Well, this thing is still on. Georgetown pulled off another less-than-fully-reassuring win over DePaul Saturday, this time 74-63. The Hoyas overcame a comatose opening to run away in the second half, pushing the pace defensively and attacking the basket on offense. LJ Peak and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera each tallied 17 points to lead the Hoyas, while freshman center Jessie Govan went for 12 points, marking his third straight game in double figures.
You might remember the first half of Saturday's win from The Monmouth Massacre, the Asheville Apocalypse, or the Charlotte Shrug. Georgetown's offense accomplished little early against DePaul, settling for one deep three-pointer after another. The Hoyas often went through entire possessions without working the ball to the baseline or into the paint, instead hoisting up a jumper from two or more steps beyond the arc. For the day, Georgetown jacked 31 three-point attempts, making just 11, figures that reflect resignation more than the execution of a particular strategy. Were it not for 11 first-half points from Peak (whose knuckle balls from 3 found their way into the hoop), the Hoyas could have been in a very deep hole. As it was, Georgetown improbably trailed by just 2 at the break.
After half, Georgetown turned up the pace. The Hoyas extended full-court pressure, a smart move against a DePaul team that struggles with ball-handling, and forced 18 turnovers as a result. The press is still a work in progress, and the Hoyas may not be able to reliably accomplish with it other than shaving a few more seconds off the shot clock. But the Blue Demons were a shaky enough opponent that Georgetown could work out the kinks in the press while still holding the fort defensively.
The Hoyas also were more aggressive, if not necessarily faster, on offense. After a pair of made threes put Georgetown ahead, Govan went to work inside. A defensive lapse on the inside led to an easy dunk, then a side pick-and-roll with Smith-Rivera yielded an up-and-under lay-up for the freshman center. Later, Govan stepped outside for a now customary three-pointer, his fifth straight make from beyond the arc. Govan's ability to shoot, fluidly move with or without the ball, and developing post game increasingly look like a key to unlocking driving lanes and open jumpers for the rest of the Georgetown offense. Off the dribble and in the post, Georgetown got the ball into the paint, getting easy buckets and drawing fouls that fueled 32 Georgetown free throws on the day.
The second-half picture wasn't entirely rosy. Georgetown still settled for far too many perimeter jumpers from somewhere in Virginia. The Hoyas' full-court defense often left them scrambling in the half court, leading to a string of fouls and 16 made DePaul free throws after the half. If it weren't for four free-throws gifted as the result of a pair of technical fouls on DePaul coach Dave Leitao, Georgetown could have been staring at a nail-biter down the stretch.
Still, the win was Georgetown's third double-digit victory in four Big East games, a solid start even against an easy schedule. The diet of lesser Big East brethren continues Wednesday, when the Hoyas travel to New York to face a rebuilding St. John's team. A win there would put Georgetown at 4-1 in conference, which seems at odds with the middling and inconsistent on-court product.
It's hard accepting diminished expectations. Many of us thought entering the season that Georgetown was a top-20 team, perhaps even top-15 if things went right. We didn't realize how bad the spine of the Hoya defense would be--that Georgetown wouldn't be able to guard either the ball-handler or the big in a typical pick-and-roll. I discounted the value of ball-handlers offensively, naively figuring that the Hoyas' various scoring options would create space for one another even if there wasn't a dynamic point guard to set them up. The collective lack of energy and athleticism was hard to see by just surveying the roster, and I don't think any of us predicted that the sophomore class would only make modest, if any, progress from the year before. There also have been coaching missteps along the way, as we've discussed ad nauseum. All of those weaknesses revealed themselves almost from the season tip-off, but it took a while to acknowledge them, let alone to adjust our view of the season ahead.
With half the season now in the books, it's a bit easier to take, and perhaps even accept, a new outlook. This team likely isn't going to the NCAA Tournament. Those early resume-tarnishing losses to low-majors probably foreclose an at-large bid, and may even relegate Georgetown below .500 at season's end and therefore out of the NIT. The Hoyas have backed away from the abyss of those upsets, but haven't scaled to the heights of preseason expectations. There are some prospects for improvement as the season goes on, but the Hoyas' track record doesn't suggest that any progress will be dramatic.
Which isn't to say it's all bad. Govan is coming into his own during conference play, averaging double figures in scoring and getting his feet under him on defense. After being moved out of the starting lineup, Peak has rediscovered himself as an offensive spark-plug. Despite a quiet 20 minutes Saturday, Marcus Derrickson has had his moments, and will continue to develop into a match-up problem. Smith-Rivera has struggled with his shot but, after 8 assists against DePaul, is averaging the most assists of any Georgetown player since Chris Wright. Apart from DSR and Bradley Hayes, everyone should be back next season.
And it's only January freaking 9th. There have been so many downs and even a few ups in this season that it's hard to remember that the back half of it still remains. Whatever its limitations, Georgetown is still a talented squad, and may yet find both the right form and the right lineup combinations to pull off an extended winning streak. Who knows what will happen over the next two months?