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One Team Showed Up: UNC Asheville 79, Georgetown 73

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Defense, effort once again absent as Hoyas lose third non-conference home game to low-major opponent.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This is crap. Georgetown's defense is terrible. Its effort is non-existent. Its coach is clueless. And the results are showing as much.

After four straight mediocre finishes to otherwise convincing wins, the Hoyas have given up the winning part, losing their second straight home game Saturday to a low-major opponent. This time, the score was 79-73, the heretofore lightly regarded opponent was UNC Asheville. Otherwise, it was the same old crap, different day.

There are plenty of angles to explore here. The game itself was lousy, another display of Georgetown's messy, flatlining defense. The Hoyas haven't been able to stop anyone for a while.  They either don't contest jump shots or leap wildly at  shooters, leaving wide open three pointers in their wake. They bite hard on pump fakes inside and barely help from the weak side, leaving the lane and rim unattended. And they generally don't play with any regard for what the other defenders are doing, listlessly floating around the court instead of energetically playing as a whole. Only one Georgetown starter registers as even an average defender and that starter, LJ Peak, can't stop fouling. But even substandard defenders can be molded into a competent defensive unit by the right hands, and Georgetown's coach doesn't have those hands. (Hold that thought.)

And the defense is getting worse, way worse. For the past three games, Georgetown has yielded more than 81 points per game and more than 1 point per possession, marks that no competitive, let alone elite, team can sustain. The secret is out. Georgetown can't guard even mildly frisky ball-handlers and completely collapses once those guards get into the lane. Perimeter jump shots are wide open. The baseline becomes a freeway for cutters. Or the guards can just take it all the way to the hole, where there's no Hoya rim protector to deter them.

All of those problems can be kinda, sorta swept under the rug when the offense is firing on all cylinders. Almost every Hoya can score on a good day, and there were enough good days early in the season to make the Swiss-cheese defense justifiable, maybe even forgettable. But the last two days have been far from good. Despite failing miserably three times against a pack-line defense last year (against Xavier), Georgetown was utterly unprepared on offense when Monmouth rolled out the same defensive scheme Tuesday. And against Asheville, the Hoyas spent too much time working the ball to Bradley Hayes and not enough time actually setting their guards up to unlock the Bulldog defense by driving into the lane. With no penetration, perimeter jumpers were contested rather than open, and the Hoyas chucked their way to a miserable 4-of-22 performance from beyond the arc against Asheveille.

Guard play is by now a perennial weakness. Georgetown hasn't had a starting combo guard, let alone a true point guard, for two seasons. Its last actual point was Chris Wright, who left the program five seasons ago. The line from Wright to Jason Clark to Markel Starks to D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera to Tre Campbell isn't straight but it's also not trending in the right direction when it comes to ball-handling or penetration.

This year, there are other weaknesses as well, like rim protection, wing defense, and energy. Anyone who followed Georgetown for the past two seasons knew that Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins were the heart and soul of the Hoyas' defense. Coming off the bench, Aaron Bowen flew all over the court, dialing up the energy when Georgetown needed it. Each of those players was flawed, but they also each gave a damn. It's unclear who on this team, apart from Kaleb Johnson and maybe Reggie Cameron, fits that description.

But let's stop burying the lede here. The nature of college athletics is that personnel, strategy, and in-game execution all fall to one person.  At Georgetown, that person is John Thompson III. He is scuffling through his 12th, and perhaps worst, season in that role. At this point, JT3 has a substantial body of work, and, on balance, it's not good.

Thompson is an able recruiter, for the most part. He struggles to attract guards because he is hidebound to an antiquated offensive system that insists on an equal distribution of ball-handling and decision-making duties, regardless of whether the players involved are equally capable. He also struggles, as any Georgetown coach would, to attract players to a program with high academic standards, a small student body, a tepid alumni following that generally cannot manage to half-fill its soulless off-campus arena. His roster construction has left something to be desired, with some teams heavy on offense, while other teams have been heavy on long-armed athletes who can't scorer. But recruiting really isn't the issue, as JT3 has attracted and helped to develop top-tier talent over the past decade-plus.

The first real issue with the current coach is the Xs and Os. JT3 just is not a very good in-game coach. Georgetown enters each game with an extremely limited arsenal of options on both ends of the court and routinely fails to deploy the few alternatives it has until it's too late. For example, the Hoyas have a very deep roster that, as described above, is flawed defensively. A deep team could be used to play very hard defensively in spurts, with regular substitutions spelling guys on a frequent basis. That being the case, a press might seem like a logical defense. But just as in seasons past, Georgetown presses only as a last resort. When the Hoyas go zone, they're routinely loose and porous, rather than playing a tight, conservative scheme that might better mask their weaknesses. Mistakes aren't fixed, but repeat themselves time and again.

On offense, the Hoyas rarely run specific actions to get players open, even out of timeouts, or when those players are feeling it. On Saturday, JT3 called a timeout after an energetic, desperate Georgetown press caused a turnover. On an 8-2 mini-run, the Hoyas got the ball back with the chance to tie or even take the lead. Out of the timeout, Georgetown ran nothing but the basic Princeton high-post sequences it could run it its sleep. Predictably, the possession ended with a Hayes turnover.

Finally, JT3 almost never tries anything unorthodox. One of Georgetown's two centers, Hayes and Jessie Govan, is in the game at all times, despite virtually no evidence that either provides interior defense that is one of the main advantages of having a center.  These staid lineups remain the same even against opponents that can't punish Georgetown for going small and against those, like Monmouth and Asheville, that do punish the Hoyas for not going small. Ten games of crap defense into the season, there was zero downside to playing Trey Mourning or Marcus Derrickson at center, and yet Thompson never tried it.

The bottom line is that Thompson talks of having many ways to skin a cat or of playing positionless basketball, but his teams don't play that way.

The saddest thing is that these shortcomings are such old hat that no one even jokes about them anymore. There weren't any guffaws at Georgetown losing to Monmouth, or to Asheville, because that's what Georgetown has been doing for the past 9 seasons. Davidson, Ohio, VCU, Florida-Gulf Coast. They're all individually justifiable. Basically a road game featuring a future NBA MVP, a bad match-up, a frantic team that got really hot for a week or two, an underseeded opponent against an overachieving Georgetown squad. But they can't be justified in aggregate, and neither can the results of this season so far.

A second problem is arrogance. Georgetown has lost three games at home to inferior competition. But, even after the third loss, Thompson hasn't said, "this is my fault." Instead, he's blamed the players' poor play generally, their shot selection, and their defense. All true enough, but given how bad the results have been, isn't there something more? Why can't he simply say that he's responsible for the roster he assembled, for planning how that roster will win games, for instructing those players on how to carry out those plans? If JT3 thinks he deserves his status as one of he top-paid coaches in the country, he should act like it and take some responsibility.

A third, related problem is nepotism. The icon of the Georgetown program and one of its biggest fundraisers also happens to be the head coach's father. Sprinkle in the sons of other legends on the roster and bench and you've got a  warm, fuzzy, fun story when the Hoyas are winning games. It can even be helpful during rough patches to distract from, or at least blunt, criticism

But now it just looks like cronyism. How many other coaches would get away with failing, year after year, to assemble a roster that lacks even superficial positional balance? How many other coaches command a top-15 salary but can't make high-major adjustments in-game? How many other coaches would survive five NCAA tournament losses to double-digit seeds without making it to the Sweet Sixteen during the same period? How many other coaches would survive their university paying three opponents to come to town, only to lose to those opponents? Does anyone honestly believe that either John Thompson is remotely responsive to anyone else in the University?

This all stinks. Georgetown basketball is something that all of us love and hold dear. All of us spend way too much time caring about a ball going through the hoop. We care a little, perhaps a lot, less when the Hoyas aren't winning. But it is nearly impossible to care when your favorite team is losing and there is not and will be no accountability for that losing. (I actually considered, when the game was in doubt, whether I really wanted to Georgetown to win on Saturday. The answer was yes, but it wasn't reflexive.) Both Thompsons have been instrumental in the building and rebuilding of Georgetown basketball and have been wonderful ambassadors of the University. But any evidence that JT3 optimizes, or even does justice to, the rosters he assembles is increasingly hard to come by.

At 6-5, Georgetown has a lot of soul-searching to do. The players have to take it upon themselves to play with heart, with passion, and with pride. They have to buckle down defensively, staying at home on perimeter shooters, actively helping into the lane, and resisting the temptation of pump-fakes. They have to care more than they have for the past two games. They are talented and need to play like it.

The coaches have to start to think outside the box. Hayes's offensive repertoire is limited and will become far more so in conference play, where his size will be less of advantage. That size advantage reaches zero when he's 18 feet from the basket. At the same time, his defensive shortcomings will become more and more obvious as scouting tapes expose them. Govan may not be ready to be the primary center, in which case the Hoyas may have to consider smaller, offensively-oriented lineups that just try to outscore their opponents.

And the administration needs to think long and hard about how much embarrassment it can tolerate before a change is necessary.