The weather's getting chilly, the sun is lower in the sky, and midnight madness is just around the corner. We're just five weeks and ticking until Georgetown plays a real, live basketball game. And yet we don't know much about this year's team. Three seniors are gone, including last season's offensive focal point and a four-year starter. The arrival of five freshmen and reintroduction of one massive piece means that even the returning Hoyas may find themselves in different roles. So what do we know, what don't we know, what excites and concerns us about the season ahead?
Rotation (in order of seniority): Jabril Trawick, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Tre Campbell, L.J. Peak.
What we know: Smith-Rivera will be the focal point. DSR's sophomore season was an across-the-board improvement on his freshman campaign. Whether you prefer traditional or advanced stats, or the simple eye test, year two brought jumps in Smith-Rivera's shooting, passing, ball-handling, rebounding, even as he drew more attention from opposing defenses. With Markel Starks gone, DSR will see ever more of the action, and it's reasonable to expect him to lead the team in scoring again while assuming more of the play-making responsibilities.
What we don't know: Who else will step up? At its nadir, last season's offense devolved into alternating actions to free Starks and Smith-Rivera with no real third option. Eligible-again Joshua Smith should provide Georgetown with plenty of offense in the post, but who else is a threat to score? Trawick had a solid finishing kick to last season, averaging double figures and finding his outside stroke after returning from injury. Can he sustain that progress? After an impressive performance in Kenner League, can Peak be the same dynamic, attacking scorer when the games matter? Can Campbell play some point immediately, allowing more off-ball action to free up Smith-Rivera?
Excitement: scoring. This is the first season since 2010-11 that Georgetown returns its leading scorer, and DSR's return alone means the back-court will have plenty of fire power. Smith-Rivera gets buckets, drilling from long distance, dicing defenders up with herky-jerky drives, and powering his way to the line. If he improves even a little bit, he'll have the best scoring season under JT3. I'm also bullish that Trawick (who is bullish in his own way) will build on late last season, and a good Trawick can rock the rim, slash through contact, and spot up for an increasingly reliable three-pointer. Finally, Peak might eventually become Georgetown's first made-for-twitter star, producing ALL CAPS DOT GIF HIGHLIGHTS.
Concern: traditional point guard skills. Campbell is the only point guard of this foursome, and it's unclear if any them is ready to play that role full-time this year. In addition to being the leading scorer, Smith-Rivera also leads returning Hoyas in assists (and steals, three-point percentage and, ahem, rebounds). But there are limits on how much one player can contribute. Trawick has improved his ball-handling bit by bit, and may be prepared for a greater role in that regard. Campbell may be able to step in to shift Smith-Rivera off the ball.
Rotation: Aaron Bowen, Reggie Cameron, Isaac Copeland, Paul White
What we know: relief has arrived. As recently as January 2013, JT3 rolled out a lineup featuring future lottery pick Otto Porter and promising pro prospect Greg Whittington. Ten months later, his options at small forward were a repurposed guard (Trawick), a role player (Bowen), a freshman who projected as a specialist (Cameron), and a John Caprio (Caprio). Highly regarded Isaac Copeland and Paul White change that picture, providing more depth at both forward positions.
What we don't know: who is ready to contribute now? Despite added playing time, Bowen and Cameron both looked a lot more like role players last year than heavy-minutes, reliable contributors. Each has a specific attribute (Bowen: athleticism, energy; Cameron: shooting) that can be valuable in the right context but also can be outweighed by serious limitations (Bowen: shooting, ball-handling; Cameron: speed, strength). So are the freshmen ready to step up immediately? Copeland's pedigree certainly suggests as much, but the jump from high school can be a tough one.
Strength: versatility. One year after having almost no options, JT3 seems to have plenty. Copeland and White have enough skills and size to drag larger defenders away from the basket or finish over smaller ones inside. Copeland and Bowen can extend the Hoya defense and, on offense, get out on the break. White's passing skills and mid-range jumper should make him a zone-buster, and Cameron still has time to establish a role as a deadly shooter.
Concern: defense. This is as much a question about the bigs discussed later on as it is a question about the forwards. After two years of elite defense, the Hoyas regressed badly last season. They fouled at a crippling rate for such a thin rotation, struggled to limit second chances, and generally failed to keep opponents out of the lane. Those problems were shared by the whole roster, but improvement may have to come from the wings. Peak, White, and Copeland all should contribute to some improvement, as should the departure of two foul-prone bigs. On the other hand, freshmen often take a while to learn the ropes defensively, and the forwards will have to help cover for the defensively incapable Smith whenever he's in the game.
Rotation: Joshua Smith, Mikael Hopkins, Bradley Hayes, Trey Mourning
What we know: it can't get worse. Entering last season, Georgetown featured a four-man big-man rotation full of upperclassmen. Smith was the only really dominant player, but Nate Lubick had progressed in his junior season, Mikael Hopkins still had length, athleticism, and the possibility that he might improve with experience, and Moses Ayegba had shown flashes as a defender and rebounder against other bangers. But far from a strength, the bigs turned into a liability. Smith didn't crack the books and so was suspended academically, Lubick lost faith in his ability to score and, eventually, pass, and Ayegba couldn't stop fouling long enough to stay on the court. Hopkins actually made a half-step forward, especially on the boards, but that minor progress was from an incredibly low sophomore-year bar.
Expecting an improvement down low doesn't require much optimism. Whatever his limitations on defense and on the boards, Smith is such an offensive force in the post that defenses bend and break around him. Hopkins is far from ideal but became a willing rebounder in year three. Also, because of off-season personnel changes, Hopkins likely will spend more time as the only true big on the court, making his limited offensive arsenal less of a hindrance. Subbing Hopkins for Smith also will free up the lane for penetrating Hoya guards who like to get into the middle of the defense.
What we don't know: can we really trust any of these guys? Smith washed out at UCLA (under admittedly awful circumstances), failed academically last year, and has never been the model of fitness. He is a bad defender, to put it mildly, and hauled in very few rebounds despite his size. Hopkins has been passable as a role player but remains very flawed. On offense, he tries to do too much but produces too little (last season, he had more games with 2 or fewer points than games in double figures). On defense, he's mobile, a decent shot-blocker, and okay rebounder, but he still fouls way too much and is prone to getting out-muscled down low. Hayes is a more theoretical than known quantity, and Mourning appears to be at least a year away from possibly contributing as a stretch-four.
Strength: whatever Smith gives us. Smith can be an all-consuming offensive force for about half of any game he plays. It's unclear whether he can keep that up against full-sized opponents (5 points apiece against Kansas, DePaul, and St. John's) and at this point it's not a given that he'll be on the court, period. Still, he gives a different look to a Hoya squad that might otherwise rely too heavily on Smith-Rivera's scoring chops, and he forces opposing defenses to adjust heavily whenever he's in the game.
Concern: consistent production. This is pretty well covered above: Smith has never been consistent, Hopkins has made some progress but not enough to be reliable, and there's no evidence that Hayes or Mourning can contribute regularly. The glass-half-full view is two-fold. Neither Smith nor Hopkins is an atrocity, just limited in his own particular ways. Also, the Hoya schedule isn't exactly awash with low-post wreckers: Kansas's Cliff Alexander will be a handful and Xavier's Matt Stainbrook and his goggles will be annoying, but the Hoya big men should be fine against most opponents' front lines.
Overall, there's plenty of reason to start shoveling coal into the delusion train. The freshmen are going to be fun, the guards should be able to score, and there's no way it'll be worse than last year's dreary slog (which, somehow, almost resulted in an NCAA bid). Post and point guard play are still fairly unknown, but this team is both deeper and more talented than either of its two predecessors. I can't wait to see them on the court.