With tip-off against Florida just two days away, many Hoya fans have unanswered questions about the season ahead. As with last season, there's going to be heavy roster turnover this year. The departures of Jason Clark, Henry Sims, and Hollis Thompson leave a number of questions to be answered by this year's team. Here's one fan's questions, along with some possible answers.
Have more questions? Answers? Sound off below.
Question: outside shooting? With Thompson (one of the Hoyas' all-time leading long-range snipers) and Clark (36 career 3FG%) gone, wither the three-pointers this year?
All but one of JTIII's teams at Georgetown have returned at least one 40-percent three-point shooter from the season before ('09-'10 is the exception, and that team had Austin Freeman). This year, there's no similar Hoya with history of sniping.
But after looking at things a bit more closely, replacing the departed players' shooting shouldn't be quite as difficult as it appears. First, Clark made just 32 percent of his treys last year, while Hollywood's stroke cooled as the season wore on (likely because of injury). Combined, the two made about 37 percent of their three-point attempts, not much better than Markel Starks (36.7 3FG%) and Greg Whittington (35.7 3FG%).
Second, it's likely that one or more of the young guns will improve from last year. Whittington in particular figures to improve his season-long percentage: after some early-season jitters, he shot 44 percent from three in conference and postseason play last year (and 56% over his last 10 games). Also primed for a bump up is Otto Porter, who showed some off-season signs of improvement on his iffy 22.6% mark.
Finally, two newcomers have shown promise from long range: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who at least looked the part of a three-point threat in Kenner League, and sniper Stephen Domingo, the 17-year-old freshman who may need a bit more time to adjust to the physicality of Big East play.
Question: post defense? Sims was a revelation on defense last year, maneuvering pick-and-rolls, anchoring the zone, and protecting the rim. Who will anchor the defense this year?
Of all the questions I have about this year's squad, this one looms the largest. Sims' individual statistics, taken in isolation, can be matched by his replacements: sophomore big man Mikael Hopkins, who is slated to start Friday night, blocked a higher percentage of shots than Sims last year, while both Porter and Nate Lubick nabbed a similar percentage of defensive rebounds.
But that only tells part of the story. Unlike Sims, Hopkins was a poor defensive rebounder last year, an area in which the Hoyas otherwise thrived. And Sims was an excellent positional defender who helped form the spine of a Hoya defense that limited open looks all season long. Hopkins is mobile and long enough to fill the role, but can he master the changing defensive tactics that characterized last year's squad?
And what about Moses Ayegba, who because of injury, eligibility issues, and general inexperience hasn't seen many meaningful minutes in his first two years? Or Bradley Hayes, the promising but raw freshman center?
For a team that defined itself by defense last year, there's a hole in the middle that must be filled.
Well, post defense was my biggest worry. But who's to carry on the political ambitions of the men's basketball team? Will it be Jabril Trawick, as a feisty Rahm Emanuel-like bare knuckles political operative? Or John Caprio, who will capitalize on the goodwill Hoya fans extend him by virtue of his appearance only in one-sided Hoya wins? For a dark horse, try the freshman Domingo, whose bio says that he "Enjoys public speaking" and "Finished third in his school's freshman and sophomore speech contests." Yes we can!
Question: ball-handling? Clark gradually took over ball-handling duties last year from Starks. Who gets the rock this year?
Ball-handling was a serious problem last year: the Hoyas, turnover-prone throughout the JTIII era, gave up a higher percentage of steals than any other Big East team in conference play. Clark committed more turnovers than Starks but not more frequently, accounting for Clark's heavier ball-handling responsibilities.
It seems most likely that turnovers will remain high, and that JTIII will continue a ball-handling by committee approach this year. The announcement of Hopkins as the starting center suggests an ultra-big starting lineup that also includes Starks, Whittington, Porter, and Lubick. None besides Starks qualifies as a ball-handler, though Porter and Whittington have length to see over the top of most presses that might come the Hoyas' way.
The ball-handling difficulties of the starting five may be ameliorated by the presumed sixth man Trawick and DSR, who figures to be in the rotation as well. Either player's ability to handle point guard duties may earn him extra minutes going forward.
Question: post offense? With Sims's departure, who will be wheeling and dealing in the post?
Replacing Sims on offense figures to be much easier than on defense. First, let's recall that Sims was no great shakes, particularly on offense, until his senior year, when his assist percentage jumped from 16.4 to 27.3 and his scoring spiked (as his shooting percentages dipped). Without specifically pointing to Sims, JTIII has touched on the same subject in various preseason interviews I'm too lazy to look up, saying that players learn the various reads and openings afforded by the Georgetown offense over time.
So, it's not unreasonable expect that another player could make a developmental leap similar to Sims's, particularly given how young the roster was last year. One such possibility is Lubick, who, even in a somewhat disappointing season, showed deft passing touch, with an assist percentage that climbed to 21.9 in the second half of last season (appropriately, given that, in case you hadn't heard, he's a coach's son). Other candidates include Porter, who could grow into a point forward role, or Hopkins could become a reasonable replacement for Sims.
Question: tactical changes? Last year, we saw far more 2-3 zone than any previous season in the JTIII era. What new wrinkles are in store this year?
Hard to tell. The last two years have seen the Hoyas use more press, although more to delay opponents' advance up the floor than to force turnovers. Will JTIII, armed with a long, lanky, wing-heavy rotation, unleash the hounds full court? It seems to be on many a Hoya fan's off-season wish-list, but I would count it as surprising. The Hoyas' length seems equally well-suited to half-court zones and switching match-up zones that characterized last year's squad.
On offense, I expect to see greater emphasis on two aspects of the Hoyas' offense. First, Porter likely will get the ball in the high post, where he'll have room to hoist his lethal mid-range jumper, find spot-up shooters or cutters, or dump the ball into the low post. Second, I wonder whether we won't see more sets designed to open up the occasional drive for Trawick and DSR, two guards who excel off the bounce. While JTIII doesn't center many offensive sets on dribble drives, the strengths of those guards in that department may force his hand.
Question: leading scorer? The Hoyas lost their three leading scorers from last season's team. Who steps up?
Clearly, the overwhelming favorite is Porter, who is the team's leading returning scorer and has been the subject of lots of preseason hype, including selection to the preseason All-Big East First Team.
However, it's worth drawing a distinction between scoring and usage. Clark and Sims both scored a lot while also using the ball a lot. Last year, Porter was the team's fourth leading scorer but used the ball very little. Porter definitely will get the ball a lot more this year, but don't be surprised to see Starks with a sizable usage and scoring bump as well. Finally, with his length, athleticism, and shooting range, Whittington probably has the greatest potential leap: if he continues to gain offensive comfort and confidence at the rate he did last season, Hoya fans can expect more than occasional scoring bursts from Whit.
Question: WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
This season feels much like the last. There is a ton of production to replace on both ends of the floor. This year's team has uncertain leadership, but Clark, Sims, and Thompson were less than clear leaders heading into last season. The biggest variables seem to be whether two Hoyas in addition to Porter can step forward as reliable scorers, and whether Georgetown can retain its staunch defense in the absence of Sims. I feel more confident in answering yes to the first question than to the second.
The schedule will test the Hoyas early. Much like last year's trip to Maui, Friday's game against Florida followed by non-conference tilts against UCLA, Tennessee, Texas, and perhaps even top-ranked Indiana will toughen up JTIII's bunch before the new year. Tuning to the conference slate, aside from the consensus conference favorite Louisville, the Big East seems wide open, and may present a good opportunity for a young Hoya bunch to realize their potential. I could see Georgetown finishing anywhere from second to seventh, with, say, fourth place and a 12-6 finish, as an appropriate middle ground.
The post-season, as last season again revealed, is anyone's guess. Last season and, more specifically, the NCAA match-up against Belmont, felt critical for JTIII's legacy. The early tournament exits had started to pile up, and the natives were growing restless. This year, the forecast seems fairly similar, if less dire. A Sweet Sixteen doesn't seem out of the question, but will depend largely on seeding and match-ups.
Regardless of tournament result, a few things seem clear. This year's team again will be a young bunch with plenty to prove. There's a likeable star with several intriguing supporting players, and the potential for good chemistry carried over from last season. High-profile match-ups and traditional rivalries highlight the schedule. There will be at least a dash of cynicism, but also plenty of delusion. I'm ready for tip-off...how about you?