Unlike in recent years, I don't have the sense that the upcoming basketball season is sneaking up on us. Instead, it actually feels like we've been waiting an eternity for the games to begin. Last year's team, by JTIII's admission, was disappointing. The Hoyas finished 15-18, good enough for eighth in the Big East, and failed to reach the postseason for the first time in Thompson's twelve years as head coach. We lost to Radford, Monmouth and UNC Asheville. And the disparate pieces of that team never really came together.
And while there's no need to dwell on last season's miseries, it's important not to forget the reasons for our poor play. Injuries aside (and I don't mean to dismiss the injuries lightly, because the ailments to Tre Campbell, Paul White, Bradley Hayes, and Akoy Agau certainly left us short-handed for much of the year), our struggles could often be chalked up to the same recurring issues: we fouled too much; we couldn't get to the foul line as often as our opponents; our defense was shoddy; we often looked slow and non-athletic; we deferred too often to DSR; our offense was stagnant; and we never seemed to adjust sufficiently to all of the rules changes.
But enough about last year. This year is different. JTIII has acknowledged mistakes, and has expressed cautious optimism heading into this season. Although DSR is gone, many familiar faces will return, and a handful of newcomers will arrive on the scene and should play significant minutes. The last six months have produced nothing short of a facelift to this program.
Quick highlights: JTIII hired two new assistants; we have a beautiful new practice facility; we received verbal commitments from Tremont Waters and Antwan Walker (Waters being the most highly rated point guard to come to the Hilltop since Chris Wright); we signed a JuCo transfer (Jonathan Mulmore), who finished second in the JuCo ranks in scoring last year, and a fifth-year senior (Rodney Pryor) who absolutely killed it in the Kenner League; freshman Jagan Mosely looks like he has a little Jabril in him; Jonathan Wallace is back (as an assistant to JTIII) and newbie George Muresan Jr. chose us over Syracuse (which has to count for something). Needless to say, a lot of things have happened. There is excitement in the air.
Before this season kicks off in grand style this Saturday at the Verizon Center, here is a look at the ten key questions that will determine just how far we can go....
Ten Key Questions
Will we stop fouling so much?
For the last few years, Georgetown has had one of the worst foul rates in the country. In previous seasons, it was easy for us to chalk up our fouling woes to individual players who just seemed to have a knack for fouling (Jabril, Mikael Hopkins, Josh Smith); but given how this pattern continued last season, I think it's fair to say there is more of a systemic issue at play. Whether there is some deficiency in our defensive sets, or we never implemented steps to account for the NCAA rules changes, it has become clear that we need to fix the way we play.
The good news is that JTIII has acknowledged this problem in recent interviews. For as much as people want to focus on our offensive droughts, it was our defense last season that really let us down. Too often, a speedy guard would get into the lane and draw contact from one of our help defenders. We would shrug and say "DSR is too slow" or "L.J. is too aggressive". But the reality is that we still rely on hand-checks too much, we haven't communicated as well, and yes, we often haven't had the right personnel to deal with teams that like to use high pick and rolls (read: most of them).
To JTIII's credit, he hired two new assistants and has said things will change on the defensive end. The combination of a new defensive philosophy, new coaching techniques, and more athletic players should keep our eyes from bleeding this season.
Will we do a better job of getting to the free throw line?
We better. For long stretches last season, our offense consisted of east-west movement rather than penetration and driving to the rim. As a result of the shorter shot clock, we often relied on last-second DSR heaves or step-back jumpers. Without DSR, we'll need more playmakers. And that doesn't need to be one guy; it can be increased contributions from everyone. But we're less likely to catch teams falling asleep. I don't mind Princeton-based offensive sets, but they certainly lead to less-than-ideal outcomes when Bradley Hayes is doing a spin move at the top of the key with four seconds left on the shot clock.
We need guards who can penetrate and get fouled. And we need big men who can catch the ball under the basket and get fouled. I think we'll have both types of players on this year's team.
Who will be our point guard, and does that even matter?
Sound familiar? This was a key question at the start of each of the last two seasons. And after another season of muddling through at the point, the answer to the latter question is pretty obvious: YES, WE NEED TO HAVE A POINT GUARD ON THE FLOOR.
We all know that JTIII prefers not to assign roles to his players; he just likes guys who can dribble, pass and shoot equally well. And I can dig that, except when it leads to slow and stagnant offensive output. Last season, we were dying for a go-to facilitator, someone (in addition to DSR) who could create off of the dribble and deliver the ball to low-post or wing players in favorable positions. The speed, the spacing and the passing were constantly missing from last year's squad. So I think it's pretty clear that, of all the changes we should expect this season, one of them is almost certainly that we will have a #1 on the floor at all times.
The good news for this year's crew is that we already have three true point guards on the squad: Jonathan Mulmore, Tre Campbell and Jagan Mosely. Mulmore, who has been described as the fastest Hoya since Ray Reed or Allen Iverson, is a speedy guard who can get into the lane and draw contact with ease. He's also a pretty good shooter. Tre, although a bit erratic last year, plays hard and has a decent perimeter shot; he just needs to work on his ability to penetrate and facilitate. Jagan is a tough-nosed defender who knows how to get to the rim, but still needs to work on his outside touch. For those of you who watched the Kenner games, you'll recall that the battles between Mulmore and Mosely (the "M and M" boys) were fun to watch; Mulmore had the edge, but Mosely never backed down. I think we'll see a lot of Mulmore in the early going.
Will Isaac Copeland be more consistent?
Isaac has been such a difficult player to assess. Last season, he scored 21 against Duke and 32 at Marquette, but made us shake our heads when he combined for 41 total points during an eight-game stretch in January. When Isaac is firing on all cylinders, he's a joy to watch. As perhaps the most complete player on last year's team, he excelled at doing a little bit of everything.
When he struggles, it's because he settles for jump shots (he only hit 27.2% of three-point attempts last year) or because he tries to create too much. Cope isn't a guy who can single-handedly take over a game; his shots have to come more naturally from the flow of the offense. And when he's not living up to his standards, he tends to get down on himself.
We need Copeland to be confident, but we also need him to realize that there are plenty of other guys on this year's team who can score. It's up to him to figure out how to find the right balance and help his mates find the best shots. Isaac will continue to be one of the most important members of this team, but he doesn't need to score 30 every night for us to be successful.
Will this be one of the deepest teams we've had in the JTIII era?
Yes. Even without Paul White, this should be the deepest team of the JTIII era. The Esherick-led team from 2000-2001 is probably the last squad with this much depth (and that team advanced to the Sweet 16, for what it's worth).
We legitimately have at least eight players who can start at one point or another this season. And we have four players who could end up as first or second team all-Big East players (Copeland, Peak, Pryor, Derrickson).
I'm ready for this season to begin.
Will our sophomores make the traditional sophomore leap?
As excited as I am to see what the newbies can do (Mulmore, Pryor, Mosely, Agau), I'm just as excited to see how our talented group of sophs performs. Kaleb, Marcus and Jessie should all be much better than they were last season, which is remarkable, because each was pretty good in his own right last year.
Let's start with Marcus. In his freshman campaign, Derrickson dazzled with solid defensive rebounding, a sweet perimeter stroke and a lovely 86.9% from the free throw line. By most accounts, this year Derrickson is stronger and ready to play for longer stretches of time. It remains to be seen whether Marcus has developed more of a mid-range game, and I'm of course curious to see how the infusion of new players and (hopefully) different offensive sets will impact his game. But Derrickson certainly has the potential to emerge as one of the best players in the conference.
For Jessie, we all know the talent is there. It just comes down to his strength, stamina and his post-up game. Last year, Govan hit a number of tantalizing three-pointers and contributed more than many expected, but his lack of conditioning reduced his ability to stay on the court and led to a number of soft fouls. This year, I'm excited to see what he can do underneath the basket. If he has any kind of back-to-the-basket presence, he'll improve his game tremendously.
And then there's Kaleb. A strong, if jumpy, defender, Kaleb showed flashes off the bench. He's a tough player and slasher who seems to have a nose for the ball. JTIII has already referred to him as our most improved player in the offseason and, with a smirk, added that he is "really, really, really, really good". And while we of course don't know whether that praise will translate into production, I think it's fair to say that KJ2K will receive a lot more playing time. If he does get more run, hopefully he improves upon his meager numbers from the free throw line (where he only connected on 26 of 50 throws last season).
Will JTIII make Georgetown great again?
Yes, because he knows that we are #stronger together.
Who will be in the starting lineup?
JTIII says it's not important, but inquiring minds want to know. We have eight guys who could find time as starters this season: Hayes, Govan, Copeland, Derrickson, Peak, Kaleb, Mulmore and Pryor. It's so hard to know who will receive minutes because it's still unclear whether JTIII intends to rely less on Princeton-inspired sets. He says he wants our guys to run more, but he's said that before. Early signs have been positive: during our scrimmage last week against Manhattan, there were rumblings that our offense was much more wide open and faster than we've come to expect.
No matter how much our offense smells like Princeton, though, I think JTIII is more likely to put "athletic" guys on the court. In the last two years, we've unfortunately favored LENGTH at the expense of speed and athleticism. That will clearly change. With Pryor, Mulmore, Mosely and Kaleb receiving action this season, our lineups should have the flexibility to run whenever possible.
That said, I find it hard to believe that JTIII will keep a big man out of the starting lineup (nor, necessarily, should he). So, for all the talk we've heard about Derrickson and Agau seeing time at the 5, I think that rotation will be limited to a few minutes here and there. Either Bradley or Jessie will be on the court most of the time. And even though Jessie is a more complete player than Hayes (he can hit threes and spread the court), I still think Bradley gets the edge because of his experience and ability to provide instant below-the-basket offense with his sky hooks and towering presence. This doesn't mean Hayes will start all year (and indeed, he won't, because he's ineligible for the first four games of the season), but I still expect ol' Rutherford to receive more starts than Govan.
In terms of the rest of our starters, I think it's fairly certain that Copeland, Peak and Pryor will be there. Those three are too good to keep off the court and will likely be our top three scorers. For all of last year's talk that Peak prefers to come off the bench, I think that theory is a bit overblown: L.J. will start.
After them, it basically comes down to Derrickson vs. Mulmore, and for reasons explained above, I like Mulmore's chances. Derrickson may turn out to be one of our more improved players and he should receive 25-30 minutes per game; but if JTIII insists on starting both a true center and point guard, someone gets left out, and I think it will be Marcus.
So that gives us Hayes, Copeland, Peak, Mulmore and Pryor. I like that lineup. And then Kaleb, Govan, and Derrickson as the first three off the bench. I like those subs. And then Tre, Agau, Mosely, Reggie and Mourning finding time every once in a while. I like those guys too. I think I love this team.
How good will Rodney Pryor be?
I'm not saying Rodney Pryor will pull a Michael Graham and take this team to the promised land in his only season on the Hilltop, but I'm also not saying he won't do that.
Did you watch Kenner action? Pryor is a beast. He's an athletic guy who can get to the basket, step back and hit jumpers and defend the hell out of whomever he's guarding. I think he has a chance to be a really, really special player. And that makes me happy.
Will we finally advance to the second weekend of the Tourney?
Flights to Phoenix are still pretty cheap. And like a phoenix, this year's Hoyas have the potential to rise from the ashes of last year's malodorous carcass of a season and make some noise in our nation's capital. See you fools in April.
And so it begins....
Let's go Hoyas. Beat USC Upstate.