Georgetown fans entered this season expecting to take a step back from last year’s Otto Porter-led national title contender. But, with highly touted UCLA transfer Josh Smith joining a reinstated Greg Whittington on a squad returning everyone but Porter from one of the best defenses in the country, the Hoyas figured to get into the NCAA Tournament with room to spare.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
Whittington tore up his knee before knuckle-heading his way out of the university. Smith’s up and down season ended when he ran into academic problems. A season of inconsistency and hope devolved into a disaster with a five-game losing streak which included three games choked away after they had seemingly been won. An unsightly 3-6 conference record had Hoya fans looking squarely looking at next year’s big recruiting class while vaguely hoping to sneak into the NIT.
Saturday’s shock win over national power Michigan St. at Madison Square Garden once again got Hoya fans thinking March Madness. After all, the bubble will be filled with extremely flawed teams that won’t have that sort of win on their resume. But realistically, Georgetown will have to get back to 9-9 at a minimum to even think about the NCAA’s, and the harsh truth is that the Hoyas will have to win their next five games (at DePaul, Butler, Providence, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall) to get back into the picture. While that is doable, this Georgetown team is not good enough for any game to be a sure thing, let alone five in a row.
In this second half preview, let’s take a brief look at each individual player before bringing it all together to examine the team’s strengths and weaknesses and figure out how the Hoyas can make their second half count.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera – “DSR” is by far the best player on the team, and he’s actually pretty underrated even by the Hoya faithful. He is the team’s most efficient offensive player, which is remarkable considering he is only one of two guys on the team who can create anything on offense. He avoids turnovers while shooting well (41.0 percent from three) and getting to the line where he shoots 85.0 percent. He has also become a pretty good defender, and is just about the only guy on the team that is not a threat to get in instant foul trouble. He is a very good rebounder for a guard, to boot. His shooting and overall performance have tailed off in recent games, hopefully due to a persistent rib injury that actually had him on the bench during crunch time against Michigan St. Georgetown needs him to be at full strength because the rest of the team simply doesn’t have enough talent to win without DSR.
Josh Smith – Thanks to academic issues, Smith will be ineligible for the rest of the season. At first glance this might seem like a minor deal. Thanks to a combination of horrible instincts and being grossly overweight, Smith is a rampant fouler and overall terrible defender. He is also one of the worst rebounding big men in recent memory. That said, he is a voluminous and efficient scorer inside. On a team that simply lacks scoring options, his loss was devastating. Georgetown fans should hope he returns next year.
Markel Starks – The fiery senior point guard is probably the most popular Hoya, and along with DSR he is the only guy on the team that can create offense. His offensive efficiency has not really suffered from the workload, though his production looks different than it did last year. He has become a good assist man and cut his turnovers, but his three point shooting has dropped from 42.0 percent to 33.0 percent. If he could get hot from long range it would go a long way toward improving the inadequate Hoya offense. Starks should also be credited for learning to avoid foul trouble, which had previously been a major problem for him. The team simply cannot afford to not have him on the floor.
Reggie Cameron – The freshman looks set for a solid career, but his role to this point has been as a strict spot up three-point shooter. He never turns the ball over, never draws a foul, never gets an offensive rebound, and has shot 60 threes compared to 27 twos. He could be deadly if he could improve his 33.0 percent shooting from long range.
Nate Lubick – The senior has become a target for Hoya fans because he rarely creates any offense and thus often looks like he is taking up space. This is somewhat unfair. While he has failed to live up to lofty expectations, he is a decent defender and good rebounder. More to the point, he is a poor fit on this particular team. His inability to shoot the ball at all has caused teams to sag off of him to a comical amount, clogging the passing lanes and putting undue pressure on Starks and DSR. It also neuters his nifty passing skills and leads to too many turnovers. Ideally, he would be a bit player but the Georgetown front court is just sad.
Jabril Trawick – The pugnacious junior broke his jaw in a dustup against Providence and missed five games, which was a huge factor in the team’s losing streak. Trawick doesn’t look like much on paper, mostly because he cannot shoot and turns it over way too much. But, he may be the key player in the second half for the Hoyas. He is a very good defender, perhaps the best on the team, against a wide variety of players. He also can be effective driving to the basket and getting fouled. Most importantly, the team is so thin that when he was out, John Thompson III turned to former walk-on John Caprio, who to be polite was terrible and almost singlehandedly cost them the Marquette game. The Hoyas need Trawick on the court.
Aaron Bowen – Bowen is the best athlete of the JTIII era, and I am including the eight guys who have played in the NBA. Unfortunately, he really has zero basketball skills. If he could shoot, he would be a lottery pick. Still, he has become playable in the right role by driving to the basket and playing pressure defense that is effective in causing turnovers. Thompson erred in playing Caprio over Bowen at times during Trawick’s absence, and hopefully he won’t make the same mistake.
Moses Ayegba – His contributions are pretty much limited to effective rebounding and post defense. Any thought of increasing his role is moot, because by averaging eight fouls per 40 minutes he will never be out of foul trouble.
Mikael Hopkins – Hopkins is a wildly inefficient player on offense. Even vastly improving from last year, he is still terrible on offense. He cannot shoot from the outside at all and is one of the worst finishers underneath in the conference, shooting a pathetic 45.0 percent from two point range. To top things off he shoots 58.0 percent from the line. His complete inability to set a legal screen contributes to his astronomical turnover rate and constant foul trouble. He has become a good rebounder and defender, particularly in shot blocking, and with Smith out and Lubick and Ayegba so limited, he has to play. That said, John Thompson III and his team desperately need to be more cognizant of his limitations. For two years, Georgetown has fed Hopkins and asked him to create offense, leading to disastrous results. Hoya fans groan whenever Hopkins tries an offensive move or tries to go up against a defender under the bucket. They know what Thompson has not shown that he knows. Hopkins needs to be limited to the things he can do, and not asked to do things he can’t like create offense.
On the whole, Georgetown’s main problem this year is that their offense is not very good (105th in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy, and the worst in BIG EAST play). The reason for this is pretty simple, yet pretty intractable. The Hoyas simply do not have the sort of talent they need on offense. Only Starks and DSR can create offense at an acceptable clip. Defenses have learned this and sent swarms of defenders at them, leaving other players wide open on the perimeter. Of course, the talent problem cannot really be solved until next year.
For now, the Hoyas can try de-emphasizing Hopkins and hope Starks and Cameron improve from the perimeter, but this offense is not going to be anything close to the Jeff Green-Roy Hibbert machine of yesteryear, or even last year’s often rough running attack.
Defensively, Pomeroy ranks Georgetown’s defense 57th in the nation, which is a huge disappointment. Unlike the offense, Georgetown seems to have some upside here. The defense scuffled badly without Trawick and has been very good since he returned. Smith’s absence causes better defenders to get more playing time up front, which should help as well. It seems unlikely that Georgetown will return to being one of the very best defenses in the nation this year, but it also seems likely the defense could be significantly better than it has been overall.
The Hoyas have remained pretty good about forcing opponents into poor field goal shooting, but the main problem for the Hoyas defensively has been fouls. Simply put, Georgetown fouls way too much. The team does not get to the line that much either, and shoots free throws at an uninspiring 69.0 percent rate to boot. Free throw differential has been a costly factor in several Georgetown losses this year and was directly responsible for the losses to Oregon and Villanova.
Against Michigan St., the Hoyas again struggled offensively, but were able to play excellent defense while avoiding foul problems. The team showed the sort of elite defense fans expected. If the Hoyas are going to make a move the second half of the season, that game will be the blueprint. To win, expect low scoring, ugly games won with an excellent defense carrying a mediocre offense. It is a very fine line, but it’s the only one the Hoyas can realistically ride this year.
THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- Fouls. If the Hoyas can quit fouling at alarming rates it gives them a chance to play defense well enough to support the lousy offense.
- Hopkins. The less he tries to do on offense, the better.
- Three point shooting. It simply hasn’t been there this year. Starks and Cameron improving their shooting from three range is probably the best chance the Hoyas have of improving the offense.
- DSR. Can he stay healthy and in efficient scoring mode? If not the team is pretty much dead.
- John Caprio. Any time he plays meaningful minutes, it’s bad.
If these factors break Georgetown’s way it could still be a worthwhile season for the Hoyas.