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Film Room: Ewing’s Hoyas are Running and Gunning

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at DePaul Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Ewing era is underway against high-major competition and the Hoyas have left their first trio of games in the Big East conference at 1-2. The Butler collapse was a difficult blow - a game squandered and left fans needing more, a real win, to see and feel real progress.

The Hoyas got that on the back end of the Chicago trip after a rather predictable loss to Marquette. The Bradley Center has never been all that kind to the Hoyas, only holding two wins in eleven tries since Marquette joined the Big East in 2006.

A few questions have been answered and some still remain on what this group can squeeze out from this season. From a big picture standpoint, Patrick Ewing wants to run. Perhaps more than any other aspect, this is the most evident. Transition offense and finding quick, easy ways to score the basketball appears at the forefront of the program now. The Hoyas are 19th nationally (out of 351 teams) (all numbers in this piece come from either Synergy or HoopLens, credit to both) in how often their possessions occur in transition at 23.1%. The only high major teams running more: Creighton, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Florida, Florida State and Arkansas. This is fairly good company - all competent programs (Oklahoma St and new coach Mike Boynton, pending). All attract talent and athletes. And that is what this really comes down to. Patrick is putting out a style that should be seen as attractive, and with players to execute and finish, things will trend up.

The problem right now is Georgetown is only generating .941 points per possession in transition - good for 292nd nationally. It’s hard to find a reason for the disparity in chances vs production outside of personnel. We know the need for talent in the back-court and the need to take care of the ball. The aforementioned programs are all in the top half - 57th percentile and up - in generating PPP in transition. This is an area where it’s clear to see the groundwork is being laid, it just needs a dose of talent. Nobody is coughing it up more in transition than Georgetown - a reflection of the guards and wings on the current team - 21.7% of transition chances have resulted in turnovers, ranking 346th nationally.

This is a good trip down - nice push from Mosely, a kick and another drive and kick for an open 3:

Unfortunately, there will be a good amount of chances that fizzle out like this during the year:

For the guards, they have been a talking point and the play has not been pretty. Mulmore offers the best defensive strength and speed of the bunch, simply moves his feet quicker than Mosely and has a stronger frame and better know-how compared to Blair and Dickerson. Mosely feels like the best mix of the bunch - has enough feel and moves the ball well offensively to mask shortcomings as a shooter and is an adequate defender, but better suited to defend 2’s. Perhaps because of that mix, it still feels that he’s best suited as a stabilizing bench player.

Consider this - for the entire season, with Mulmore on the floor, the Hoyas allow .85 points per possession. When off the floor, the defense allows 1.04PPP. That is gigantic difference. And in conference play, the numbers are .96ON vs 1.14OFF. I get the idea and feeling of just wanting to hand it over to Mosely and Blair and build towards the future - but with what we know from the last year and a half - there’s a very good chance that the defense would totally bottom out without Mulmore and lead to a team that can’t compete.

Hoya guards sorted by Offensive PPR and Defensive PRR when on court through three games:

Mulmore: 1.03/.96

Blair: 1.11/1.08

Dickerson: 1.06/1.05

Mosely: 1.04/1.10

There was no answer against Baldwin of Butler and the little Marquette guards - there’s no shame in that, they’re three of the best guards in conference. If anything Ewing, would probably like a re-do against Butler. And you can see there are steps he has to take in-game. He zoned Syracuse and it led to Tyus Battle stealing the game. Baldwin and Kelan Martin got to wherever they wanted and there was no zone attempt - and it led to Baldwin beating the guards and Martin toying with Derrickson (Kaleb Johnson likely would get that assignment if given a mulligan). While this an offensive centric post beyond the point guard discussion - the defense has offered a pretty standard look. Connectivity has waned game to game and younger players like Blair and Pickett are more likely to be lost at times. Derrickson struggles helping and recovering due to foot speed and quicker 4’s who can stretch the floor will give this team fits - but they’ve done a good job playing angles, moving feet and trying - and that matters.

Jahvon Blair, as an offensive weapon, was a find. He is not a point guard, and never will be. What he is tracking to be is a very useful college scoring guard who can handle the ball a bit to find offense for himself and others, operate as a spot up shooter and has shown some ability for drawing contact around the paint. It’s perhaps Blair’s physical limitations that will reel him in and turn things into a positive. He likes to shoot, a lot. This isn’t an issue, not yet - and his aggressiveness is needed on the perimeter. Due to his lack of height there are only so many shots he’s going to be able to force - almost all of his attempts have appeared to be open ones. Where he’ll have to be careful is on his drives, his size and length just isn’t likely to ever turn him into a good finisher - whether or not he can improve his vision on drives remains to be seen. The shooting numbers aren’t all that pretty, only 37% from the field and 33% but the reps as a freshman are hard to put a value on and the same goes for the attempts Jamorko Pickett is putting up. It has become apparent that Ewing values Blair quite a bit and half-court offense that doesn’t feature Govan or Derrickson has often been geared toward Blair.

Govan whiffs on a screen here, but you see the idea - Blair’s the biggest threat this team has to offer on the weak side (this action has also featured Pickett, more on this later):

This is Blair acting as Option A&B - and when talking personnel a reminder that we’re seeing a team run this set for an underecruited, off the radar combo guard. Not a knock on Blair - who clearly has more ability than once given credit for - just the reality of where the talent level is on the perimeter. Notice the veteran move with his shoulder fake to separate distance:

There is no doubt where the bread is buttered in the half court, though. It’s through the two bigs and both Derrickson and Govan have done well with added responsibility. Ewing has done a nice job finding quick hitting action to feature Govan - a big man who is much better when things are decisive than pounding the ball with his back to the basket. Govan still lacks the adequate strength and explosion to truly be an efficient, featured back-to-the-basket center but he’s working his way there. Georgetown possessions are ending in post ups 11.5% of the time -44th nationally - and generating .97PPP - good for 55th nationally. No longer are we seeing Govan attempt to initiate offense from 25 feet - Ewing has freed him often with cross screens:

And your occasional straight up post:

Remember the set that featured Blair (and Pickett) running into a stagger screen - here it is again, but it comes back to Govan and here as a secondary option he finds the ball. It’s been pleasant to watch this offense have an idea of where there is a second option and not fizzle out. At times it will, but this group is sharing the ball well - 4th nationally in assists to made field goals.

They’ll both see a lot of double teams this year - something they’ll have to improve on handling. For Govan it appears to be mostly a strength issue, keeping a solid base and not panicking. For Derrickson, his lack of height to see over defenders is a roadblock. Ewing can anticipate to see more zone as well, and if there’s anything that offers a steep learning curve, perhaps it is that. There is no traditional zone in the NBA and for the most part, this aspect has to be new to him. Derrickson and Govan found success in overloading the zone and playing a nice two man game vs DePaul and hopefully Ewing and his staff become more and more comfortable attacking it.

What occurred often at Marquette beyond the inexcusable turnovers was Georgetown offensive players getting knocked off their spots and the attention the big guys draw is evident. Here, Govan gets pushed off the block and the lack of respect for anything on the weak-side of the floor leads to a turnover:

We saw in the North Texas game what can happen when teams treat Mulmore (and Dickerson/Mosely) as if they don’t exist - it turns into a 4 on 5 game and a sagging defense makes things difficult for Govan and Derrickson to operate in. Georgetown is only shooting 31.6% on unguarded catch and shoot jump-shots - 302nd nationally.

The positive of what Georgetown is it all has centered around being quick in movement and attempting to get the ball where it needs to be quickly. Move with speed and take a good shot. It’s a simplified, NBA approach. The problem that can be encountered is a group lacking the necessary skill to take advantage of that kind of freedom. Ultimately the talent level that Ewing can bring in and develop will be what determines his long-term success. With talent, it’s hard to see this program under his lead fail. The groundwork is being put down and at times the personnel isn’t fully capable of the execution. That’s okay, and it’s expected. But I think we’d all agree this team is generating more open, good looks than we would have thought entering the season. Talent will only enhance what he’s teaching. He won’t hinder it. Consider Jamorko Pickett in the 2nd half vs DePaul. With the score 61-60 he proceeded to miss threes on two out of three possessions. With the score 63-60 on a possession after, he knocked one down. 66-60 and the Hoyas never looked back. That kind of opportunity, freedom and reps for a young player should pay off. He’s going to let this group play.

They’ll struggle but you can see what is being emphasized, and despite the freedom, there is structure (and no one legged step-backs). It’s not roll the ball out and play - it’s move quickly, take good shots and play hard. That will work. For now, it’s trying to keep your head above water with turnovers, limit the ones you can control. It’ll be difficult at times to work through the growth of Pickett and some guys biting off more than they can chew. Ewing has to find the correct balance of re-directing a few more possessions to Govan/Derrickson and perhaps even Kaleb Johnson can take on more responsibility - but he has to follow through on letting guys attack, even if it can cost possessions and a game or two. I’m sure he’d like to have another shot at closing the Butler game out on offense and coming out of the Butler and Syracuse games at 0-2 was a reflection on some late game coaching but this team is awfully close to a 13-1(2-1) record, quite literally two plays from it. The big picture is what matters, and it is easier to take this glass half-full approach with a nice response win at DePaul. This team needed that and should have a shot to be competitive at home vs Creighton.