Games That Matter -- November 21, 2011 -- Season Preview (Georgetown v. Kansas)

Games That Matter – November 21, 2011 – Season Preview


ESPN / USA Today: N/A

Season Preview – The 2011-12 Georgetown Hoyas

I woke up this morning with the itch.  (Note: It wasn’t chlamydia.) For weeks I’ve been telling myself that I probably don’t have time to write these previews any more, and that I certainly don’t have time to do a comprehensive season preview.  I thought about writing something over the summer when I went to Beijing and Shanghai.  Thought about sharing some pictures and nuggets of wisdom from The Great Brawl of China.  But I never did.  And then the evils of conference realignment happened, and Jerry Sandusky happened, and all of a sudden, everything changed.  But I still decided to wait.  I had a lot to say about these things, but I just never felt the urge to start typing.


But then something beautiful happened.  The First Real Game of the Season.  It gets me every time.  So here you go.  Your quick and dirty season preview, which comes two games into the season (but let’s be honest, if we had lost to either Savannah State or UNC-Greensboro, there would be no season worth previewing).  When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the real fun begins.   


What I Like About This Year’s Team

Low expectations.  No rankings, no love from reporters, nothing.  And maybe that’s justified.  Expectations haven’t been this low for a JTIII-coached team since his first year on the Hilltop.  And that team started off strong, possibly because the Big East had never experienced the Princeton offense before, but then the team lost its way towards the end of the season and finished in the NIT.  I’m excited to see a totally different kind of team, with new players, new tendencies, and new game plans.  Maybe we’re not good enough to compete with the likes of UConn and Syracuse and Pitt; or maybe we’ll be nasty.  With low expectations, the only place to go is up.


Length.  Austin Freeman will go down as one of the greatest Hoyas of the last decade, and deservedly so.  But in the last four years, we’ve never really had any size at the three position, and sometimes, we didn’t have enough size at the 4, either (see Summers, DaJuan in his last season).  Sometimes our defense would be lacking, sometimes we’d get out-rebounded.  It was just a fact of life for Georgetown teams in the last couple of seasons.  JTIII tried to make this problem go away by recruiting a bunch of wings, and there’s no question our length will make a difference this year.  Look for more rebounds, more deflected passes, more blocks.  More mistakes, to be sure.  But the mistakes will hopefully be overcome by the athleticism.

The Freshmen.  We’ve got five of them (six, if you count Bowen, who missed most of last season).  The leadership is gone (we’ll miss you, Chris, Austin and Julian), but an army of reserves is ready to fill the void.  Quick notes on each newbie:


Otto Porter, a 6’8’’ forward from Missouri, is the highest ranked and probably most well-rounded player of the bunch.  Porter is a do-everything wing, who should split time at the small forward and power forward positions, depending on what the team needs.  He won’t score 20 points a game (even though he can), but he’ll rebound and pass better than most freshmen in the conference, and he has tremendous court vision.  To call him a utility man would be unfair; he’s more of a jack of all trades.  He’ll probably start in a month or so. 


Greg Whittington, a 6’8’’ wing from Maryland, is the latest All-Met Player of the Year to commit to Georgetown.  He’s long and skinny (think of Tayshaun Prince) and he plays like a guard.  Cool Whitt is aggressive and likes to shoot from the perimeter.  If he stays out of foul trouble, he should be a regular contributor and, with Otto, one of the first two guys off the bench.  If he can get bigger and develop a more consistent jump shot, he’ll be extremely tough to defend.


Jabril Trawick, a 6’5’’ guard from Philly, is the kid everyone wants to love.  He’s big, he plays hard, he drives to the basket with ease, and most importantly, he’s just got that swagger.  He’s not a good shooter and he frequently tries to do too much, but the kid just has the look of a star in the making.  I want Jabril to be my favorite player.  Love the intensity, love the attitude.  Let’s just hope his performance doesn’t disappoint.


Mikael Hopkins, a 6’9’’ forward from DeMatha, will be one of the keys to the season.  He’s athletic and physical, and he’ll be counted on to spell Henry.  When he’s in the right position, he can makes things happen.  The big question is how quickly he can adjust to the offense and find himself in the flow of the game.  In China, he was a little all over the place.  He was sometimes out of position, or taking low-percentage shots.  But that’s to be expected.  For better or worse, he needs to be a big contributor on this team.  If he plays hard and doesn’t try to force things, we’ll be happy.  Love the athleticism.


Tyler Adams, a 6’9’’ bruiser, is 270 pounds of muscle.  He doesn’t look like a freshman.  Tough to get a sense of how much he will contribute this year because he’s only played sparingly due to injuries (he didn’t play in China and missed the game against Savannah State).  The Hoyas need him to be a presence down low – playing strong defense, collecting rebounds and getting garbage putbacks.  I expect him to be a project for most of the year, but if his footwork improves and he stays healthy, look for him to spell Henry and Nate.


Aaron Bowen, a 6’6’’ guard, isn’t a freshman, but he might as well be one.  He sat out most of last year with injuries, and Georgetown will definitely count on him for stretches this season.  In China, he was a bit of an enigma.  Sometimes he was out of position and tried to force his shot a bit too often; other times, he was knocking down threes, scrapping for loose balls and scoring in transition.  He won’t play more than ten minutes per game, but I will say this: if he gets open looks, he’ll make shots.  I wouldn’t mind seeing him a little more.


Depth.  This team is ridiculously deep, probably the deepest and most athletic Georgetown team since either 1998-1999  or 2000-2001.  We have length and size, and we can run and press.  Gone are the days when JTIII will only play six guys.  This year, he’ll use different lineups, different strategies, and as many as 11 guys per game.  No one should be tired, fouls shouldn’t be a huge concern, and our defense should really improve. 


Five Big Questions


Who will lead?:  As I see it, there are three contenders: Jason, Hollis and Nate.


Jason Clark: The 6’2’’ senior captain is the default leader of this team.  He’s played significant minutes for three years, and he has gradually improved each season.  He will likely lead the team in minutes and shots, and others will look for him to make a play when the Hoyas are struggling to score.  If Jason is to set an example for the younger guys, though, he can’t try to do too much.  Jason has always been a good shooter and a solid on-the-ball defender, but he’s never been the best ball handler, and he struggles to create his own shot.  If Jason wants to lead, he needs to do the things he does well.  I’d rather see Jason score 15 points per game and only turn the ball over once, than score 25 and commit 5 turnovers.  If Jason is consistently our leading scorer, we could have a very good year, but if he’s our third leading scorer, and others can get involved, we could have a great year.


Hollis Thompson:  The 6’8’’ junior almost left early for the draft last summer, and it’s a good thing he didn’t.  He’s got the sweetest shot in the conference and he understands the system, but like Jason, he shouldn’t try to do too much.  Hollis has been craving this opportunity for the past two seasons.  He knows he can shoot the ball, and now is his chance to prove to scouts that he’s more than a spot-up shooter.  I view Hollis as a Darrel Owens-type player.  He can shoot, play defense and rebound, and do a little bit of everything, but he still has trouble getting to the basket.  Can he emerge as the team’s leader?  That remains to be seen.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more Hollywood on the court.


Nate Lubick:  The 6’8’’ sophomore plays like a four-year starter.  He is, without question, the best passer on the team, and he’s the guy who most often finds himself on the ground.  (Suggested drinking game: Take a shot every time Lubick falls down.  You’ll be drunk before halftime.)  I love Lubick’s intensity and his knowledge of the system.  In China, you could see him coaching the freshmen, telling them where they needed to be.  I’m hopeful he’ll play a similar leadership role throughout this season.  And I’m also hopeful that he’ll stop shooting threes.  That can’t happen anymore.


Can Markel Make the Sophomore Jump?  


Little Markel is perhaps the biggest key to the season.  With Chris Wright’s departure, he’s the default point guard.  But he’s got big shoes to fill.  Markel is clearly one of JTIII’s favorite players: he’s charismatic, he listens, and he seems to have a solid basketball IQ.  But he’s still only a sophomore, and no one knows how productive he’ll be.  Starks can penetrate and pass, but too often, he doesn’t look for his own shot.  For this team to be better than average, Starks needs to be a regular contributor.  He needs to shoot, he needs to fill the lane, and he needs to be able to break the press.  Against our first two opponents, Markel frequently got lost in the shuffle.  He needs to be more assertive and look to score.  We need some of Jabril’s swagger to rub off on Markel, and some of Markel’s headiness to rub off on Jabril. 


Can We Score in the Paint?


What I mean by this question is not whether we get lots of layups off of backdoor passes.  It’s whether we will have a consistent post presence.  I’m looking at you, Henry Sims.  Henry has been working extremely hard in the offseason.  He’s stronger, has a better understanding of his role, and has developed a nice little baby hook.  You could really see his development in the first game, when he scored a career-high 19 points, albeit against much shorter guys.  Hopkins will be a bit of a work in progress, and will likely score in transition or on mid-range jumpers, rather than on set plays in the paint.  And Nate will get a fair number of putbacks, but there’s isn’t much finesse in his game.  Tyler will be lucky to play five or six minutes per game.  Henry is the one who needs to step up.  Whether he can emerge into the Hank Sims who looked like a beast against Villanova last year remains to be seen.


Will We Press? 


I hope so.  We’re deep and athletic, long and strong.  I don’t really want to see the token half-court pressure that JTIII uses every so often.  I want to bring the old press back.  Waves of people, bodies on the floor.  Defense leading to easy buckets.  Let’s get Pops on the court and teach these kids how to be aggressive and get after it.  That would make me smile.

Will We Win the National Championship?


Fine, so I couldn’t think of a fifth question.  Whatever.  The answer to this one is yes, until proven otherwise.  Ask me again tomorrow.


Preview of Tonight's Game:

So yeah, Georgetown and Kansas.  Kansas is the team Georgetown was supposed to play multiple times in the last few years in the NCAA Tourney.  The problem is that both of these teams keep losing to inferior opponents in the Tourney.  Tonight, we finally get to see that matchup between two marquee programs. 

The last time these teams faced was way back in 1987, when Reggie Williams led the Hoyas with 34 points en route to a 13-point victory in the NCAA regional semifinals.  Georgetown’s tenacious defense, led by Perry McDonald, held Danny Manning in check, and the Hoyas eked out a win.  A guy named Mark Turgeon was on that Kansas team.


This year’s game should prove to be a little different, though let’s hope the outcome will be the same.  Danny Manning will still be on the bench (as a coach), but otherwise, nothing is the same.  Like Georgetown, Kansas is a team still struggling to find its identity.  After a heartbreaking loss to VCU in last year’s Tourney (sound familiar?), the Jayhawks are trying to regroup after losing several of their key players.  Gone are the Morris twins and Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed and Josh Selby.  What’s left are two key players (Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson) and a whole new set of contributors.


Tyshawn Taylor, a 6’3’’ senior guard from Hoboken, should be Kansas’s leading scorer this year.  Through two games, he’s averaging 17 points and three assists.  He’s a savvy player who knows how to get to the basket and draw fouls, and he’s an excellent defender.  Taylor’s counterpart in the frontcourt is 6’9’’ junior Thomas Robinson, a slasher in the paint who, after two games, is averaging 14 points and 11 boards.  Robinson is strong and tough to defend.  Nate will have a tough time checking him in the paint. 


From the perimeter, Kansas’s best two shooters are Connor Teahan and Elijah Johnson.  Teahan, a 6’5’’ senior, will get lots of looks from beyond the arc this season as a spot-up shooter.  Elijah Johnson, a 6’4’’ junior, is more of a combo guard.  He’s a very good passer (currently leads the team with 12 assists) and isn’t afraid to shoot the ball.  Also in the backcourt are Tyler Releford, a 6’5’’ junior, who is a decent shooter, but doesn’t handle the ball very well, and Naadir Tharpe, a 5’11’’ freshman.  Tharpe, a highly touted point guard from Massachusetts, is still trying to find his way.  He’s really quick and dangerous in transition, but a much better passer than shooter.


Finally, down low Georgetown will need to watch out for a seven-footer – Jeff Withey.  Withey, a junior, played an impressive first half against Kentucky last week and really held his own.  He can block shots, rebound, and even has a little bit of touch around the basket.  He’ll be a handful for Henry.


Keys to the Game:

1. Keeping Nate Out of Foul Trouble: As much as I love Nate’s aggressiveness, sometimes he’s a little too aggressive and that leads to early fouls.  We need Nate on the court for this game, not only because he’s our best passer, but also so we can put a body on Thomas Robinson.  With Henry matching up against Withey, we’ll need as much help as we can get down low.  Nate needs to play smart.


2. Limiting Turnovers: Kansas has a feisty backcourt and is excellent in transition.  Jason and Little Markel need to play with confidence and not get rattled in the opening minutes of this game.  Otto and Hollis should be able to help get the ball up the court, when needed, but Jason needs to make sure he’s not out of control.


3. Keeping Tyshawn out of the Lane:  Tyshawn Taylor knows how to get to the basket and he’s very good at drawing fouls.  Georgetown’s perimeter defenders need to keep Taylor in front of them and not fall for any ball fakes.  Taylor is most dangerous from the stripe.  The Hoyas shouldn’t help him out by committing stupid fouls.


4. Perimeter Shooting:  If we’re hitting our threes, we can compete with anyone.  We’ll know in the first five minutes of this game whether we’ve got a chance.  If Hollis and Jason are knocking down shots, things could get interesting.  If not, we’ll struggle to score. 


Ok.  I’m excited.  Lots of question marks, lots of freshmen, lots of unknowns.  Expectations are low, and really, no one seems to think we’ll win tonight.  But that’s the beauty of uncertainty.  No one expected an unranked UConn squad to run through Maui last year, either. 


Midnight in Maui – it’s when the expectations start to change.  The season begins tonight.

Let's go Hoyas. Beat Kansas.


Stay Casual, my friends.

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