Season Recap: Georgetown Hoyas

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

A lost year that portends a better future.

The Georgetown Hoyas entered the 2013-14 season bringing back the same team that finished in the top ten the previous year, with one major exception.

Otto Porter, the two-way star of that team, left school after his sophomore season to sit on the Washington Wizards’ bench.

To replace him, the Hoyas brought in UCLA transfer Josh Smith, a highly recruited former McDonald’s All-American who had eaten his way out of Southern California. Ideally, Smith would get in shape and use his dominating inside scoring ability to make up for Porter’s contribution on that end. Combined with the anticipated return of Greg Whittington, a defensive ace who had missed the second half of 2013 with academic problems, the Hoyas hoped they could come close to replicating last year’s performance and contend for the crown in the new Big East.

It didn’t quite work at that way. The problems started before the season even got underway. Whittington tore up his knee, leaving the Hoyas without a key part of their vaunted length that was supposed to provide the same shut down defense that had stuffed teams last season. Not only did it never happen, but Whittington was eventually kicked off the team for what appeared to be repeated discipline violations. Whittington was eventually supposed to transfer to Rutgers, but never bothered to enroll. He faces a dark future.

The opening game of the season against Oregon laid a template for how the season would go. Josh Smith completely dominated the undersized Ducks inside, scoring 25 points on 10-13 from the field. He also managed to pull down zero defensive rebounds in 27 minutes. Meanwhile, the Hoyas committed 31 fouls, and lost the game singlehandedly due to Oregon’s voluminous 36-44 performance from the foul line. Smith and Mikael Hopkins fouled out of the game, setting the trend for Georgetown’s great foul fest of 2013-14. The Hoyas would have a consistent problem with fouling too much and giving opponents easy points at the free throw line, to the tune of 331st in the nation in foul rate.

After an easy home win over Wright St., the Hoyas ventured to the Caribbean for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The quarterfinal game against Northeastern was supposed to be a warmup, but it turned into an embarrassing loss. This game demonstrated another problem that plagued the team all year - an unbalanced offense. Outside of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, no one scored in double figures, and the Hoyas managed just 56 points against what would turn out be the 203rd Pomeroy ranked team in the nation.

Still in Puerto Rico, the Hoyas turned right around and walloped Kansas St. by 26 and then picked up a very good win over a very good Virginia Commonwealth team. This would bring us to yet another theme that defined the 2014 Hoyas - inconsistency. The Hoyas could be very good. They could be very awful. They were rarely in between. And there was just about no way to figure out which one was going to show up on a given night.

The Hoyas followed the Schizophrenic Puerto Rican Adventure with four home wins over cupcakes Lipscomb, High Point, Colgate, and Elon. True to fashion, Colgate took the Hoyas down to the wire and the Elon win wasn’t exactly impressive. This was followed by an absolute beatdown at Kansas, where a far more talented team simply dusted the Hoyas in every phase of the game.

As the Hoyas came back home to finish their non-conference schedule with a blowout of Florida International, they looked like a team that could go either way. Clearly, the Hoyas were not an elite team. Kansas had proven that. But beneath that level, the Hoyas had shown the ability to play decent basketball. Joshua Smith had been wildly inconsistent and offered less than zero on defense and the boards, but most of the time he was a fearsomely efficient inside scorer. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was breaking out in his sophomore year, Markel Starks was proving himself a leader, and even reserve big man Mikael Hopkins was showing massive improvement (which made him bad, as opposed to impossibly horrible).

After two wins over DePaul (unimpressive) and St. John’s (impressive) to start conference play, the Hoyas were dealt a stunning blow. Joshua Smith was declared academically ineligible. This not being Syracuse, that meant he was out for the season. This looked like it would deal a mortal blow to the Hoya offense, and to win Georgetown. In the end, Smith’s absence would hurt the Hoyas badly, but for quite different reasons.

The next game was a bad road loss to Providence, which was marked by the always pugnacious Jabril Trawick breaking his jaw near the end of the game. This absolutely killed the Hoyas depth, which showed starkly in the next game. Although the Hoyas managed an exciting overtime win at conference roadkill Butler, the Hoyas typical foul trouble forced them to turn to former walk-on guard John Caprio at center for big minutes at crunch time.

This was not a formula that looked prime for success. It wasn’t. In Trawick’s absence, the Hoyas finished the first half of conference play on a five game losing streak (Trawick did play in the final game of that streak, a respectable home loss to Villanova). The Hoyas during this period simply looked like a team short on talent. The defense, propelled by constant fouling from front court players Hopkins, Nate Lubick, and Moses Ayegba, gave up over a point per possession in every game. The offense was reduced to Starks and Smith-Rivera fighting through double teams to hoist up shots while their incompetent teammates were unable to take advantage. The Hoyas blew three games (at Xavier, Seton Hall, Marquette), where they had leads such as that Pomeroy had their chances of winning pegged at over 90%. The Marquette game in particular, which featured a game-losing meltdown from an over-his-head Caprio, was particularly frustrating.

At this point, the team looked so done the NIT seemed out of reach. Then, the team’s trademark inconsistence reared its pretty (in this case) head. Out of nowhere, the Hoyas went to New York and beat Michigan St. in an incredibly strong performance. That win once again got the NCAA hopes fluttering in the hearts of Hoya fans. Those hopes were bolstered with three straight conference wins over DePaul, Butler, and Providence to even up their conference record at 6-6.

The Hoyas couldn’t keep up the hot play, finishing 8-10. The Hoyas were hamstrung by a complete inability to beat anybody with a pulse (sorry DePaul and Butler) on the road. As the season went on, the Hoyas did improve on offense. Outside of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who struggled to get open looks as the season sent on, the Hoyas were pretty much a lost cause from downtown. In the second half of the season, the Hoyas seemed to make a concerted effort to drive hard to the bucket, getting layups and trips to the line. Starks and Smith-Rivera led the way, but they were joined by Trawick, who reached a new level of offensive effectiveness after his return.

Unfortunately, the offensive improvement was mirrored by a defensive collapse. The main driver was a general incompetence on the front line. On a nightly basis, Hopkins, Lubick, and Ayegba quickly fell into monumental foul trouble. This had direct consequences in terms of allowing way too many free throws. It also had the more indirect consequence of leading to passive play underneath, which allowed opponents to get way too many layups and shoot a high percentage from two point range.

The Hoyas still harbored NCAA hopes as they went to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament, and their good wins might have still caused them to get into the Big Dance had they beaten DePaul their First Round game. Unfortunately, the offense collapsed and was unable to puncture the porous Blue Demon defense, and Georgetown’s NCAA hopes crashed in an embarrassing 60-56 defeat. The Hoyas settled for the NIT, where they blitzed West Virginia before playing no defense in a season ending 101-90 loss to Florida St.

This was clearly a down season for John Thompson III’s team, but certain things did go right for Georgetown. The Hoyas did improve their offense from the year before, mainly on the strength on strong two point shooting and an ability to avoid getting their shot blocked. The team was nothing special at protecting the ball or grabbing offensive boards, and was terrible from three. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera broke out in his sophomore year, essentially replacing Otto Porter’s workload and efficiency on offense. Starks carried the offense at times, even though he essentially lost his three point shooting ability. Trawick, by the end of the season, had turned himself into a driving, foul drawing weapon on offense.

The team struggled badly on defense, collapsing from the team that had been the second most effective defense the year before. As mentioned, the Hoyas simply didn’t have the front court talent to compete. Led by Hopkins, Ayegba, and Lubick, the Hoyas fouled and allowed free throws at an astronomical rate. They also got destroyed on the defensive boards. Other than blocking shots, the Hoyas didn’t do much of anything right defensively.

Things are looking up for the Hoyas going forward. Starks will graduate, and the Hoyas will miss him. But he wasn’t so good this year that he can’t be replaced. Smith-Rivera looks poised for a big final two years. The Hoyas have a heralded recruiting class coming in, led by Isaac Copeland, LJ Peak, and Paul White. Josh Smith should return next year, and even at his worst he can reduce the team’s reliance on the overmatched Hopkins.

This was a bad year for the Hoyas, but is shouldn’t become a habit. The Hoyas are poised to return to the Dance next year, and they have the potential to be national contenders in 2016.

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