NEW YORK -- He would be the first to admit that his relationship with the media in his 20 years as Georgetown basketball coach has been far from harmonious, but yesterday there was John Thompson offering kind words to the hounding (( scribes as he received the Big East Coach of the Year Award.
"You helped me so much, so deeply," said Thompson, addressing the reporters who voted him the award, "by saying how we were going to be so terrible."
Picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll, the Hoyas (19-8) went 12-6 in the league to share the regular-season title with Seton Hall (20-7) and St. John's (18-9). The Hoyas will be the second seed when the Big East tournament gets into full swing this afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Georgetown will play this evening against the winner of last night's preliminary game between No. 7 Pittsburgh (17-14, 9-9) and No. 10 Miami (7-23, 1-17), and top-seeded Seton Hall (20-7, 12-6) will face Boston College (16-12, 8-11), which defeated Providence, 78-68, in last night's other preliminary.
In the first game today, No. 4 Villanova (14-13, 11-7) will face No. 5 Syracuse (18-9, 10-8), with the action concluding tonight with No. 3 St. John's (18-9, 12-6) taking on No. 6 Connecticut (19-8, 10-8).
With no dominant team, the Big East has been described as having a down season. But the oaches like to think of the physical league battles merely as preparation for the real season, starting with next week's NCAA tournament.
"I think the kind of games we play in this league is the best possible preparation for the NCAAs," said Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo. "I think we're going to have more at-large teams in the tournament than anyone. I think anyone else -- other than Duke -- would be losing a lot of games in our league."
With just one seasoned returning player in center Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown was expected to lose a lot this year. But despite surrounding Mourning -- the Big East Player of the Year -- with a group of sophomores and freshmen, the team has been successful and rewarding for Thompson.
"That was a real challenge," Thompson said of getting the younger players prepared for league play. "Sometimes, like the fans, I come to the gym wondering what I'm going to see. But they've done an exceptional job on the road [6-3 in the Big East], which I find interesting for an inexperienced team.
"In some big games we played exceptionally well, and in others we didn't," Thompson said. "But we've always reacted and come back."
Which is why the other coaches are looking at Georgetown as the team to beat.
"If you look at the teams, most of them have had up-and-down years," said St. John's coach Louie Carnesecca. "But Georgetown has played the most consistent ball."
Inconsistency cost St. John's this year. Had the team been LTC consistent with the other Big East teams and not fallen to Miami, 45-42, it would have won the regular-season title outright. St. John's has played most of the season without center Robert Werdann, who pulled his right calf muscle in January. Werdann is expected back today, and hopes to be a factor for a team that has not won a tournament game since 1986.
"It's crazy. Maybe it's a jinx," said Carnesecca. "Some of the teams were all right, other teams we were pretty good. I don't know if the kids think about it. They want to just win one and go from there."
The win will have to come against a Connecticut team that the Redmen have split two games with this season.
Boston College 78, Providence 68 PROVIDENCE -- Bragg 7-8 1-6 15, Smith 0-6 2-2 2, Simpkins 1-5 2, Forbes 5-12 1-2 12, Phelps 5-12 0-0 13, Floyd 1-4 1-2 3, Alosa 1-3 0-0 2, Brown 3-9 2-2 8, Turner 0-1 0-0 0, Bowman 3-4 2-3 8, McDonald 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 27-69 9-18 68.
BOSTON COLLEGE -- Huckaby 3-6 3-6 10, Jackson 1-4 6-8 8, Curley 7-10 4-6 18, Abram 5-9 10-13 22, Eisley 3-6 11-14 17, Molinsky 1-4 0-0 3, Hinton 0-2 0-0 0, Rountree 0-0 0-0 0, Hrabowski 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-41 34-47 78.
Halftime--Boston Col. 27, Providence 22. 3-point goals--Providence 5-21 (Phelps 3-6, Forbes 1-4, McDonald 1-5, Bowman 0-1, Alosa 0-2, Floyd 0-3), Boston Col. 4-7 (Abram 2-4, Huckaby 1-1, Molinsky 1-2). Fouled out--Phelps. Rebounds--Providence 44 (Smith 11), Boston Col. 35 (Eisley 9). Assists--Providence 13 (Bragg, Forbes 3), Boston Col. 15 (Eisley 7). Total fouls--Providence 30, Boston Col. 19. A--18,806.