I'm not ready for a new season to begin, but whatever, it's happening. This year's version of the Georgetown University Fighting Bulldogs may not have Jabril and Joshua, Comrade or Air Bow, but it certainly has a very juicy and talented mix of young and old, with a hungry DSR leading the way.
Last season provided its fair share of ups and downs. We finished second in the conference and avoided the usual loss to a double-digit seed in the Tourney, but the season still felt a little short of satisfying. In some respects, we overachieved with the random collection of guys we had, but in other respects we underachieved by not getting over the hump and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen or even the Big East Tourney final. This season, with a dominant DSR, a couple of sophomores making the leap, a few enticing freshmen and a nice mix of complementary players, we might just maybe, fingers crossed, etc., have a chance to be, dare I say, special?
Here are the key questions that will determine just how far we can go....
Ten Key Questions
Do we have enough depth in the frontcourt?
For better or worse, Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith are gone. Hopkins and Smith were often accused of being one-dimensional players: Hopkins was a solid defender and rebounder, but struggled on offense; Smith was a bully in the paint, but was too slow and lethargic on defense. But for all of their deficiencies, most notably one of the highest combined foul rates in the country, they held their own against other bigs in the Big East. Might we actually miss them this season? I guess it depends on the two guys replacing them....
The only two true big men on the roster this season are an unproven senior, Bradley Hayes, and a heralded but untested freshman, Jessie Govan.
B.J. Hayes, who's just asking to be nicknamed RUTHERFORD, is a bit of an enigma. He rarely saw the court in his first three years on the Hilltop until he was asked to step up as a reserve in the first round of last year's NCAA Tourney game against Eastern Washington. And he did...surprisingly well, actually. He ran the floor nicely, provided a spark on the offensive glass and made his free throws. But he's hardly a dependable big man; to be sure, he's a legitimate seven-footer and a veteran, but how much do we really know about Hayes? Will he take a Henry Sims-esque leap during his senior year? Or will he continue to be a project?
As for Govan, he might be the most heralded freshman big man since Greg Monroe. He's not nearly as hyped as Greg was (and really, he's more of a traditional post player), but he's still well-built and athletic, and at 6'-10'', he certainly has the height and size to bang with the bigs in the conference. Many have high expectations for the young fella, but until the ball is tipped on Saturday, we won't really have a sense of how he'll adjust to the pace and physicality of the college game.
Whether or not Rutherford and Jessie G. are ready to contribute on Day One, it doesn't really matter because they have no choice. While we have a bevy of long and athletic players, we only have two genuine big men; Akoy Agau was primed to be the third contributing big upon his return in late December, but he tore his ACL and will miss the season. So we're down to Hayes and Govan. One will start and one will sit, but both will play major minutes this season. Here's hoping they're ready.
Who will be our point guard, and does that even matter?
Sound familiar? This was a key question at the start of last season too. Would DSR handle the point, or would Tre Campbell step up and play the point and allow DSR to move over to his more natural shooting guard role? DSR started at the 1, but was a bit sluggish at the start of the season; his scoring was down and he found it difficult to get his shot off. Since Tre was still a bit unproven in the early part of the season, JTIII's solution was to use a bit more of Jabril at the point. The combination of Jabril (and eventually Tre) allowed DSR to move around and free up as a scorer. The plan worked, for the most part, even though it was never exactly pretty.
This year, we're in a similar predicament. We're thin at the guard spot, with only DSR, Tre and Peak (and perhaps a bit of Riyan Williams, if necessary) in the backcourt. So what will that mean for DSR? It seems clear that DSR and Peak will be on the court together, but will Tre join them in the starting rotation? If he does, won't we be a little too small? And if he doesn't, can we expect Peak to share the ball handling duties with DSR? My hunch is that Tre will come off the bench and DSR will begin the game at the point; we'll find out real fast whether that lineup negatively impacts DSR's production.
JTIII's response to all of this would likely be that he doesn't assign roles; he just has complete players who can dribble, pass and shoot. Yeah, we know. But if DSR's production begins to wane as he takes on a greater role as the lead point guard, we will almost certainly see a whole lot more of Tre. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does have implications for the rest of our lineup.
Which of this year's crop of freshmen will emerge as the best of the bunch?
This is a tricky question to answer. Govan was perhaps the most heralded of the recruits and, based on need and position, he will almost certainly have a big opportunity to showcase his skills on the court. But Kaleb Johnson, a 6'-6'' guard, is pretty talented himself; he arguably had the most impressive Kenner League performance of the three freshmen. He's a left-handed slasher who bounces around the court and can do a bit of everything: he's a good defender, he rebounds well for his size and he isn't afraid to shoot.
But there's also Marcus Derrickson. Derrickson, a 6'-7'' forward, was our leading scorer in Italy. He's built like a truck, rebounds well, and is probably the second best perimeter shooter on the team (behind DSR). Derrickson is now all the rave, and many folks seem to think he'll start at the 4. People are kind of excited to see what he can do.
Rather than quibbling over which of these three will emerge as the best of the group, a better question is whether two of these guys will become consistent scorers over the course of the season. All three will surely contribute this year, but if we're going to be any good this season, we need at least two of the freshmen to play solid minutes and serve as regular contributors. The opportunity will be there for all three, but who will step up?
Will our fouling woes continue?
A running theme in the last two seasons has been our inability to avoid the whistles. Jabril would pick up two quick hand-check fouls, Mikael would knock someone down and then feign bewilderment, and then Josh would set an illegal screen and quickly head to the bench. Smith and Hopkins, as I noted above, had two of the worst foul rates in the country last season; together, they must have had the highest foul rate of any frontcourt in the nation.
Was this a product of our defensive sets? Did we simply never adjust to the new rules? Or was it due to Joshua's girth and lack of agility? Or Mikael's lack of awareness? Whatever the case may be, we simply don't have the frontcourt depth to muck around with fouls this year. We need to play smarter down low.
How will we replace all of the veteran leadership?
Joshua, Mikael, Jabril, Aaron and Tyler are all gone. Whether you liked their play or not, they were seniors and fifth-year seniors with a helluva lot of experience. Their leadership won't be easy to replace.
So who will step up and carry the torch? DSR will clearly play that role, and maybe Hayes too, but I think we'll need our sophomores - Tre, Peak, Cope, Mourning and White - to play beyond their years. We have a lot of talent on this year's squad. But will this talent alone translate into leadership? Do we need a vocal leader? Or should we just assume that Patrick Ewing Jr. (a brand new member of the coaching staff!) will play that role?
Will this be one of the deepest teams we've had in the JTIII era?
Before Agau's injury, I think this might've been the deepest roster in the history of JTIII's tenure; without Agau, it's a close call. We should be as deep as last year's team, but perhaps a bit more talented. The usually modest JTIII has said that this year's squad should be really, really good, but much will depend on our ability to defend. Hopkins, Bowen and Trawick were probably our three best defenders last season. Without their tenacity, will the current roster display enough fire and passion on the defensive end?
And what will our overall athleticism mean for lineups and tactics? With our bevy of wings, will we finally press more often? Will we push the pace even more than we did last season? With a reduced time on the shot clock (30 seconds instead of the usual 35), will we be more inclined to find easy looks in transition or after steals?
What's interesting about this year's squad is that we're thin in the frontcourt and equally thin in the backcourt, and yet at the same time, we're fairly deep because we have so many long-armed gazelles on the roster. With Copeland, White, Kaleb, Derrickson and Mourning, we should have one of the more athletic teams of the JTIII era. Copeland and White have unique skill sets which should allow them to provide help in the backcourt or down low, as needed. The fact that we have a lot of moving pieces is a good thing; but we still don't know if all of these pieces can come together in a meaningful way.
Will Copeland and Peak make the sophomore leap?
Last year, Peak started off strong by scoring 20+ points in the season opener against St. Francis (N.Y.); but without a reliable jump shot, he faded as the season progressed until he magically re-emerged with a stellar showing against Utah in the Tourney. Everyone knows that Peak can find his way to the rim, but for him to take the next step he'll need to do two things: hit perimeter shots and play defense. If he can do both of these things, he should remain one of the more indispensable players on the team.
Copeland got off to a slow start last season until he found his groove midway through the year and then hit massive shots against Marquette and Butler. He worked his way into the starting lineup and finished the season as one of our top contributors. For Copeland to take the next step, he'll need to do a little bit of everything: passing, shooting, scoring, rebounding, and defending. There is no single glaring weakness in his game; we just need to see more consistency and leadership. He'll have no shortage of opportunities this season. Will he become Otto Porter 2.0 and have the kind of sophomore campaign that Otto did? Or is that just crazy talk?
Who will be in the starting lineup?
JTIII says it's not important, but inquiring minds want to know. DSR, Peak and Copeland are locks to start. And either Hayes or Govan will play down low (I think it will be Hayes at the start of the season, but Govan will receive more minutes as the season progresses.) But who will that last spot go to? Derrickson, Paul White or Tre? If it's Tre, we'll be a little small up front, with Peak playing the 3 and Copeland sliding to the 4. But if Derrickson or PW starts over Tre, then DSR would be all alone in bringing the ball up the court and spearheading the offense (which, as discussed above, could impact his offensive output).
My guess is that this lineup will change frequently over the first two months, but that our top eight guys are all basically starter-caliber players. Kaleb, Reggie, Riyan and Mourning will spell these top eight guys, as necessary, and if Kaleb looks good, he'll be the first of the Tier B players to break into the regular rotation.
If I had to predict a starting lineup for the Radford game, I'd go with DSR, Peak, Copeland, Derrickson and Hayes. Derrickson is too good to keep on the bench (and we could sure use his size and shooting ability) and Hayes's experience will give him the nod over Govan (at least at the start of the season).
How will we fare against our deliciously brutal non-conference opponents?
Maryland, Wisconsin, Duke or VCU, Syracuse, UConn. If we win all of these games, I will smile continuously for weeks and weeks...until the usual March Sadness happens. If we lose all of these games, I will light myself on fire and cry for weeks and weeks...until we win the whole damn thing in Houston. Either way, it's gonna be awesome.
Will we finally advance to the second weekend of the Tourney?
Flights to Houston are still pretty cheap. See you fools in April.
And so it begins....
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Radford.