Games That Matter - November 11, 2010 -- Season Preview

Games That Matter  –  November 11, 2010 – Season Preview

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ESPN / USA Today: 21
AP: 20
Season Preview – The 2010-11 Georgetown Hoyas

I’m still not over last year.  I’m mad that Armon Bassett picked March 18, 2010 to have the greatest game of his career.  I’m mad that Georgetown picked Round 1 of the 2010 NCAA Tournament to put together the worst defensive showing in the JTIII era.  I’m mad that Duke won.  I’m mad that Hayward teased everyone with that last-second heave.  I’m mad that last year’s national championship was on my birthday.  I’m mad that Greg Monroe waited until the last day to tell the world he was going pro.  I’m mad that the Knicks cut Patrick Ewing Jr.  I’m mad just typing right now because it’s forcing me to remember things that I should have forgotten months ago.  I’m mad…


In some respects, last year’s team was a mystery.  We played with and defeated the best teams in the conference (Villanova, Syracuse, Pitt), and completely dominated the two teams that competed for the title (Duke and Butler), but we also managed to lose to some of the worst teams (i.e. South Florida at home, Rutgers, Ohio).  For whatever reason, we just couldn’t put it all together when it mattered the most.  (And yet, aren’t we always maddeningly inconsistent?)  Yes, we had one of the most memorable runs through the Big East Tournament that I can remember.  And yes, we came oh so close to upsetting West Virginia in the championship and perhaps clinching a #2 seed.  But it never happened.  And a team that had so much talent didn’t have much to show for it: a 10-8 finish in the Big East and a first round exit in the NCAA Tourney.  I want last season back.


…And then November rolls along, as it does every year, and you realize that there’s a new season, with hundreds of undefeated teams, and a whole new conference makeup with new faces and coaches.  Greg Monroe may be gone, but the Hoyas return one of the most experienced teams in the country, with seven of their top eight leading scorers returning, two of the top players in the conference, and perhaps one of the top five backcourts in the nation.  It’s time to get excited again. 


The Leader


Austin.  Sometimes known as Diabetic Austin.  More recently known as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.  For yet another season, the four-year starter will be called upon to provide a steady hand for Georgetown’s offense and do a little bit of everything.  He’s capable of knocking down threes, making the extra pass, or exploding past anyone who guards him too closely.  During the offseason he trimmed down a bit and looks to be in great shape for his senior season.  In a down year for Big East superstars, Austin is one of the conference’s best.  The Hoyas will count on him in a big way this season. 


The Bellwether


Last year the Hoyas’ success depended on Chris Wright’s production.  When Wright played well (i.e. scored 10 points or more and didn’t commit too many turnovers), Georgetown almost always won.  “As Chris goes, so go the Hoyas.”  That refrain will be even more accurate this season.  In the past, teams have tried to stop Greg Monroe first, and then worried about Austin and Chris.  This time around, teams will focus on our guards.  More than any time in his career, Chris will drive this team to victory or defeat. 


When #4 plays well, we look amazing.  People forget that we were a few seconds away from a Big East title and a C Wright MVP award.  Remember how great he played during the Big East Tournament?  Chris is my favorite player on the team.  And this year’s Hoyas are every bit his team as they are Austin’s.  Austin is more soft-spoken and leads by example.  Chris is more dynamic and often wears his emotions on his sleeve.  As #4 goes, so go the Hoyas…


The Overachievers


This time last year, we weren’t sure what we would get out of Jason Clark and Julian Vaughn.  One year later, they are key starters on a team that counts on them to produce.  They say it takes one year to learn JTIII’s system and adjust to the college game.  I can’t think of two Hoyas who have taken bigger sophomore jumps than Clark and Vaughn.


Clark, the 6’2’’ junior, used to be afraid to dribble into pressure.  Last year, he developed into a top three-point shooter, a feisty defender, and Georgetown’s fourth-leading scorer.  Vaughn, who many hoped would just grab a few rebounds and block some shots last year, emerged as much more of a post presence, and his 57.6% field goal percentage led the team. 


This time around, Georgetown will need these two to do even more.  Greg Monroe’s 9.6 rebounds per game will be difficult to replace.  Julian will need to stay out of foul trouble, take smart shots and rebound a little more aggressively.  Jason will need to keep doing the little things he’s been doing: play great defense, hit open jumpers and try not to force things.  I feel much better this season about both of these guys than I did last season.


The Rising Star


I love rooting for Hollis to do well.  Towards the end of last season, he transitioned from a skinny freshman to a key contributor.  This year, if he takes the sophomore jump, he’s going to be one of the three best players on the team.  Already, it looks like Hollis has gained a little muscle.  It’s unclear whether JTIII will have him play the small forward or power forward position (my guess is both); but either way, the 2010-11 Hoyas will look to Hollis much more than last season.  I expect him to be a double-digit scorer.  And I can’t wait to see it.


The Enigma


Hank Sims.  At some point, Henry has to start playing like Hank.  This team needs him to step it up and stop being so clumsy.  Get it together, Hank.  We want you to bring it.  Unleash your inner beast.  (Or just give us 10-15 minutes per game of solid defense and a few putback layups.)


The Unsung Heroes


We didn’t see very much of Vee Sanford and Jerrelle Benimon last year.  But when they made it onto the court, they looked pretty promising.  Vee looked like a solid defender with a good handle.  Jerrelle was a big, athletic body who could rebound and block shots.  This year, both will likely play bigger roles.  If they improve even half as much as Jason and Julian improved after their first year on the Hilltop, then the Hoyas will be in great shape. 


In a guard-oriented offense, I can see Vee being effective if we decide to press.  Jerrelle will play at least 10 minutes per contest because we simply don’t have as much experience in the frontcourt this year.  (He may even start.)  If Benimon can add just a bit of offense to go along with his rebounding and defense, I like our chances a lot more.  BENIMON.


The Future


People are excited about the young guys, especially Nate Lubick and Markel Starks.  I’m excited too, but I’m only cautiously optimistic.  If we can get 8-10 minutes per game of decent production out of Nasty Nate and Markel, I’ll be happy.  Freshmen rarely put up big numbers in their first season in college.  That’s especially true for JTIII-led teams.  (Green, Summers and Monroe are the obvious exceptions.) 


Moses Ayegba (aka Moses Abraham) is still probably too raw, and Aaron Bowen still needs time to adjust and find a role with this squad.  Lubick and Starks are the two guys who could emerge as everyday contributors, but it’s too soon to know just how good they can be. 


I like Markel as a backup to C Wright, and someone who can eventually blossom into a solid starting point guard.  With Nate, I think we’re hoping for more immediate success, based on our lack of depth in the frontcourt.  There are those who actually hope he can start at the power forward position on day one.  That’s just not going to happen.  These guys will get better, but I’m not counting on much until midway through the season.


The Starters


This is the big question.  Our five best players are Freeman, Wright, Clark, Vaughn and Hollis.  That could very well be our starting lineup.  I kind of hope it isn’t, though.  At 6’7’’, 203 pounds, Hollis will be undersized at the 4 position, and I think it’s going to take another bruiser down low to compensate for Greg’s absence.  Hollis did bulk up in the offseason, but I just don’t see him being aggressive enough to go toe-to-toe with guys like Rick Jackson and Deniz Kilicli.  Do we really want to see another situation where an undersized power forward plays out of position and hurts our chemistry (see DaJuan Summers, 2008-09 season)?  I don’t want to go too far with the DaJuan/Hollis comparisons, but you get my point.  Hollis weighs less than Chris Wright…literally.


That leaves two options, and neither one is ideal.  Either we bench Hollis and start someone like Benimon at the 4.  Or we bench Clark, start Hollis at the 3 and Benimon at the 4.  As much as I’d like to see Hollis as our starting small forward, I think I’d prefer to see Hollis as the sixth man, with Benimon starting at the 4.  Let’s see how that works out.  We’ll need all the help we can get on the boards, so let’s try Benimon and Vaughn down low and see what happens.  Clark is a strong rebounder for his size, so we should be okay. 


Whether or not Hollis starts should be interesting.  I doubt Nate will start.  I just don’t see it happening.  Same goes for Henry.

The Big Question
Going into last season, our biggest concern was depth.  This season, we’re deep and experienced, but we’re missing a solid frontcourt presence.  Figuring out how to compensate for the loss of #10 will be the obvious key to the season.  Will we try to use a combination of players?  Or will we become a more guard-oriented offense that likes to press and run?  We’ll soon find out.
Preview of Friday's Game:
After yet another run to the NCAA Tournament (including a first round defeat of Notre Dame), Old Dominion is once again the preseason CAA favorite.  The Monarchs enter tomorrow’s game having won two of the last three contests against Georgetown (both at McDonough), and they will be looking to invoke even more pain on the Hoya faithful. 


Last year, the Hoyas played sluggish basketball and never looked good against an ODU team that already had four losses by the time they played the Hoyas in early December.  In some respects, the game didn’t make any sense.  ODU’s best player (Gerald Lee) was completely shut down, while no one on Georgetown was ever in foul trouble.  Georgetown had more rebounds, shot more free throws, blocked more shots, and yet still lost the game (and was down by 11 at the half).  Ben Finney led the Monarchs in that contest with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, including a few clutch three-pointers.  So how did the Hoyas lose that game, you ask?  Turnovers.  We committed 18 of them.  Gross.


This year’s ODU squad is facing the same central problem as the Hoyas: they must learn how their veteran team can compensate for the loss of their best player.  Like Georgetown, ODU returns the core of its team, including 6’8’’ senior Frank Hassell, 6’5’’ senior Ben Finney and 6’5’’ junior Kent Bazemore.  But the missing piece from last year’s team -- do-everything forward and leading scorer Gerald Lee – is gone.  The Monarchs will be hard-pressed to replace Lee, but they do return a very balanced and experienced lineup that will likely give the Hoyas trouble.  Outside of Hassell, Finney and Bazemore, watch out for 6’1’’ senior Darius James and 6’8’’ senior Keyon Carter.  These guys have played together for a long time.  They know what Blaine Taylor expects of them, and they won’t go down easily, especially at home. 


To win this game, ODU needs to play smart defense and slow the pace of the game (just as they did last year).  (ODU’s offense resembles Mike Brey’s genius “slow burn” offense from last season.  Obligatory Harangody Comment: ND was actually better without Fat Luke last year.)  The Hoyas usually do a good job of shutting down teams’ primary scorers.  But with ODU, there really isn’t a #1 scoring threat.  Hassell, Finney and Bazemore all play well and don’t make many mistakes.  Finney and Darius James are the team’s top three-point shooters, while Hassell is more of a threat in the post.

Keys to the Game:
1.  Keeping Vaughn Out of Foul Trouble:  We need Julian to body with Hassell and Carter.  If he picks up a couple of quick fouls, we’ll need some of the younger guys to step it up down low. 


2.  Limiting Turnovers:  We can’t turn the ball over 18 times again.  It goes without saying.


3.  Perimeter Defense:  ODU will slow down the tempo, move the ball around and try to get open looks from beyond the arc.  Clark and Freeman need to close out on Finney and James.  Also watch out for Trian Iliadis, another solid shooter. 


I’ve never written a GTM this early in the season.  I like easing into the year with a few cupcakes while getting a feel for the team.  No luck this time around.  Let’s call it a Veterans’ Day special – at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month…


Make no mistake about it.  Old Dominion is good.  The game is sold out.  Last year, a couple thousand Hoya faithful trudged out to McDonough in the snow to watch a sluggish Georgetown team lose once again at home to the Monarchs.  This time, it’s payback.  Y’all want a victory?  The season begins tomorrow night.
Let's go Hoyas.  Beat Old Dominion.

Stay Casual, my friends.

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