Your sometimes mighty Georgetown Hoyas just concluded their most depressing stretch of the season, losing three out of four games and sliding from first place in the Big East to fourth and just a game ahead of a four-team peloton. The Hoyas have struggled offensively over the past two weeks, scoring at a rate that would rate dead last in the conference if they were to keep it up. They barely competed in two of the three losses, and gave away a double-digit lead at home in the third. Their early-season depth has eroded, and more than one of their vaunted freshmen have hit the rookie wall.
And yet, not all is lost. Georgetown has six games remaining in the regular season, will be heavily favored in its three home games, and will face two toss-up roadies, starting Tuesday at Seton Hall. The Hoyas probably frittered away their chance at a regular-season conference title over the past two weeks, but they could still well finish in second place and play their way into a high NCAA Tournament seed.
So what's gone wrong for the Hoyas, and why might things yet go right?
Things Have Been Bad.
- Georgetown's offense has cratered. Goodness gracious the Hoya attack has been bad. Georgetown has scored just 244 points in 262 possessions while facing a representative cross-section of the Big East's defenses (Villanova is 1st, Creighton is 10th, Providence and Xavier are 5th and 6th, respectively). During that stretch, the Hoyas have shot under 40 percent from the field twice, have turned the ball over 14+ times per game, and have eked out just 30 percent from three-point range.
- Big Man Who? Perhaps the biggest problem has been inside, where Joshua Smith has averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds over the past four games, down from 11.7 and 6.4, respectively, on the season. Smith's season-long numbers understate his importance, as teams have to plan for his post heft, often ignoring Georgetown's perimeter players to grapple with the big fella down low. But in the past two weeks, Smith has been riding the pine, averaging more than 4 fouls per game and playing about half of the minutes. Unsurprisingly, Mikael Hopkins has not produced with Smith on the bench, as the Comrade has averaged just 3.8 points on 6-13 shooting with just 4 assists against 9 turnovers. Diminished post offense has been one of the main reasons for Georgetown's offensive struggles.
- More depthiness than depth. Georgetown's supporting cast also hasn't been bringing it as much as early in the season. Paul White has struggled badly in conference play, and LJ Peak has put up occasionally decent numbers but only thanks to volume at the expense of efficiency. Isaac Copeland's surge leading up the Xavier game has tapered off, Tre Campbell's flashes of brilliance have been outweighed by stretches of anonymity, and Aaron Bowen's playing time and production have both dwindled. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera has mostly been good (until a no-show at Villanova) and Jabril Trawick has been solid, but on the whole Georgetown's offense has raised more questions than answers.
...But Not As Bad As You Think.
- The match-ups have been unfavorable. Georgetown's three losses came against two teams that can afford to single-cover Smith (Xavier, Providence) and a top-ten team playing in front of a packed home crowd that was out for blood (Villanova). The significance of the Villanova match-up does not need much explanation, although let's remember that Georgetown completed its series with the Wildcats at a sturdy +4 thanks to the Hoyas' 20-point blowout win in D.C. Xavier and Providence are perhaps the two best-equipped teams to defend Georgetown, and the results have borne out as much, as the Hoyas have scored a putrid 234 points over 263 possessions in four games against those two foes. Both the Musketeers and the Friars roll out large, deep front lines that can negate Smith's size in the post. When Smith fails to attract help defense, the Georgetown perimeter attack, already short on shooters and dynamic ball-handlers, becomes all the more starved for space. Defenders challenge Hoya guards and wings all the more, and Georgetown struggles to generate points except by drawing fouls.
- The losses haven't been as bad as they've felt. Ken Pomeroy's statistical database isn't gold, but it gives a loose narrative of the past two weeks. Georgetown entered the Xavier game 23rd in those rankings, dropped to 31st after that home loss, rose to 21st after the Creighton blowout, dropped to 23rd after losing to Providence, and then to 25th after the loss at Villanova. The Creighton win was as good as the Xavier loss was bad, and the dings against the Friars and Wildcats were not fun but also weren't disastrous. According to Pomeroy's model, the Hoyas still project to finish Big East play 11-7, down just a hair from their high-water forecast of 12-6. While KenPom's ratings provide the clearest arc I could find for the past few games, other ranking systems bear out that Georgetown hasn't fallen too far: as of Sunday night, the Hoyas were 23rd in Jeff Sagarin's ratings; 23rd in RPI; and 23rd on Joe Lunardi's S-Curve.
...And Things Could Get Better.
- The schedule is favorable. Georgetown's remaining foes are just about .500 in conference (counting St. John's and Seton Hall twice). Seton Hall has lost 5 of 7, DePaul has dropped 4 of 5, and St. John's remains mired below .500 in conference play during a typically tumultuous season in Lavinwood.
- The defenses should be worse. More specific to the Hoyas' recent issues, their remaining opponents rank 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 9th in defensive efficiency, suggesting that Georgetown's offense should find a bit more breathing room (the Butler trip excepted). Those foes also should be a bit worse inside. For example, Tuesday's opponent, Seton Hall, boasts no starter over 6'9", 225 pounds, doesn't block shots, doesn't protect the offensive glass especially well, and is worst in the conference at defending within the arc. St. John's and DePaul profile pretty similarly, meaning Georgetown's big men could be in for a run of bounce-back games.
- The remaining teams don't draw a ton of fouls. Georgetown tops the conference in drawing fouls (FTA/FGA). 3 of the next 4 opponents are Xavier, Providence, and Villanova--that is, the teams the Hoyas have recently lost to in part because of Smith's foul trouble. Aside from Butler, the Hoyas' remaining opponents are somewhat below average at drawing fouls, perhaps meaning more time on the court for Smith against smaller front lines.
- The games could be up-and-down, if Georgetown wants to go that way. The Hoyas' remaining opponents rank 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 7th in pace in conference play (and, delving really deep, 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 9th in the length of opponents' possessions). Faster pace and quicker possessions usually indicate more open-court play, which generally has been good for Georgetown's sometimes anemic offense and has been especially good for the Hoyas' supporting cast.
- There will be plenty of time to heal and plan. The Big East builds in two off-dates, so that each team plays its 18 league games over 10 weeks. Georgetown has proven disinclined to schedule non-conference foes during those open dates, and this season is no different. Both of those open dates are upcoming for the Hoyas, who will have a bit of extra time to lick any wounds and fine-tune any game-planning (this happens, right?).
Conclusion. Listen, I'm not going to pretend that I'm reserving first-class seats on the Delusion Train. At present, I can't hear callers on my cell phone thanks to using it as a projectile late in the Providence loss. I didn't even bother writing a damn recap for the Villanova blowout. The past two weeks have been terrible and terribly unfun.
But they also somewhat snuck up on us. Coming into the season, it wasn't clear which teams would be immediately chasing Villanova at the top of the conference standings, and as a result, we couldn't quite tell which stretches of the schedule would be toughest. It's clear now that the Hoyas just completed a pretty challenging two-week stretch. Providence and Xavier are better than average Big East teams, and opponents that match up particularly well with this iteration of the Hoyas.
Those losses are on the books, and there's nothing that can be done about them now. They tighten the math for Georgetown a bit, as season sweeps of both Seton Hall and St. John's now look more important than they might have if the Hoyas had managed even a split with Providence. Recent trips to Seton Hall haven't been kind, St. John's has the sort of manic energy that can burn any opponent in any game, DePaul beat Georgetown in the last 12 months, and the road trip to Butler doesn't look promising.
Still, there's good reason to think that the Hoyas can right the ship. Only the trip to Butler looms as a particularly likely loss, and the Hoyas' other opponents are facing even bigger issues. Each (save for Butler) is weak inside, where the Hoyas have made their offensive hay this season. But Georgetown has to turn it around right away, starting with Tuesday's trip to Seton Hall.