Georgetown came into the Big East Tournament as the eighth seed, having lost four of its previous six games. But the Hoyas suddenly look like one of their bruising juggernauts of old, and the reason is that center Greg Monroe finally seems to have realized his own strength in the post.
What began as a classic battle between Monroe and Marquette power forward Lazar Hayward in the semifinals Friday night at Madison Square Garden turned into a one-sided affair that might as well have ended with Monroe standing over the Golden Eagles like a prizefighter looking down at his knockout victim. The Hoyas advanced to Saturday night's championship game by an 80-57 count, and Monroe racked up 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.
Do that in the Garden, and they're ready to lift you up to the rafters where Patrick Ewing's jersey hangs. But coach John Thompson III wasn't quite ready to induct Monroe into the pantheon of Hoyas centers alongside Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning.
"I think it's too early to give him that label,'' said the next John Thompson. "But he's played well. Greg Monroe is Greg Monroe. I don't think he thinks about how he relates or compares or contrasts to the people that played the position here at Georgetown before him.''
Taking his cue from the coach, Monroe said he doesn't make those comparisons. "I just come out and try to do things for my team,'' Monroe said. "Me just being here two years, I can't put myself in the same category as those players.''
In truth, the knock on Monroe until this season is that he hasn't used his athletic, 6-11, 247-pound body anywhere close to its potential. But in this tournament, it's as though somebody found Monroe's motivation switch.
He came out aggressively against tough, little Marquette, scoring 14 first-half points to help the Hoyas to a 37-34 lead. In the second half, Monroe was dormant in terms of scoring, missing some inside shots as the Golden Eagles cut the Hoyas' lead to 48-47.
Then Chris Wright started driving and getting to the foul line to score eight of the first 10 points in what became a game-breaking 22-5 Georgetown run. At times, Wright (15 points), Jason Clark (15 points) and Austin Freeman (12 points, eight rebounds) seemed like planets orbiting around Monroe.
But make no mistake, he is the sun, the center. Monroe found them with passes, and he cleaned up on the boards, where the Hoyas had a crushing 44-24 advantage. When it was time to bring down the hammer, Monroe powered up for a thunderous dunk, then went behind the three-point arc on the next possession to swish a lefthanded beauty for a 67-52 lead.
Maybe, but Monroe hasn't really done it this well until now. He's playing with more purpose than ever. "Now, it's the championship game,'' Monroe said of the Hoyas' date with the West Virginia-Notre Dame winner. "We came here to win this tournament, and I mean tomorrow, the lights are going to be on.''
A center's stage.