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Film Room: The Evolution of Ewing’s Hoyas

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Georgetown Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Your Georgetown Hoyas completed the season sweep of Chris Mullin and St. John’s on Saturday, resulting in a good step forward for a Hoya program trying to fight their way out of the bottom of the Big East in year one under Patrick Ewing.

Ewing is continuing to find out what he has to work with given the current roster and how he can find a way to manufacture points and be competitive. Perhaps what is most encouraging is that Ewing is simply utilizing his best players and trying to do his best to put them in a position to succeed. There is no ‘system’ to work through - it’s pretty cut and dry - there are two good post players and the ball must find them. The Hoyas will run off stops and try to find early offense, which they certainly need to do in search of any easy basket they can.

When the offense settles in, it’s time to feed Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson. The Georgetown ‘play type’ profile on Synergy Sports is highlighted by possessions that finish via post ups - 13.5% - the only other high major programs posting up more are Iowa, Tennessee, Purdue and Wisconsin. It’s what Georgetown has to do this year to find success - but I have not seen any reason to believe Ewing will be tied towards playing exclusively through big men, it’s currently his best, and at times only route to find shots.

What he’s stressed and makes a great difference is to get the ball moving. Moving the ball creates holes, forces defensive movement and can create angles and openings. You can see here when the ball stalls out - and doesn’t get reversed, it’s a lost possession. Georgetown hasn’t found many opponents willing to switch wings onto bigs, but it’s been troubling when it does happen the lack of recognition by the guards to seek out those mismatches. Marcus finds one here and the ball doesn’t get to his side of the floor:

Another one where it’s there with Govan and the ball goes to the opposite side, thankfully brought back by Kaleb Johnson:

On the next possession instead of seeking that switch out, the ball goes barreling into nowhere for a turnover:

The guards have had freedom but Ewing has quickly learned their limitations in conference play. There’s game-planning, familiarity and simply playing against better competition than what was faced in November and December. They’re limited and when opportunities present themselves to make the correct reads and get the ball to places accordingly, they have to do so. The turnovers are going to happen, none are overly skilled in the basic fundamentals, even just catching and finding footing without traveling can be a struggle -empty possessions will happen this year, but you can’t add missed chances on top of the dozen or so inevitable turnovers a game.

When Ewing could be heard loudly imploring to “MOVE THE BALL” - he wasn’t asking for much more than this - reverse it, move it with purpose and find an angle:

One thing that would be nice coming from the top down would be a little guidance and push to get body movement - this is how Ewing opened the game - and Govan took advantage burying his man on a seal:

While we haven’t seen a ton of spread pick and roll it comes across at certain times in games, this is where the limitations of the guards have shifted this team stylistically.

Mosely gets a 14 switch here and it stalls out pretty quickly. His driving angle gets cut off but perhaps you find something if you correctly sniff out that switch earlier and let Marcus find position.

It’s hard to go back to it, but Ewing has shown he’s willing to do so. But it’s likely deflating and makes it easier to center his focus to posting his bigs when quick turnovers occur:

Point being, there’s just not quite enough there in personnel to put much on their plate. When a pretty basic read occurs after successfully getting a foot (barely) in the paint results in an open shot, it feels like a major victory:

One guard who has been able to unlock a few things on offense has been Jahvon Blair. After trimming the non-conference fat - Blair has played 363 possessions and has sat for 256 possessions - a 58/42% split. The resulting number is jarring - the Hoyas have posted a 1.03PPP mark with Blair on the floor and a paltry .084PPP when off the floor. That’s a drastic difference and while Blair has struggled and doesn’t create much for others, his ability to make a shot here and there and offer a bit more spacing has proven to be very helpful. Blair also has a skill-set that has allowed Ewing to run the offense a bit differently when he gets on the floor. Beyond the post-ups, Blair running off of screens, and often double screens has given another option for an offense trying to generate open shots.

This doesn’t result in anything for Blair but it gets the defense moving and at least offers a crack for Mosely to penetrate:

And Blair doesn’t need a ton of space to get his shot off of stagger screens from his bigs:

The defense has struggled with Blair on the floor in BE play - the PPP allowed has jumped from 1.02 to 1.08 with him on the floor. But the offensive gap - the 1.03 up from .84 clearly results in a net gain. It was nice to see a game in which the five who we assume are around next year playing a substantial role - Mosely/Blair/Pickett/Derrickson/Govan finished the better part of the 2OT’s. What would be worth a longer look closing the season would be the ‘core four’ of Blair/Pickett/Derrickson/Govan playing more together. So far in 8 conference games they’ve only totaled 33 possessions total together.

The man of conference play has no doubt been Marcus Derrickson. He’s playing out of the post well, rebounding and making shots and while his defense can be spotty, he’s held up okay in a game that has transitioned away from traditional power forwards, asking him to play more on the perimeter. Where Derrickson is starting to make teams pay is on the low block. Villanova could have played any of their 5 and won going away but Derrickson/Govan did make Jay Wright pair his two bigs - Paschall/Spellman - more than he had in any game in Big East play, that’s at least a show of respect for what Derrickson could do against a mismatch. Derrickson is posting a PPP of .989 on 88 post up possessions - good for 15th nationally out of 76 players with that high of volume - and only trailing Udoka Azubukie, Isaac Haas, DeAndre Ayton and Nick Ward at the high major level (good company to keep). When he gets 1 on 1 coverage, he’s making teams pay:

A big concern this year was lack of depth up front, specifically at back-up center which was only heightened with Chris Sodom’s dismissal. So far, Derrickson has done just fine as a small ball 5 man. With lineups featuring Derrickson at Center and no Gova in BE play - Georgetown is posting a 1.02/.99 offense/defense splits. Not only is that lineup avoiding disaster, it’s gaining points. It’s not a great sample size, but 127 possessions is at least more than a handful. Conversely, the lineups featuring Govan and no Derrickson are posting .83/1.15 splits in 113 possessions - that has been a limited sample size disaster. Certainly this team would eventually crumble without Govan, his uptick in rebounding and conditioning has paid dividends and he’s been dealt a great deal of responsibility and it still feels like he’s a year away from being a consistent force from the center position on the low block but he’s getting there.

A bad habit that crept back in vs SJU that hopefully gets nipped quickly was poor ball screen coverage from Govan. If there was one specific thing I felt Ewing would confidently coach (and still believe so) it is ball screen coverage, an item that his mentors in the coaching profession (JVG, Clifford, Thibbs etc) have spent decades obsessing over. The overall connectivity of the defense has a left a bit to be desired and doesn’t quite feel they’ve had the attention to detail and discipline that they’re capable of. What approach the staff takes with Govan over the last six weeks of the season will be interesting - it feels like the safest route is just to ask him to drop and concede two point jump-shots as he’s never shown the foot speed to hedge hard and recover or have the ability to string ball-handlers out. He gets jumpy at times and leads to openings:

When he stays patient and lets the ball-handler come to him - everything feels more stable. If a guard wants to take a two point jumper, it might be the best outcome for now.

Another problem is that there’s not much on the back-line if Govan is beat. Derrickson doesn’t provide the needed quickness or rim protection to clean up mistakes, but one clip that’s worth watching again - perhaps Derrickson’s play of the game, short of the 3 to tie it up:

That was the exception and it came at the right time.

There might not be a winnable game past this Wednesday. Another sweep would go a long way for a team most thought would be in the basement of the Big East. While Ewing continues to sort through what this team is capable of, you have to hope the younger players in Blair, Pickett and Mosely progress further and perhaps a team or two could be picked off down the stretch. It’s a long process to sit through and painful at times to watch. A breakthrough win would make everyone feel better and give something to point to and say ‘see, look!’ (and we do need that) - but big picture, we continue to see the philosophy unfold. Find good players (did we really have assistant in California during this game? it appears so), develop them and play to their strengths, not a system.