point by point into that lead, with Otto Porter eventually sending the game to overtime with a power drive down the right side of the lane.

They either knew they could do it or didn't know they shouldn't.

Either way, it worked.

[+] EnlargeJohn Thompson III
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesJohn Thompson III expects his Hoyas to continue to grow.

"This team can grow up; we can grow up a lot," coach John Thompson III said. "We had a lot of guys out there in situations that they've never been in before. We can get a lot better."

And then he paused.

"A lot better."

Better than toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the nation a night after knocking off the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation?

Yep, that's what the man said.

That right there ought to send shivers down the spines of Big East coaches everywhere. (And give commissioner Mike Aresco a reason to smile in an otherwise dismal week -- one team gone, two begging to leave, Villanova losing to Columbia, DePaul dumped by Wichita State and a television deal to negotiate. A very Mrs. Lincoln-at-the-play week, if there ever was one.)

Especially since Thompson isn't the only one saying it.

"They are just going to get better and better," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "They are young and long and athletic, and they don't deviate from what John wants. They have a great system and a team of basketball players that are extremely athletic."

The Hoyas were picked a respectable fifth in the league but picked there almost by default. Almost everyone agreed on teams one through four -- Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. After that, it was a bit of a free-for-all, with the Hoyas edging out Pittsburgh by four points.

And few thought Georgetown would be much to fear as recently as nine days ago. That's when the Hoyas nearly lost to Duquesne. The asterisk to that game, of course, was that Porter left with what was later diagnosed as a concussion. But in the black and white of win-loss columns, caveats and asterisks are often overlooked, especially when Georgetown did little to quell the questions with an escaping win against Liberty.

But in New York, Porter was back in the lineup, and that changes just about everything. Limited to just three points against Indiana in the first half, he finished with 15 in the game, including an ice-in-the-vein 3-pointer to set up the drive to force OT.

Just a few weeks in, he has launched himself into the Big East player of the year conversation, and his coach believes he might finish the season among the national candidates.

Porter? He just wants to get better.

"This is a learning process," he said. "We just have to learn from it all."

If this team were just Porter, it wouldn't be worth a spot on the radar.

Here in Brooklyn, he found a few running mates. If there is a breakout star on this breakout team, it is junior Markel Starks. In two games against the not-too-shabby competition of UCLA and Indiana, Starks had 43 points.

Like his teammates thought of their collective play, Starks shrugged off his own performance.

"I wouldn't say I've met my expectations," he said. "I played aggressive. There's still a lot of games to be played, so I wouldn't say I met expectations. I know I can play. We've got a lot of guys on this team that can play."

Another one goes by the name of Greg Whittington, fast becoming a matchup headache for opposing coaches. He's not big, but like the rest of his teammates, he's long. He can shoot 3s -- five in two games here -- but also post up inside, and he gives the Hoyas yet another tricky dimension. He scored 12 against the Hoosiers, draining two 3-pointers in the process.

Crean said before the game that he thought his Hoosiers were in for an epic. He was dead on. From opening tip through overtime, this felt more like an Elite Eight game than a Nov. 20 matchup.

Every time IU built a cushion, Georgetown fought back. As much as that says for the top-ranked Hoosiers' ability to take a punch, it says just as much -- maybe more -- about a young Georgetown team no one thought much of.

"We expect it of them," Thompson said. "And they expect it from themselves."

Maybe now other people will as well.

Dana O'Neil | email

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