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A changing of the guard(s) at Georgetown

Patrick Ewing has brought a faster pace to the Georgetown offense, but his reliance on the frontcourt leaves the backcourt rotation uncertain.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland - E. Shore at Georgetown
Jonathan Mulmore shoots a layup during the first half of Georgetown’s 83-57 win over University of Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 18, 2017.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

On April 5, 2017, at his introductory press conference, Patrick Ewing vowed to bring a more up-tempo, NBA-style offense to the Hilltop. This was a welcome development for a fanbase that had become disenchanted by the methodical Princeton offense that former head coach John Thompson III had used for over a decade. Long possessions, high-post looks for big men, frequent backdoor cuts and a slower pace would no longer be the norm. Now, Ewing said, his team would push the pace, take open 3-pointers when possible, play through bigs on the block and institute physical defense.

Through three games in his inaugural season on the sideline, Ewing is delivering on his promises. Albeit differently than many would have expected. In what is both a rebuilding and experimental year for the Hoyas, he has broken the mold of what a traditional fast-paced team looks like. They are relying on heavy minutes from his shallow frontcourt and evenly rotating his guards throughout games.

Ewing has started just one true guard in two of the team’s first three games, with the lone exception coming on November 15. On that day, freshman forward Jamorko Pickett was removed from the starting lineup due to “personal reasons,” according to Ewing. But Ewing confirmed Pickett’s place in the lineup just three days later, saying, “Jamorko is our starter” after the team beat Maryland-Eastern Shore.

With juniors Jessie Govan, Marcus Derrickson and Kaleb Johnson all locked into the starting lineup alongside Pickett, there’s just one guard spot up for grabs. What does that mean for the Georgetown backcourt? Let’s examine.

The Backcourt

The Hoyas backcourt is four deep, with senior guard Jonathan Mulmore leading the charge. The 6-foot-4 Mulmore has started each of the team’s first three games this season, averaging 6.7 points on 60 percent shooting, 4.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds in just 20.3 minutes per game. Mulmore is one of the quickest guards in the Big East and can pressure opposing ball-handlers, lead the fast break, and distribute in the half court.

Given these attributes, it’s no surprise that Ewing is trusting the senior with the starting point guard duties. Pushing the pace requires a quick point guard, and Mulmore appears ready to spearhead the Hoyas’ attack.

After Mulmore, however, the rotation becomes much less clear. Both freshman guard Jahvon Blair (23.0 minutes) and sophomore guard Jagan Mosely (25.7 minutes) average more minutes per game than Mulmore. Graduate transfer Trey Dickerson, who has missed the team’s last two games (concussion), rounds out the backcourt.

Each offers a unique skill set, which gives Ewing the luxury of managing minutes on an as-needed basis.

Dickerson, the most experienced player on the roster, offers exactly that: Experience. He played at three schools before transferring to The Hilltop, averaging 10.4 points and 2.8 assists during the 2016-17 season with South Dakota. Last season, Dickerson demonstrated his ability to facilitate in the half court, dictating tempo for the Coyotes. He can dribble through the lane and finish deftly around the rim. But, his lack of size and defensive prowess may limit his influence off the bench.

Mosely, who is tied for the second-most minutes played this season, has started the season on the right foot. The sophomore has shot an astounding 82 percent through three games, averaging 8.0 points in the meanwhile. While his shooting has greatly improved from last season, his best attribute is his poise and willingness to get his teammates involved.

He’s the team’s most viable ball-handling option in pick-and-roll situations, which will be useful in a pro-style system that leans heavily on the pick to initiate offensive sets. Ewing has used Mosely as a sixth man this season, which he has taken in stride. When asked about his role after the team’s win over Mount St. Mary’s, Mosely said, “I’m comfortable in any spot. Whenever someone gets in foul trouble or isn’t playing well, I’m ready to step up.”

While he won’t be expected to continue shooting 82 percent from the field, if Mosely can continue to direct traffic as the primary ball-handler, he will be an important contributor for a team that struggled to find consistent bench production last season.

NCAA Basketball: Mount St. Mary's at Georgetown
Jahvon Blair shoots against Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 15, 2017.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most surprising member of the backcourt has been Blair, a 6-foot-3 guard out of Athlete Institute in Ontario, Canada. He is the only guard on the roster averaging double figures, 12.3 points per game, and has shown a unique calmness on the court through his first three collegiate games. He’s not afraid to let it fly from anywhere on the court, attempting 33 field goals on the year, 15 of which came from deep.

His 40 percent clip from both 3-point range and the field have impressed many thus far. However, it’s his calm demeanor that makes him a viable option off the bench for Ewing. When Pickett was relegated to the bench for the Mount St. Mary’s game, Blair was thrust into the starting lineup and thrived. He scored 19 points and dished out five assists. He has yet to appear truly flustered on the court, consistently playing at his own pace. While the competition he has had to face in his young career hasn’t exactly been stellar, Blair has demonstrated his ability thus far in the season.

What to Expect

The current rotation is working, as the Hoyas have defeated their first three opponents by a combined 76 points. But the lack of frontcourt depth is certainly a concern, as just one non-starting forward, freshman Antwan Walker, is logging double-digit minutes per game (13.0). If the Hoyas want to keep their star in Govan fresh for the rest of the season, Ewing may have to start two guards alongside him to shore up the frontcourt rotation.

The Hoyas will need Govan to play his best if they hope to make any noise in the Big East this year, but they’ll also need their guards to step up in a league filled with backcourt talent. It’s far too early to know how things will shake out in the nation’s capital. The only certainty is that the new-look Hoyas have the backcourt and cupcake-filled non-conference schedule to experiment with their rotation.