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Games That Matter - Season Preview

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Season Preview - The 2014-15 Georgetown Hoyas

Last season was a blur - a sad and terrible, frustrating and miserable few months of basketball.  We were so bad that we couldn't play our all-too-familiar role of the overachieving regular season team that crashes out early in the Tournament.  In fact, we didn't even make the Tournament (the one that counts, anyway).  Injuries, suspensions, hand-check rules, poor academics, adjusting to life without Otto, broken jaws, silly fouls, and a whole host of other little annoyances contributed to one of the more forgettable seasons of the last decade.  Markel, predictably, was the lone bright spot, as he capped off a solid career with an impressive senior campaign.  And DSR emerged as Georgetown's best scorer and one of the better players in the conference.  There was never any time for the usual cycle of delusion and self-loathing to commence last season, because really, we just weren't very good.

The silver lining: last season confirmed, at least for some of us, that it's better to have a happy run of regular season dominance with an earlier-than-expected flame-out in the Tourney, than to just be mediocre throughout the season.  I like my Georgetown teams to inspire hope throughout the season, even if my hopes and dreams are later shattered by Florida Gulf Coast alley-oops.  It makes the mid-March sadness that much more painful, and the Hoya-masochism that much more enjoyable.

On that cheery note, it's time for a new season....

Ten Key Questions

Who will be our point guard, and does that even matter?

Markel Starks has been our ringleader for the last few seasons.  He was an effective ball handler, he set the tempo fairly well, he rarely committed turnovers, and he didn't meet a press he couldn't break.  He was clearly the leader of the team.  Now that he's gone, who will replace him at the point?  JTIII hates assigning positions to his players; as we all know by now, he just likes having basketball players who can dribble, pass and shoot.  Thanks.  But the reality is that we need a guy who can bring the ball up the court - we need a new Braswell, Wallace, Wright or Starks.

The obvious contenders for this role are DSR and Jabril.  Fine choices, but neither guy is a true point guard.  If DSR takes over the lead role, will that reduce his effectiveness as our top scorer?  Will he tire out more quickly and find it more difficult to get shots?  If Jabril takes over at the point, will his ball handling skills be good enough?  Will he get rattled too easily?

This is a problem that, I think, is not getting enough attention in the preseason.  We trust DSR and Jabril to make plays, but we've never actually seen how they perform as point guards.  The sleeper choice to take over the point is 6'-2'' freshman Tre Campbell, whose speed and defense have really impressed JTIII in the last few weeks.  As much as I hope Tre becomes the man, I just don't see him receiving more than a few minutes per game.  He's way too skinny, he'll need to adjust to the speed of the college game, and our backcourt is just a bit too crowded.  We'll see what happens, but this is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Will we stop committing silly fouls?

I hate the new hand-check rules, which Jay Bilas will tell you aren't really new rules.  Whatever.  Our game against Oregon last season was Foul-Fest 3000.  It was brutal to watch.  Our game against VCU might have been even worse.  At first, I was mad at the NCAA for changing the damn rules.  But as the season progressed, I became more and more upset at our players and our staff.  Jabril, please stop picking up two fouls in the first five minutes of every damn game.  Comrade, please spare us that bewildered look on your face when you muscle an interior player and pick up yet another foul.  I'm tired of the nickel-dimers.  Last year was basically one big and terrible nickel-dimer of a season.  If we're gonna foul a guy, foul him.  If not, just be smarter.

Will Josh(ua) Smith stay on the court this season?

I'm keeping my expectations as low as possible because the Josh(ua) Smith script has been written many times already.  Either he's too fat or his grades aren't good enough or his defense is lousy or HE'S AN UNSTOPPABLE LOW-POST BEAST THAT WILL BE A LOTTERY PICK.  By most accounts, the Joshington Monument is looking trim (he lost thirty pounds), gentle (he had a job selling women's footwear at Nordstrom's in the offseason), and most importantly, eligible (his grades are in good shape).  As I mentioned at the start of last season, when Smith is on, he looks like the Mike Sweetney who was a lottery pick; but when Smith is off, he looks like the Mike Sweetney who played in Puerto Rico.

Last season, he was our third-leading scorer and showed flashes of his dominance, particularly in games against Oregon and VCU.  But he also looked lethargic and passive at the start of conference play.  Maybe this was the result of his being winded after playing for two months, or maybe the academics were really getting to him; either way, if we want this team to be more than just a "good" team, we need him to be on the court.  I want him to tear down a basket at some point this season.  And I want to hear the sweet, sweet utterings of William Raftery when he does it.  Send it in, big fella.  Send it in.

By the way, in case you missed it, last week Bill Raftery decided to trademark two of his better lines: "onions!" and "with a kiss" (http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/11822247/bill-raftery-files-onions-kiss-trademarks).  Most interesting tidbit: "onions" doesn't actually mean "so pretty that it makes you cry".  According to Bill, it means "big balls".

Will Mikael Hopkins be better than expected this year?

Yes, I think so.  Comrade Hopkins has been playing out of position for most of his career, but that's not his fault.  If Josh(ua) can stay on the court this season, Hop will slide over to the more natural power forward slot, and he should be much more productive.  Look, I'm not suggesting he will be a first-team all-Big East player, but he's a senior who has a lot of experience, he's athletic, and when he's not committing atrocious fouls, he's a more than serviceable big man.  With Smith at the 5 and Hop at the 4, I kind of like our paint presence.

And really, if Russia can invade Ukraine and start asserting itself as a faux superpower, why can't Comrade do the same?  He's just been baiting us all these years.  He's about to slip on a green military-grade uniform, pick up an AK-47, hop into an armored vehicle, and invade the shit out of Crimea.  When his reign of terror on the Big East is over, the vodka will be flowing like the Volga River.

How good will L.J. Peak really be?

I'm starting to feel a little giddy about the second coming of Grand-ma-ma (hyphens included for emphasis).  L.J. Peak, a 6'-5'' freshman from Gaffney, South Carolina, has the potential to be really, really, really, ridiculously good.  He was a scoring machine during Kenner League games, he's built like a man (no offense to the other freshmen), he's a damn good rebounder for his size, and he loves to attack the rim.  While his outside shooting still needs a little work, and he's not going to bring the ball up the court for us, he has a very good chance to be DSR's partner in crime in the backcourt.  I'm really excited to watch this kid play.  After committing to the Hilltop, Peak came out and said "I think I'll be a star player".  Here's hoping that happens.

Who will be the leader of this team?

Kind of a boring question, I know.  But with Markel and Nate no longer on the court, we need someone to step up.  Could be DSR (through his actions on the court).  Could be Jabril (he's the most vocal of the seniors).  Could be Aaron Bowen.  Most likely, it will be some combination of all of these guys.  And don't forget about Tyler Adams.  I love his energy on the bench almost as much as I love his towel-waving and his sweet sartorial color schemes.

Will Reggie Cameron make the sophomore jump?

I doubt it, but I hope he does.  The 6'-7'' sophomore from Hackensack had an up-and-down season last year.  After being thrust into the lineup following a slew of injuries and suspensions, Cameron never really got going last season.  He couldn't hit the outside jumper with any consistency and he was often a step too slow on the defensive end.  With an offseason behind him, he has learned the offense and hit the weight room.  If he can provide 10-15 minutes off the bench and be an effective sharpshooter, I'll take it.  We don't need Reggie to be a star, but we do need him to give us some quality minutes this year.

Will this freshmen class rival the Class of 2008?

I mean, it's tough to compare these guys to Jeff and Roy and Jonathan and Tyler.  But let's be clear: the expectations for these five freshmen: L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland, Tre Campbell, Paul White and Trey Mourning are pretty frigging high.  I've already mentioned Peak, but he may not even be the crown jewel of this class.  That honor could belong to Isaac Copeland, a 6'-9'' forward from Raleigh, who (correctly) committed to Georgetown after we beat the shit out of Syracuse in the last and greatest Big East conference regular season game of all time.  Copeland is smooth.  He's lean and athletic, he's an effective distributor and ball handler, and he's just got that Otto/Jeff feel to his game.  He's still way too skinny, so he may get pushed around a bit, but I like Ike, and I think America will too.

I don't expect Paul White and Mourning to get a whole lot of run this year.  Some people disagree.  Paul White is talented and versatile, so he could spell our big men for a few minutes each game, but I still think he's a little too raw.  And Mourning isn't as good as his dad was, but that's okay.  Pat Ewing Jr. wasn't as good as his dad either, but he was still a warrior for the Hoyas and went on to reach the Final Four, win the college slam dunk contest, and play in the NBA.  Not bad for a sixth man.  Trey will be just fine for us, even if he's not averaging 30 blocks per game.

Will DSR be the best player in the Big East this year?

Yes, unless L.J. Peak is better.  There, I said it.

Did we just become best friends?

Yup.

Preview of Friday Night's Game:

The Hoyas kick off the 2014-15 epic march to glory with a game against the barking terriers of St. Francis College (Brooklyn).  The preseason favorite to win the Northeast Conference, St. Francis actually returns a solid core of players from a team that hung around with the likes of Syracuse last season.  (Side note: Syracuse, a university with a college basketball team in southern Canada, is a former member of the Big East conference.  Despite the school's geographic proximity to snow and terribleness, it is currently a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, based in North Carolina.  Syracuse is being investigated for a series of academic and drug-related violations that have occurred over the last decade, including for certain offenses that occurred as recently as 2013, when James Southerland was permitted to play despite his failing grades.  Syracuse's head curmudgeon, James Magoo Boeheim, has argued that none of these alleged violations matter because the current players on his team have not done anything wrong.  In the coming weeks, one of two things will happen: (a) Syracuse will vacate many, many games, including its 2003 national championship and its 2012 run to the Final Four, or (b) Syracuse's violations will be swept under the rug by ESPN.  My money is on (b).)

St. Francis has a few solid players, although it will no longer have its second and third leading scorers from last season (they graduated).  Jalen Cannon, a 6'-6'' senior, averaged almost 15 points and eight rebounds per game last season.  He's built like a truck and he can do a bit of everything.  Brent Jones, a 5'-10'' point guard, is a solid distributor.  He averaged over six assists per game last year, but it will be a real challenge for him to get into the lane against Jabril and DSR.  Amdy Fall is probably the Terriers' best big man, but he's only 6'-6'', so it'll be tough for him to push around our bigs.  St. Francis also has a guy named Gunnar Olaffson on the team.  He's from Iceland.

Keys to the Game:

1. Shutting Down Cannon: St. Francis is no slouch, but it will be tough for the Terriers to compete if Cannon has a bad game.  I expect Jabril to get the defensive assignment.  Barring two quick fouls in the first five minutes, I expect Jabril to do his thing against Cannon and make his life a living hell.  If the Hoyas can take Cannon out of his comfort zone, this game will be a hell of a lot easier to manage.

2. Will L.J. Peak?: I want to see this kid play.  So I will.  I will watch him.  We should be able to calibrate our expectations once we determine how well Peak plays.  He's the freshman most likely to contribute meaningful minutes on Saturday.  I expect to see at least one four-point play.

3. Perimeter Shooting: Other than DSR, do we have any guys who can hit perimeter shots on a consistent basis?  Jabril's shot has improved each season, but what about other players?  Can Bowen or Cameron hit outside shots?  It's not necessarily a factor for this game, but it will be very important for our much-anticipated trip to Nassau.  I want to see someone other than DSR hit shots from beyond the arc.

4. Feed the Big Men: I mean, this is a no-brainer.  The Terriers' tallest player is 6'-7''.  They are small and scrappy.  Josh(ua) Smith is neither small nor scrappy.  He's a grown ass man.  On Saturday at noon, he will be hungry.  Feed him the damn ball and let him eat.

5. The Freshmen: Who will play?  For how long will they play?  How effective will they be?  We can guess, but until Saturday at noon, we just won't know for sure.  So many freshmen, so much excitement, so much uncertainty. I miss college.

I'm ready for a new season to begin.  This year's version of the Georgetown University Fighting Bulldogs may not have Cool Whitt or the Congressman, but it certainly has a very enticing mix of veteran players and promising young ‘uns.  Last season was a train wreck.  This season, with a dominant DSR, a slimmed-down Josh(ua), a special freshman or two, and a mean as hell Jabril, we might just be the freight train.

And so it begins.

Let's go Hoyas.  Beat St. Francis.