We often hear from JTIII that he doesn't recruit based on "position". He wants all of his players to be heady guys who demonstrate an ability to dribble, pass and shoot. His commitment to a Princeton-influenced motion offense requires smart kids and, most importantly, skilled big men. In the last few months, JTIII has been roundly criticized (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) for the team's performance through mid-February during a more or less failed season. (To be clear, I am not one of those rabble rousers who believes JTIII should be canned; I'm much more interested in exploring how we ended up this way and how to fix things moving forward.) For all of JTIII's perceived shortcomings as a coach , one of the most consequential has been a recruiting philosophy that too often leaves us with mismatched jigsaw puzzle pieces.
First things first, JTIII is a good recruiter. We've gotten our fair share of players over the years, and not just the nationally acclaimed guys (Greg Monroe, Vernon Macklin), but also local talent (Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Jason Clark, Julian Vaughn, Tre Campbell), and even guys who flew a little under the radar (Jonathan Wallace, Henry Sims, Jabril Trawick, even Otto Porter). So my concern is not with the caliber of recruits we are getting, but the lack of balance. Frequently, we recruit too many guys to the same position, or we recruit guys that don't necessarily make sense given the makeup of our roster, or we recruit guys who don't meet JTIII's high bar for skilled post players.
Look at the best teams of the JTIII era (2006-07, 2007-08, 2009-10). They were undeniably talented, but they also had a lot of balance. The composition of those rosters made sense; not coincidentally, they were also the (only?) years we had both a skilled center and reliable point guard. In the JTIII era, we have had our fair share of skilled big men, but we've only had four reliable point guards (Cook, Wallace, Wright and Starks). Most teams have at least one, maybe two, true point guards on the roster EVERY YEAR, but we have only had four in 11 years. When we don't have reliable point guards, we have guys playing out of position (Jason Clark, DSR, Jabril Trawick) who try to fill the void. These guys have all been Georgetown greats, but they are not point guards, and they were far more effective when they weren't asked to be facilitators.
If the lack of a point guard were the only problem, it would be one thing; but down low, we have also had our fair share of problems. In short, we run an offense that requires skilled big men (e.g. guys at least 6'-9''who can dribble, pass and shoot at high levels); in the JTIII era, we've only had five of those guys (Hibbert, Green, Monroe, Sims, Porter). When we don't have skilled big men, our offense stalls. We end up with guys like Joshua Smith, Mikael Hopkins, or Bradley Hayes at the top of the key, doing dribble handoffs and looking for cutters, without ever considering driving the ball to the hoop or taking a shot. If I'm being honest, Green and Porter should be excluded from the list of "skilled big men" because they were never asked to anchor the middle. Their length and skill sets certainly allowed them to step into the role of great passing big men, but if we narrow this list to guys who were true centers, that leaves us with three: Hibbert, Monroe and Sims.
And that's a bit disturbing. Our offense requires skilled centers, but we've really only had three; and yet, our offensive sets have never really changed despite our obvious personnel limitations. (This is not intended to be a knock on guys like Smith or Hopkins, by the way. Smith was a good passer, but he couldn't really dribble or shoot. Hopkins was a great defender and rebounder, but he couldn't penetrate or shoot. Both were solid contributors, but neither was a prototypical big man for JTIII's system. Hopkins was misused; he was a true 4. DaJuan Summers was also misused in his final two seasons; he was playing out of position at the 4, when in reality, he was a true 3.)
So where does that leave us? In JTIII's 11 years on the Hilltop, we have had exactly four reliable point guards and three skilled centers. During seasons in which we had BOTH a reliable point guard and a skilled center, we've been really good or great (2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2009-10). The 2008-09 campaign is an outlier and our inconsistency that season remains a mystery to us all (but if the rumors are to be believed, there were legitimate chemistry issues on that roster). During seasons in which we had a true point guard, but not a skilled center, we've been either mediocre (2004-05, 2013-14), pretty good (2010-11, 2011-12) or surprisingly good (2012-13). If the 2008-09 season was a negative outlier (because of our atrocious defense), the 2012-13 season was a positive outlier (because of our exceptional defense, even after Whittington's suspension). (Note: For purposes of this exercise, I'll discount the 2004-05 season (JTIII's first) because as a freshman, Hibbert wasn't exactly as "skilled" as he would later become (and, in any event, centers probably have the steepest learning curve given our system)).
In the last two seasons of JTIII's reign, we haven't had a single reliable point guard or "complete" center on our roster. Last year, we were decent, but not great (thanks to the number of seniors on our roster). This year, we have shown flashes, but have been mediocre (thanks to the number of freshmen and sophomores on our roster). Since Henry Sims's graduation, we simply haven't had a serviceable replacement at the center position. Joshua Smith, when on the court, was a back-to-the basket player who, while a decent enough passer, was not skilled enough to provide the sort of dribbling and shooting that are required of centers in our system. Hopkins was a great defender and rebounder, but he wasn't skilled enough to be the point forward we needed. Lubick, despite being a solid rebounder and passer, lacked the outside touch to fill the void created by the absence of a skilled center. And this year, Bradley Hayes, while a nice story, lacks the passing skills, finesse and outside touch that JTIII usually expects from his centers.
At the point guard position, the lack of Tre Campbell's development has undoubtedly hurt us. And I don't mean to single him out here (he has likely been impacted by some lingering health concerns and he's still very young), but he has not been the type of ball handler or facilitator that this year's team so desperately needs. His lack of production has caused DSR to either play out of position or opt for hero ball.
Bottom line: This season, the combination of an inexperienced roster, along with the absence of a reliable point guard AND a skilled center, has led to JTIII's most underachieving campaign since coming to Georgetown. We have a lot of talent, but not the right pieces.
So how do we fix this? I guess we should recruit more point guards and more skilled centers.
Why is this so difficult? Because sometimes guys transfer or they are bad fits or they get injured. Vernon Macklin left after two seasons. Some might argue that he wasn't enough of a "fit" for JTIII's system; others might say that he was about to start flourishing once Hibbert was gone. The void left by Macklin was filled by Julian Vaughn (who was serviceable, but by no means great). More recently, the Tyler Adams situation (his heart condition) also put us in a rough spot. Again, some might argue that Adams, although talented as a rebounder and defender, would have also lacked the sort of finesse that JTIII looks for in his centers; but really, we'll never know. The void left by Adams was filled by Joshua Smith, with mixed results. We were very close to getting Daniel Ochefu in the Class of 2016, but his decision not to join the Hoyas hindered our team's development and catapulted Villanova in ways that have left us uneasy and upset ever since.
So, now what? I think there are three things to take away from all of this: (1) as long as JTIII maintains an unwavering commitment to our current style of play, we need to focus more on recruiting reliable point guards and skilled centers; (2) in cases of recruiting "misses", injuries or natural attrition, we need to take advantage of the increasingly liberal transfer rules (i.e. the fact that we never lured a true point guard from the pool of graduate transfers last offseason is terrible); and (3) during seasons in which we lack either a true point guard or skilled center, or both, we need to adjust our style of play accordingly.
If we don't do these things, we will continue to have teams with mismatched pieces; lots of talent at certain positions, but underwhelming or inconsistent results.
Most of this may seem obvious, but some of it is hopefully not. Whatever. It's mid-February, it's freezing outside, the season is more or less lost, and this blog needs content.