No men's NCAA Tournament berth carries more weight and symbolism than Georgetown's unexpected entry into this year's field, which came after a four-day run of upsets through the Big East Conference tournament.
Those games were held at Madison Square Garden, where coach Patrick Ewing carved out his Hall of Fame career as the all-time leading scorer for the New York Knicks. ("I thought this was my building," Ewing said after the conference quarterfinals, feeling he was being "accosted" by MSG security. "Everybody in this building should know who the hell I am.")
The championship-game victory against Creighton, a 73-48 blowout, came 49 years to the day Georgetown hired John Thompson, the architect of the program's growth into a national powerhouse and one of the defining figures in Ewing's life.
Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing cuts down the net after the Hoyas' win over Creighton in the Big East tournament title game. (Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)
Winning the Big East sent the Hoyas into the men's NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, snapping the program's longest tournament drought in the modern era.
"You have to know that it was only a matter of time," said senior forward Jamorko Pickett. "With (Ewing) as the man in charge, that it would eventually get back to the way it was before. I’m just glad that I’m a part of it."
And most of all, the Hoyas' reentry into the national conversation seems to serve as validation for almost everyone involved, from the program at large through a head coach whose unorthodox route back to Georgetown — which he led to the 1984 NCAA championship — included 15 years as an NBA assistant.
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"I’m proving everyone wrong," Ewing said. "We worked through some trials and tribulations, but everyone has done their part to get us to this point.
"I keep thinking about that Drake song, ‘Started from the bottom now we’re here.’ We started at the bottom, now we’re No. 1."
The No. 12 seed in the East Region, the Hoyas will face No. 5 Colorado to open tournament play Saturday (12:15 p.m. ET, CBS).
There is some history to suggest a torrid run to end the regular season will pay off in the early rounds of the tournament. Across the past 10 years of tournament results, the 60 tournament champions coming out of the six major leagues — the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC — have made 15 trips to the Final Four and 40 trips to the Sweet 16, while only eight failed to advance past the first round.
Since winning the Big East, Ewing has preached to Georgetown the importance of turning the page to the Buffaloes, Pickett said.
"We can’t take that, us winning the Big East tournament, as the end of the road," he said. "We won that, we celebrated, and that’s over with. Now we’ve got to get prepared for Colorado on Saturday and beyond."
Beating Colorado would be another sign the program may have turned a corner in Ewing's fourth season, which before 2021 had included just one postseason berth: Georgetown reached the NIT in 2019, sandwiched by two years in the bottom three of the Big East standings.
The Hoyas' turnaround predates the start of the conference tournament. After pausing team activities in January due to COVID-19 issues within the program, the Hoyas have gone 10-4 with wins against Creighton, Villanova, Providence and Seton Hall.
The reversal followed a dreadful start: Georgetown was 3-8 and 1-5 in the Big East after losing to Syracuse on Jan. 9, painting a picture of a team in free fall and unlikely to recover in time to make a tournament push.
"We struggled to get to this point," Ewing said. "It was a rough year for everyone in the world with the pandemic. We’re playing our best ball right now. Everyone likes a feel-good story.
"I don’t care what they consider us, I’m just happy to be here. We can be the underdog, we can be whatever. My guys have worked hard to get to this point."
The rare Hall of Fame player to opt against a life of ease in retirement in favor of the toil of life as an assistant coach, Ewing worked for the Wizards, Rockets, Magic and Hornets before being hired by Georgetown in 2017, replacing Thompson's son, John Thompson III.
"It’s great to be back," Ewing said. "I feel honored to be the person who’s at the helm. I think it’s great to see everything come full circle. To be the coach, following in the footsteps of some very good people who came before me, it means a lot."
Four years after his arrival, there are signs of a possible renaissance.
"I don't think there's one thing to put your finger on," he said. "I just think that we struggled to start because we had nine new faces. The pause happened; we exhaled, we refocused, we regrouped, whichever description you want to use. And right now we're playing our best ball."
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
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