ESPN / USA Today: N/A
A Series of Random Thoughts
It's been five weeks since I've penned one of these missives, so there are more than a few things on my mind. Here goes...
Is it just me, or has this year's slate of nonconference games been significantly more painful, disheartening and uninteresting than usual? The combination of a weakened Big East, a rebuilding Georgetown team, frustrating NCAA rules changes, The Problem of Greg, multiple week-long recesses in between games, Fox Sports robots and junior varsity announcing, and the absence of any realistic hope of the Hoyas landing in the top ten, have led to a preseason of lethargy and cynicism. But will it ever end? Let's take a closer look at some of these issues...
The Big Least
Call me Roberta, but I can't get overly excited about this new beast of a conference. Marquette has been dreadful, Creighton and Xavier are underwhelming, Georgetown just doesn't have the horses this year, Butler has been decent, but uninspiring, St. John's is talented but lacks leadership, Providence is very good at beating Yale, DePaul is playing like DePaul, and Seton Hall is also playing like DePaul, which is to say they are terrible, but at least they have excuses: injuries and the loss of key players to the Israeli army (true story). Villanova has been the lone bright - the Wildcats are currently the only members of this killer conference residing in the Top 25.
Having said all of that, the Big East somehow has the nation's fourth-best conference RPI, which means the Big East is performing slightly better overall than that silly North Carolina-based conference that Syracuse and Pitt recently joined. So there's that. Imagine where we'd be if Marquette actually won a few games, or if Georgetown didn't lose to Northeastern, or if Seton Hall didn't lose to Fairleigh Dickinson AND St. Peter's.
With very little to celebrate (at least thru mid-December) about the new Big East, I find myself rooting against everyone else. Every ACC team, for obvious reasons, every Top 25 team, because I'm jealous, and Mick Cronin, just for laughs. Rooting against Duke has always been fun, but only when paired with unabashed cheering for Georgetown and the Big East (sans Syracuse, obvi). Rooting against the ACC this year just feels like I am hating on every single game on ESPN, and sometimes even the sport of college basketball itself. Fortunately, when Duke plays Syracuse this year, my head won't explode because I'll choose to watch something more entertaining instead, like a Shark Tank rerun, Home Alone 2, or the latest innovative show about fish tank competitions (which really exist!).
To summarize: I want the Big East to be better. I want Georgetown to be better. I hate Syracuse and the ACC. If some of you are feeling bitter or disillusioned with this season's epic march to glory, it probably boils down to one simple truth: Syracuse is (so far) better than Georgetown this year, and that's terrible.
(Side note: I love how the "AAC" always comes before the "ACC" alphabetically. Whether intentional or not, it makes me laugh every time I peruse a list of conferences. What I DON'T like is having to spend an extra minute looking up Georgetown box scores when Georgetown is outside the Top 25.)
The Problem of Greg
I'll be honest. Greg Whittington was one of my favorite players on the team, and I'm sad that he's gone. His only appearances for the Hoyas in the Year 2013 were as memorable as they were depressing: the loss at Marquette, in which he missed the final of three free throws that could have tied the game with three seconds to go, and our most one-sided loss of the season, a 28-point shellacking by a Pittsburgh team that we may never play again. And now, under mysterious circumstances, he is gone. From Cool Whitt to Dim Whitt, Greg dazzled us with his LENGTH and UPSIDE, but never quite followed through with everything in between. Pity, because even during his absence last season, the ever-present hope that he would one day return allowed our fervent basketball-crazed imaginations to run wild. Even after tearing his ACL, we couldn't help ourselves from wondering whether Greg would return for the stretch run in February, just in time to join our incredible journey to greatness.
I will miss you, Greg Whittington. Good luck at Rutgers. For almost a year, I've been imploring the masses to "Free Greg Whittington." As it turned out, no one could free you from yourself. (If I were into emoticons, this is where I'd insert a frowny face.)
A few haikus, in your honor, before we part ways and say adieu:
Cool Whitt has great length
He plays tremendous defense
I miss his brown suit
Greg's torn ACL
And that damn flash mob final
Made me very sad
Cool Whitt and Comrade
Would make for lousy partners
On radio shows
Greg's leaving us now
But he'll surely dominate
Scoring More, Defending Less
In this early 2013-14 season, your Georgetown Hoyas have scored 80+ points five times. Last year's Hoyas scored 80+ points a grand total of three times ALL SEASON.
In this early 2013-14 season, your Georgetown Hoyas have allowed their opponents to score 70+ points four times. Last year's Hoyas allowed their opponents to score 70+ points five times ALL SEASON.
Those Silly Fouls
It is still entirely unclear to me why the NCAA Rules Committee felt the need to update its rules on hand-checking and charges. Was there ever a problem? If so, was the problem insufficient scoring? Or had the game become too physical? Aside from Jay Bilas making his views known, who was clamoring for these new rules? And yes, Jay, I'm aware that technically there weren't any "new" rules, and that the "points of emphasis" were simply moved to the section that includes the rules. Regardless of whether we're calling these rules "new", they have impacted the game in a meaningful way. Whether or not they will ultimately help to improve the game is an open question, and we may not know for sure until the end of this season or several years from now. I remain hopeful, but pessimistic.
If, like me, you happened to watch any of that UNC-Texas clash on Wednesday night, you might agree that the "new" college basketball is pretty lousy to watch. There were 55 fouls, 80 free throws, absolutely zero defense, and rosters full of young guys. It was like watching a pick-up game with real referees. It was miserable. Now, this may have more to do with the fact that both UNC and Texas are young and undisciplined teams that play zero defense and are awful to watch. I don't know.
(Side note: I've always been agnostic about the NBA's "one and done" rule compelling superstars to go to college for at least one season. My view has always been that kids who don't want to go to college shouldn't be forced to do so. John Calipari probably feels otherwise. But of course, it's kind of nice to see these talented young guys play in college. After watching the early returns of this season, though, my sense is that the college product has become more about potential and lottery picks and Chad Ford's projections and ESPN's shameless promotion of its NBA product, and less about the college teams themselves. And that's a bad thing.)
I guess we'll have to wait and see how the fouls affect Georgetown in the next few months. Against Oregon, the fouls were a major issue. And for players like Jabril, who love to be aggressive and jab opponents, they will need to adjust. Big East refs have typically allowed for a more physical game in the last several years, but when Big East teams like Georgetown and Pittsburgh have entered the Tourney, non-Big East refs have called the games a little differently, leading to increased fouls and worse results. The silver lining, then, is maybe more consistent refereeing throughout the country will mean more consistent and familiar refereeing in the Tournament, which means one of three things: (a) Georgetown will be used to ticky-tack fouls by the time it enters the Tourney; (b) Georgetown's defensive schemes will be so overwhelmed by the new rules that it will fail to make the Tourney; or (c) Georgetown will adjust to the new rules, shake off these first few weeks, and be in a much better position to dominate in March.
Fox Sports 1
Please just give us Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery already, dammit. It was nice to hear their familiar voices during the Syracuse-STJ game. Less satisfying to watch St. John's lose at the end. I'm tired of listening to people like Dick Stockton and Gary Williams. Actually, "confused" might be a better word. Every time I hear Stockton's sweet words, I feel like Moose Johnston and Tony Siragusa will interject with something about Tony Romo. Can we at least get Erin Andrews to do sideline reports? If Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are planning to announce the Georgetown-Marquette game, I will light myself on fire. More Raftery. More Gus. Ronnie Thompson is acceptable because he dresses well and I always think he will share some insider information that he's not supposed to reveal.
Also, if Fox is going to give us a bunch of white guys doing halftime studio reports (why hello, Austin Croshere), can they at least put the damn studio in New York? You're covering the Big East, fellas. Why is the studio in LA?
Nicknames - WWF Edition
Speaking of insider information, Ronnie Thompson mentioned this lovely little tidbit: Big John Thompson often refers to Joshua Smith as THE UNDERTAKER because when he catches the ball in the post he just buries people. And this got me thinking....
Plenty of our guys have nicknames. Cool Whitt. Comrade. Thundersnow. Broad Street Brilly. Some of these nicknames stick; others don't ("Little" Markel never made any sense). Regardless of what the players think about these nicknames, we fans need them. They make us excited, give us something to ponder, and are just plain silly. Joshua Smith, in particular, CRAVES a nickname (he craves many other things too). Many have tried, but has anyone succeeded? Here are some of the contenders that have been tossed around in the last two months: Smithquake, Don't Call me "Josh", The Washington Monument, The Joshington Monument, J Smoove, "Ua", Sweets Part Deux.
If we go with Pops and roll with THE UNDERTAKER, then we will of course need WWF monikers for everyone else on the team. First, let me say that "The Undertaker" MIGHT work for Joshua Smith, but Earthquake or Typhoon or Yokozuna or even Andre the Giant make a helluva lot more sense. MABEL would be perfect. But whatever. Here's what I'm thinking for the rest. Markel Starks is Mr. Perfect or Ric Flair (big smile, winning personality). Stephen Domingo is "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka (Spanish last name!). Moses Ayegba is either Kamala (gigantic African dude) or the British Bulldog (British accent!). (Side note: Kamala is actually a guy from Mississippi named James Harris. The whole racist dimension to Kamala's shtik was lost on me as a little kid.) John Caprio is OBVIOUSLY Hacksaw Jim Duggan. DSR is Sean Michaels (long-range threat). Comrade Hopkins is definitely Nikolay Volkov (big and Russian). Jabril is Big Bad Leroy Brown (very physical, very likeable, causes trouble). David Allen is, well, David Allen (random white dude who faces superstar wrestler). Aaron Bowen is "El Matador" Tito Santana (his wild dunks are equivalent to THE FLYING JALAPENO). Nate Lubick is the Big Boss Man. Bradley Hayes is The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase (no idea why). Tyler Adams is Bret "Hitman" Hart (heart issues / Hart Foundation). Reggie Cameron is Virgil (I'm running out of steam).
Early Season Success: Good or Bad?
For all the griping people do about JTIII's inability to win in March, they rarely acknowledge how successful he's been in November and December. I love the fact that we have a realistic chance of being one of the top ten teams in the country every year, and I love the fact that our teams consistently get better as the season progresses, until they implode in March. Yeah, it stinks to feel miserable in March and April, but it doesn't feel all that better to be miserable in November and December either. Those early season victories are the ones that build hope and cause us to feel cautiously optimistic and sometimes even delusional. Without those early season victories, we have no hope whatsoever, and call me crazy, but that's even worse than losing in the first weekend of the Tourney. It's that feeling of hope that makes us excited and keeps us going. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things....and you get it. Is it better to be hopeful and then crash and burn in March, or to be bitter and hopeless, only to shock the world in March? I don't know and I don't care. I just want to win.
P.S. We're still undefeated this season in the United States of America, which is where the rest of our games should be played this year, unless ESPN does something nefarious again.
So Yeah, that Northeastern Loss
I'm just going to go ahead and say that our loss to Northeastern was the worst REGULAR SEASON loss of the JTIII era. Northeastern isn't good. Since beating us up in the second half of that miserable game, Northeastern has gone on to lose six in a row. Seton Hall's loss to St. Peter's and our loss to Northeastern are the Big East's two worst losses of the season (RPI-wise). Our RPI is #72. That loss will haunt us for the rest of the season. Until we lose to DePaul.
The Missing Three
We don't have a serviceable small forward. Greg Whittington was supposed to be that guy. And if we had Greg at the 3 spot, we'd be a completely different team, and probably pretty nasty. But alas, Jabril is too short, Reggie and Stevie D. are too green, and Air Bowen is too erratic. We're running out of options. I guess we could try to use a super big lineup, with a frontcourt of Lubick, Hopkins and Smith, but then we might be too slow. Still might be worth a try.
The other problem is that we don't have a very strong zone buster. Otto was the best zone buster in the world because he was such a triple threat from the foul line. Nate can pass from the foul line, but doesn't have a good enough jump shot and he's too slow. Hopkins needs to make better decisions. In my view, King Mabel needs to be the one who catches the ball at the foul line (a la Sweets) and goes to work. But he needs to avoid foul trouble and work a little more on that foul line jumper. We'll see. In related news...
Feed the Beast
Joshua Smith is a grown ass man. He likes to eat. FEED HIM THE BALL. He's hungry. Give the big fella what he wants and let him go to work. Call him the Undertaker or Mabel or Smithquake or a Monument, whatever. Just give him the damn ball.
Preview of Saturday's Game - Georgetown at Kansas (Saturday, 12pm)
Your Georgetown University Fighting Bulldogs put an end to their lethargic string of games against cupcakes by taking their talents to Lawrence, Kansas for an epic battle against the Jayhawks. Kansas, which uses four freshmen and a sophomore in its regular lineup, is looking for more consistent play from its inexperienced team. After an early victory against Duke, Kansas has lost three games to the only other ranked teams it has faced: Villanova, Colorado and Florida. Keep in mind, however, that the Jayhawks now return to the friendly confines of Allen Field House, where they NEVER lose to non-conference opponents.
To win national championships in the modern era, you basically need two NBA-caliber players. Kansas has two lottery picks. Andrew Wiggins, a 6'8'' wing, and Joel Embiid, a 7'0'' center, have more upside than the entire Fox Sports 1 broadcast team. Wiggins (15.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is Kansas's leading scorer. He's a decent outside shooter, but he's much more of a threat in transition or when he catches the ball down low. Embiid (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) shoots a ridiculous 66% from the field because he typically only catches the ball very close to the basket. If you haven't seen Embiid play yet, get ready to be impressed. He's a legitimate seven-footer who is athletic and a lot more polished than people expected him to be. He already leads the team with 24 blocks. It will be tough for our guards to shoot over Wiggins and Embiid.
Perhaps the Jayhawks' most important player is 6'8'' sophomore Perry Ellis. The well-dressed Mr. Ellis (14.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) does a little of everything. He defends very well, he's a decent passer, he leads the team in rebounds, and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He may not have the upside of Wiggins or Embiid, but he definitely has a chance to be a pro.
In the backcourt, the Jayhawks have two little guys and an improving combo guard. At the point is 5'11'' junior Naadir Tharpe (6.2 ppg, 5.1 apg). Tharpe is lightning quick and easily gets into the lane, but is definitely more of a distributor than a jump shooter, although he does shoot threes from time to time. Frank Mason, a 5'11'' freshman, is a solid scorer (8.2 ppg) and distributor (2.5 apg). He's tough to guard and makes frequent trips to the line, but he isn't a very good shooter. Wayne Selden, a 6'5'' combo guard, is another freshman with potential, but for now, he's a little erratic. He's athletic and rebounds well, but he still turns the ball over too often and struggles to hit jump shots and free throws.
It's also worth noting that Kansas now has Tarik Black, a 6'9'' senior transfer from Memphis. If Embiid or Ellis gets into foul trouble, Black is not a bad option off the bench. Also pay attention to a 6'7'' freshman named Brannen Greene. He's the Jayhawks' most consistent perimeter scorer off the bench.
Keys to the Game:
1. Force Perimeter Shots: Kansas struggles to hit three-pointers (31.8%). The Jayhawks are at their best when they run up and down the court, score in transition and feed the ball inside to the three-headed monster that is Wiggins, Embiid and Ellis (quite possibly the best frontcourt in the country). Expect Georgetown to go with a 2-3 zone in this one. Without the requisite Whittington-esque length on the perimeter, it may not go very well. Let's just hope Kansas misses those open looks.
2. Limiting Offensive Rebounds: Kansas will miss shots. But will Georgetown collect enough defensive rebounds against the likes of Wiggins, Embiid, Selden, Ellis and Black? We'll obviously need Nate, Hop and the Joshington Monument to box out, but the rebounding edge may come down to the guards. Can DSR (4.6 rpg), Markel and Jabril provide rebounding support against Kansas's shorter guards? That's something to watch.
3. Paging Jabril Trawick: In the words of Cris Carter: "Jabril Trawick, where you at?" We all love Jabril, but I want to love him for more than his aggressiveness. If he's going to start, he needs to be more assertive on offense. To his credit, he has been patient and isn't trying to force his shot. But if we're going places this year, he needs to do more. We always complain that the new hand-checking rules hurt Jabril more than anyone else, but guess what? The new rules also HELP Jabril more than anyone else. Sure, his defensive intensity may be a liability if there is a quick whistle, but on the offensive end, Jabril can be the bulldog he's always wanted to be. The increased frequency of hand check calls and decrease in the number of offensive fouls offer incentives for players who like to drive to the basket and draw contact. The most likely guy to put his head down and go straight to the goal is Jabril. That was his game in high school and that's still the way he sometimes likes to play in the Kenner League. Put your head down and attack, young man. Play smart, but be more aggressive. In related news, what happened to Jabril's jump shot? It's never been amazing, but c'mon man. He's made ONE THREE ALL SEASON. You don't need to shoot more than two or three a game, but if the shot's there, please take it. MORE JABRIL.
4. Feed the Beast: Big Man "Ua" is shooting 70.8% from the floor! Keep feeding him! Kansas has a big team, but the Jayhawk bigs are young and skinny. It's time to take it right to them and show ‘em who the real lottery pick is. I want Joshua to play hungry. I want him to WANT the ball. And I want him to tear down those weak ass rims.
5. Zone Busters: Kansas is sure to throw a zone at us. Who will break the zone and who will hit threes? Those are the two most important questions. I really want to see Joshua Smith do more work from the foul line. He should be the target, with his wide body and big hands. He should catch the ball and find open shooters. If Smith is supposed to be the great passer that many of us expected, then why does he only have seven assists ALL SEASON? Feed the big man and let him do his thing. When he's not dunking, he should be finding wide open guards on the perimeter or Nate Lubick and Comrade Hopkins down low. Let's see it come together.
This has been the most uninspiring, humdrum "preseason" I can remember in quite a long time. And yet, we're an experienced team, or at least we're not as young or inexperienced as the Kansas squad we'll be facing. But still, it feels as though we're massive underdogs, and we basically are.
If the Hoyas are trying to make up for that Northeastern loss, rejuvenate the fan base, and get us all ready for the exciting start of Big East play, the best way to do all of that is to head down to Lawrence and shock the world. Ignore Kansas's inexperience and its three early losses. Those losses came on the road or in the Bahamas. Teams do not win at Allen Field House. They just don't. You want to send a statement and finally start to receive some votes in national polls? Go down to Kansas and do the damn thing. Joshua and Jabril - it's time.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Kansas.