Film Room: The Georgetown Offense and Hope for Change

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The offense is changing. It has changed over the years but there is reason to believe it might really change now. JTIII has only gone as far as saying that team will play ‘faster’, but what has been said to recruits and reiterated (Chris Lykes) to the public says a bit more. And according to a source, the word privately to staff and players is that it's not just faster, but different. It appears we will see more motion with greater space and pace. Georgetown just completed it’s fastest paced season in the JTIII era - a pace of 69.1 and a possession length on average of 17.3. Granted, the 30 second shot clock helped speed things up, but only the high powered offensive group of 2009-2010 came close to those numbers. There is only so fast you can play running a read and react offense that JTII still heavily leaned on - and appears that offense may be revised.

This is generally coach speak in the summer time. Everyone is going to play faster. But there is real optimism in that being the case on the Hilltop. You don’t have to look much further than the assistant coaching hires to believe that we are in for a change both in tempo and scheme. Start with the first hire of the off-season, Akbar Waheed. Waheed is a disciple of Joe Mihalich who coached for years at Niagara before his most recent stop at Hofstra. Mihalich’s system is known for attacking and attacking some more. His guards are given ultimate freedom and his teams have generally hovered around the 70 possession mark per game while getting to the line a ton and shooting a bunch of 3’s. How much influence Waheed has in X’s and O’s compared to Kevin Broadus or the next hire, Anthony Solomon is unknown. Perhaps JTIII tabbed Waheed as more of a young, upstart recruiter than a tactical sounding board but he has the background nonetheless.

Solomon comes from Notre Dame and Mike Brey’s spread attack which for the past several years has produced great guards - most recently NBA draft pick Demetrius Jackson, who Solomon recruited - and highly efficient offense. While Mike Brey has slowed the pace over the last handful of years the offensive system he has built is centered around motion, ball screens leading to guards attacking off the dribble and spreading the floor with shooters. Perhaps no high-major team in college basketball short of Duke spaces the floor as well. Solomon also provides prior head coaching experience - something JTIII has never had on his bench. Solomon inherited a Saint Bonaventure program in 2004 that had been rocked by scandal. While the ensuing four years did not fare well for Solomon, it was evident of what his preferred style was. Fast, fast and faster.

It circulated that Solomon had been working with the guards in the spring time on how to handle ball screens and attack from there. JTIII for years has known one primary offense - and while it has changed in bits and pieces over the years, he has been entrenched with the Princeton offense for his basketball career. It should be incredibly helpful to have a veteran bench presence with Solomon to expedite the offensive change. Beyond Solomon being the first assistant with head coaching experience under JTIII, this is the first staff without direct Princeton offense ties. Tavares Hardy, Mike Brennan, Sydney Johnson and Robert Burke span the last 12 years of having an assistant who either played in the Princeton offense or coached it before arriving at Georgetown.

All that said, it is worth mentioning that if we do not see change it’s an incredible waste of resources and talent. It would not only be a stubborn move but quite frankly a failure telling the truth to numerous people. I believe JTIII did soul-searching and he is ready to branch out of his comfort zone. It would be nearly impossible to go all spring and summer with a revamped offense only to backtrack into a more complex one when perhaps your best player (Rodney Pryor) has never played in it. There is enough evidence to suggest this will not be the case.

In JTIII’s defense, his offense has always ranged from above average to damn good in certain seasons. This is a lot of green for an offense that many abhor. Where it has hamstrung the program the most is in recruiting, specifically at the guard position. That is where the change is perhaps the most beneficial. Will the KenPom numbers improve that much? Likely not. Will the upside for the program change? Yes. Not even point guards, but positions across the board short of Center had trepidation about the offense. It’s been a while since I loosely covered recruiting but those questions were around at the time I did (2008-2011) and I fear they have only grown since then. The offense of old generally found open shots and created a decent amount of space. It’s failures were a high number of turnovers, limited transition chances and a lost cause in late game/out of timeout situations. If playing fast is the goal, it is simply much harder to go quickly when the offense is based off of a number of reads and principles, if an option is not available it seemingly takes another cycle of action to find another. Opening the offense into a more free flowing attack including more ball screens should speed things up. The old way had a tendency to handcuff players from attacking the rim and letting others play off of that simple action. When you’re re-entering the ball with 10 seconds to go at the high-post, that’s not ideal:


Familiarity hurts as well. Villanova in the following snapshot knows that the ball is not one pass from hitting the corner or even a quick rotation away - it’s a pass, a scanning and then perhaps to corner. Look at how far they get to cheat off:


JTII’s offense required a group of above average passers and ball-handlers. Recruiting the type of versatile offensively skilled players perhaps is the downfall here, often times it was fitting squares into a circle (ie having 4’s and 5’s with little to no ball skills 20 feet away late in the clock). The team had no multi-faceted offensive players last season, especially with the loss of Paul White. A more simplistic offense centered around pushing the ball up the floor should help a group that appears to have defined skill-sets. Isaac Copeland can not dribble well nor pass but works well off of others as a finisher. LJ Peak is a straight line driver who can thrive in transition. Brad Hayes works best only within 8 feet of the basket. Marcus Derrickson is most comfortable spotting up or playing in the post. It’s a lot to ask 18 and 19 year olds to possess the type of basketball IQ to work in a read and react offense - let alone possess the multifaceted skills to make it all work.

The team did do a good job of utilizing Hayes and his ability in the low post. Some of the same 4 out- 1 in space that the Hoyas have always used to free up post play was still present and should remain. No doubt, III has some some specific plays/sets that he should keep with him - from the days of not having to pretend there was Kente on the floor:




Simple, effective and not running through reads looking for a cutter. III is not a dummy, I just believe it’s been difficult for a total overhaul with the offense he played and coached in for so many years. The offense has long had a non-Princeton influence but perception has always trumped reality. Hayes once again will benefit from having 4 shooters around the perimeter. Georgetown successfully fed the post as well as I can remember in the III era this past season - that should not go anywhere. It will be up to Hayes to get deep position, finish closer to the rim than he did this past season and learn that it is okay to pass out of the post.

Often a complaint is a 7’ post player being 25 feet away from the basket. Jessie Govan offered a glimmer of hope this past season with his long range shooting ability but it’s how he hovers around the 3 point line that should change. I am all in favor of a pick and popping version of Govan - on the other hand a Govan who is trying to initiate offense from that spot on the floor likely does not fare as well:


Asking Govan to put the ball on the floor and make the correct reads and hit cutters is a lot to ask. Yes, pulling the defense away from the basket is a plus but if he can’t make a play, what good is it?

Making it more simplistic to use his range to stretch the floor out of a simple high ball screen will be a great way to utilize that shooting (and we do need more of a sample size to see if it is really a tool):


Hayes on the other hand should probably never wander outside of 10 feet.

A neat wrinkle JTIII showed this year and I hope he saves was running a guard off the 4 and 5 via an Iverson cut. It’s something that should fit into the wheelhouse of the Rodney Pryor and LJ Peak pairing - it gets them on the move and into attack mode. It can even draw a switch onto an unsuspecting big:




This was generally ran for DSR and DSR lacked the type of pop to really create any distance or force a switch against a good defender (or all world in Kris Dunn’s case). With a little more burst it’s an option on offense to free up some good opportunities for your wings to attack. Again, not overly complicated and lends itself to attacking and playing off of one of your better players. Pryor and Peak should be the co-leader's of this team and III will have to figure out how to get those guys out in transition and playing down hill.

III at times did bend and deviate from the norm, at times this year we also saw simply high ball screens with the floor spread. What I think we’re looking for is to really take a dive away from the norm and immerse himself into a different offensive scheme. To take bits and pieces here and there is nice, and shows that he is willing to branch out but after a 15-18 season it is time for an overhaul. Basketball in whole from HS to the NBA has become centered around the ball screen. If you differ from that - you better do what you do exceptionally well (think Wisconsin). If not, you face an uphill battle on the court and most of all, off of it in recruiting. Teams in the past wanted to get Georgetown out of their man to man offense and we would face a 2-3 zone often. Now? Outside of the Syracuse game and a lengthy Providence/Villanova perimeter how often did we see zone? Not many feared what Georgetown could do operating out of their man offense. And there are very few teams left that extend pressure in the half court that could open up the cutting lanes needed (Hello, Duke 2006). Most teams are glad to pack the paint and close out on shooters when need be. You can pull this straight from a Pack-Line defense guide from Xavier and Chris Mack -

"Why play the Pack Line? - On offense, kids are way better ball handlers and way worse without the ball in their hands compared to 20 years ago"


BASKET CUT: In theory this is the easiest one for us to defend in the PACK LINE because the essence of what we have already instilled in the perimeter defense is to always move on the air time of the pass to the GAP. If we have properly taught and practiced this skill from Day One, when a perimeter player tries to cut to the basket we should already be in the proper position to defend such action. A lot of defensives call this "jumping to the ball" or "jumping to the pass". We teach our defender to be very physical on the cut and never allow the offensive cutter to cut to the POST without being punished with contact.

The first point poses a question in regards to Georgetown. If kids are better than ever with the ball and worse without it, why construct an offense that is the opposite of that? It just has not been an attractive option.

To go with the point on cutters, rules officials in the NCAA can talk about cleaning the game up but it hasn’t happened with off-ball cutters nearly as much as it has with on-ball offensive players. It’s time to use that to your benefit. You can see here from last year that the last thing Xavier will concede is a cutter with room to the basket:


The following are awfully simplistic but it is a glimpse in simplifying the offense, spacing the floor and attacking quickly:




Of course, sagging defenses can bottle that action up fairly easily but the Hoyas will have shooting threats and athletic wings - so if the ball can get moving side to side and getting attacks off the dribble, things can begin to loosen up. The biggest question the Hoyas will have to answer is who is capable of running the show? I have my doubts about Tre. I’ve yet to see him work off ball screens and have the change of pace and handle necessary to do so. He has a high dribble and has little shake to his game laterally and plays at one speed. He very well may be better off spacing the floor in the corner. I have not viewed any KL games but the reports of Mulmore are encouraging - quick and can make plays. Even if he can’t shoot, few teams in the college game are capable of game planning to expose a shooter - especially in ball screen situations - the way they defend a decent shooter is likely to still be the same they defend a below average shooter. LJ Peak should get a heavy dose of ball screens - it gets him moving downhill and Peak turned in a great sophomore season and really matured as a finisher (more on that later this summer). I assume Rodney Pryor also should get in on the action as well -at least on side ball-screens. The best thing going for this group is there should always be 4 shooters on the floor, if not 5. That generates a great deal of space in a ball screen offense and the benefit of Derrickson and Govan is not having to sacrifice size to get there.

It will be interesting to see what Solomon can do with Campbell and Mulmore. Play-making never came all that naturally to DSR and Tre really struggles with it. Neither ever showed much ability to turn a corner, split defenders or see over defenders to find shooters. Part of that can be assumed that attacking off ball screens had never been much of a point of focus in practice or player development. The other is that they appeared to just be limited athletically and skill-wise to do so.




A few last points - a change in offense should result in finding quicker offense when it’s needed. JTIII has been fairly abysmal late in games in finding quality shots and quick hitting action. Even if it’s the status quo late - hopefully that now will mean guards attacking and not bigs 20 feet away. Notice time and score:


A tweet from Jon Rothstein had people intrigued recently - JTIII stating that Marcus Derrickson could play minutes at the C spot. This did occur last season when Hayes went out for 6 games, the results were mixed offensively and for the most part a failure on defense - but it should be experimented with again, particularly if we do see changes to the half court offense. Marcus is an ideal pick and pop/roll forward - teams have to respect his shooting and he has just enough ability off the dribble to make a play. Marcus’ shooting also affords him the ability to spot up and let another more dynamic player (Pryor/Copeland/White etc) go be a screener and not sacrifice space. Isaac or other wings at the 4 also offers the chance to create mismatches.


Lastly, ‘faster’ certainly is tied to playing in transition. JTIII has let his guys run for the most part since Roy Hibbert departed- but lately the team just had a guard who didn’t go at any pace but his own (DSR). The one thing Tre Campbell does best is that he can get the ball up the floor in a hurry and it appears Mulmore has some of the same ability. And we certainly know LJ can be a dynamic player attacking the rim in the open floor.



I think III’s teams have generally been fine in transition, not dynamic but certainly passable when the opportunities were presented. I’d expect that to continue and with hopefully an improved defense it will lead to more chances to get out and run. From the bit I've heard, there is a major emphasis on running. That is great - but to go with it, the goal should be that the new 'stuff' can lead to an accelerated offense that can operate quickly in the half-court and not just in transition. In the past, if any fast break was snuffed out it would quickly cycle back to running (slow) offense. I'm hoping there is greater resistance and the initial attack being stopped is not a reason to concede another. I’m optimistic that JTIII is ready for change and the new staff hints at that. I know we are.

Stay Casual, my friends.