Well, that was interesting. A Georgetown team that promised to be a work-in-progress proved exactly that in its first game, losing a choppy game 82-75 to #18 Oregon. In falling to the Ducks, the Hoyas showed the breadth of their potential and limitations for the coming season.
No player has a greater range of those possibilities than UCLA transfer Joshua Smith. The junior big man dominated a thin Oregon front line, making 10 of 13 shots and scoring 25 points. He dominated the post, owning whatever position he decided to occupy, and sometimes positions occupied by his opponents (including a marvelous clear out/moving screen for Markel Starks in the second half). Smith reoriented the rim at least once with rim-rattling dunks, and played the bulk of the game without visibly wearing out. He also showed off a deft passing touch, finding open teammates from the high post and cutters past him on the block.
But Smith wasn't all good: he was painfully slow on defensive rotations, and essentially incapable of rebounding outside of his immediate vicinity. He finished with zero defensive rebounds, which both is inexcusable and contributed to the Hoyas' struggles on the defensive glass in the second half. Smith took over Georgetown's scoring load for much of the second half, while, on the other end of the floor, Georgetown struggled to get any stops or gather defensive rebounds.
Although Smith was the focal point of much of the action and the chatter, he wasn't the only Hoya to bring both good and bad to the table. Starks took a while to get going, but eventually finished with 16 points while hitting Georgetown's only three-pointer, but largely failed to spark the offense in the first half. Jabril Trawick generated some much-needed offense and contributed his usual dose of energy on defense and the boards, but missed all four of his triples, contributing to Georgetown's 1-of-16 shooting from three. Nate Lubick and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera showed occasional flashes but fell well short of expectations, combining for 8 points and 5 turnovers. The small forward alternatives didn't inspire much confidence, leaving Hoya fans to wonder whether Starks, Trawick, and DSR will have to log 40 minutes apiece for the entire season.
Oregon's guard-heavy lineup brought out some of the Hoyas' most glaring weaknesses. Oregon's army of mighty mites pushed the pace. Early on, Georgetown abetted that up-and-down flow, jacking up forced three-pointers and committing careless turnovers. Those miscues only added fuel to the Ducks' pace, leading to easy Oregon baskets and a parade to the free-throw line. Barely 6 minutes into the game, Georgetown found itself staring up at a 16-5 deficit.
At the same time, Oregon had little rim protection and even less post defense. Smith wore down the few Duck big men, and the smaller Hoyas (all of them, relative to Smith) found rim runs wide open. Mikael Hopkins found the offensive glass inviting, especially on his own misses, finishing the first half with 10 points. Georgetown repeatedly narrowed the gap to just one possession, eventually taking a three-point deficit into the half.
Briefly, it appeared as though JT3 had cured what illed the Hoyas during intermission. Georgetown began the second half on an 8-2 run that put the Hoyas ahead 42-39. Unfortunately, that lead, just the second Georgetown held all game, proved to be its last. Worse, the Hoyas rarely closed within a basket for the rest of the game.
There were several reasons that Georgetown struggled to claw back into the game. A porous Hoya defense was a step or more slow moving side-to-side trying to keep up with the quick Oregon guards. Georgetown guards in an unfamiliar environment struggled to connect from deep, particularly Trawick, DSR, and Aaron Bowen, who combined to miss all 12 of their three-point attempts. And, judged by newly strict officiating standards, Georgetown could not stop fouling, getting whistled for 32 fouls that led to 44 Oregon free-throws, 36 of which the Ducks made (all figures aided by late-game fouling). Early foul trouble, particularly for Starks and DSR, led to especially awkward lineups featuring Georgetown's uncertain small forward platoon.
In assessing tonight's game, it's worth keeping in mind that Oregon was a very specific team with very specific strengths and weaknesses. Few Hoya opponents will be as quick as the Ducks, and was able to exploit Georgetown's slow defensive rotations and to draw fouls that lead to easy points from the charity stripe. At the same time, Oregon was extremely thin up front, leading Smith to dominate the post all the more.
Coping with the loss of Otto Porter and the incorporation of a unique player like Smith will require a period of adjustment. While there were plenty of positives to take away from tonight, some worrying negatives--defensive rotations, outside shooting--will need to be addressed, and quickly. A deceptively tough opponent, Wright State, visits the Verizon Center for Georgetown's home opener in just five days.