Well, what for a moment looked like a hard crash landing into reality for the Hoyas basketball team in Jamaica turned into a softer skidding landing into reality that should leave Pat Ewing and staff feeling lucky to leave the Caribbean with a 1-1 split. A set of soft mid-conference schedule of opponents in Loyola Marymount and the University of South Florida should not have prompted this many fits for a Hoyas team coming off a good win against Illinois, but alas that is where we are with this squad. I missed the loss to Loyola Marymount on Friday night because I was (ironically) eating dinner with Georgetown friends (we’ll fix the mistake next time), but caught the by-the-hair-of-their-teeth overtime win over South Florida on Sunday (76-73). So let’s recap that one and maybe draw some inferences from the LMU box score.
Hey, I’m proud of you guys: The Jessie Govan and James Akinjo Edition. The Senior center and Freshman point guard combined for 41 of the team’s 76 points against USF. That’s more than half for the math majors at home. These two were the studs among the rest in this one, along with David Collins of USF. Govan’s 27 was hyper-efficient as he shot better than 50% from the field and didn’t miss any of his five free throw attempts. Akinjo’s 14 was a bit more all-over-the-place; he shot 40% from the field and ended with 6 turnovers, which feels like a generous tally from the official scorekeeper. One thing I noticed by perusing the play-by-play is that if a pass hits a player on the hands, it counts as their turnover, even if it was a bad pass. I think Akinjo's TO numbers look slightly better than they felt for this reason. That said, he showed some major "nu---, I mean cojones" in this one too. Some John Shaft-level studliness down the stretch for him (and Jessie). We’ll take a look at some of his biggest plays later, but for now let’s focus on…
Things that make you go ‘Huh?’: Jamorko Pickett with another massive dud (1), McClung sitting out the majority of the second half even though he had played relatively well in the first (2), and Jagan Mosely taking zero charges for the first time in maybe ever (3).
- Pat said at the beginning of the year that Pickett is more than just a spot-up shooter. Color me skeptical at this point. He was more aggressive early in this one, with multiple attempted drives to the hole in the first five minutes. But he went 1-5 on those drives and again became a ghost when the bounces weren't going his way. Maybe it's not his fault. To get Pickett going, Pat’s gotta lean on his outside shooting first, regardless of the pre-season proclamation. Nothing gets a guy’s confidence going like seeing the ball go through the bucket a couple of times. On top of that, a few outside jumpers will open up the driving lanes Jamorko has been trying to take advantage of this year, because defenders will be jumping out take away the three. Pat needs to draw up more plays for spot-up three’s like the fade screen he used to get Jessie open for two three-pointers in the second half (if you watched the game you surely know what I am referring to). More on those plays later, but for now the takeaway is that Jamorko’s not ready to shoulder the burden of creating his own shots yet.
- McClung notched only 17 minutes in this one, but to be clear, I don’t think it was a mistake to have him sit out this much. Mosely provided more of what the team needed in the middle of the second half in this case (more on that in #3.) But given Mac’s usage so far this year, I was surprised Pat made such a hard pivot away from him. He notched only one TO in this game and made some nice, in-control offensive plays in the first half to get us up early. But his exit, much like the crucial down-the-stretch minutes given to Greg Malinowski against Illinois, goes to show that Pat is still trying to figure out what he has with this team. Fans may have been deprived of some swaggering fast-break layups and dunks in this one with McClung on the bench, but instead were treated to some solid game management by a guy not normally known for his prescience with the ball in his hands…
- We kid about Jagan Mosely’s charge-taking in these installments pretty consistently, but I actually brought him up not to make jokes about him being a one-dimensional player whose one-dimension doesn’t even get tallied in the box score (taking charges), but because he played very well as a spell for Akinjo at the PG position during some really important minutes. For context, USF had continued an end-of-first-half run that cut the Hoya lead from 10 to 2 with a beginning-of-second-half drubbing that lifted them up over the Hoyas by about 10 by the 14-minute mark, a rough spell punctuated largely by a slew of turnovers from Akinjo. At that point, Mosely (and Blair to an extent) were asked to give The Kid a break and proceeded to contribute steady -- if not uninspiring -- ball-control at the PG/SG position. Jagan calmly protected the ball with his body as he navigated full-court man-to-man pressure and setting up the offense. He didn’t try to make plays that he can’t make, which was not always the case last year. This turned out to be exactly what the Hoyas needed. Some solid team defense and strong finishes around the rim from Govan then turned the tide and kept the Hoyas within striking distance. When Mosely handed the reigns back over to Young James with about 10 minutes to go, the Hoyas were only down 5, and it probably should have been less if not for some lucky buckets from USF. So kudos to you, Jagan. You have graduated from sidebar comic relief (albeit the respectful kind) to a solid contributor of veteran presence. I tip my cap.
The Trey Mourning-Josh LeBlanc debate: I’ve harped on this issue ad nauseam in the first couple of installments, so I’ll try and keep this one short and sweet. LeBlanc again contributed the more effective minutes – this time with 10 boards and 9 points on 3-4 shooting compared to Mourning’s 3 points and 5 boards on 1-3 shooting. On Friday against LMU, LeBlanc shot 5-6 from the field and actually eclipsed Mourning in minutes played for the first time this season (24 to 20). The USF game brought more of the same, as LeBlanc notched 26 minutes and the majority of crunch time versus Mourning's more pedestrian 17.
OK, so when will see a switch? Probably not for a couple more games. Mourning is definitely more comfortable stepping out onto the perimeter and acting as a conduit for the offense. Also, and I realllllly don’t want to say this, but you have to believe that Mourning’s continued presence in the starting lineup is at least partially out of respect for ‘Zo. Not only is the idea of the Georgetown family important, but Pat is also recruiting Cole Anthony – Greg Anthony’s son – the top-ranked PG in next year’s class. The Hoyas shouldn’t even be in the discussion for Anthony, but somehow they are – and you have to imagine that it is out of some sort of friendship/allegiance between the former New York Knick teammates that Georgetown has survived to the final six. It doesn't feel good to confront, but I think it has to be said. Nepotism extends beyond the office and corporate America, and it may be at play here.
Last point: If Mourning does want to stay on the court (hey, I am rooting for him overall), he needs to start shooting more three’s. Yes, that’s right. He can shoot (I believe), and he really doesn’t have much value underneath with his skinny frame. Develop your outside shot young fella, and you might just hold onto those meaningful minutes you’re holding onto by a thread.
Coaching Analysis: After reading about the LMU loss, I came into this game ready to rip the coaching staff a new one. I assumed they must have been slow to make adjustments, bad with timeout usage, or worse in Game One of the Montego Bay Classic against LMU. But I was pleasantly surprised by some of the moves I saw from Pat and staff. Let’s start with the bad first to get it out of the way.
Bad Pat: The first installment focuses on substitutions. Young James Akinjo (who is only 17 by the way!!) put together three REALLY quality plays in a row around the 11-10 minute mark of the first half -- one of which is the subject of our Film Review section later (FFWD there if you want to read that first). But on the whole, the Hoyas capitalized on two of the three plays to take a three-point lead and turn it into an eight-point lead with 9:00 to go. Then, Akinjo was taken out. Inexplicably. He was literally jamming. I’m guessing Pat has his substitutions planned out in advance and wanted to make sure Akinjo was well rested etc etc etc. But that’s got to be subverted when a player is moving and grooving, as Clyde Frazier would say.You've got to give him 2-3 more possessions when he's dropping multiple dimes and getting the offense going.
I would equate this to being a Bar Manager. You’ve got a cover band that is absolutely tearing the roof off on a given night. It’s close to closing time, and you should probably pull the plug. But you give them that one more song, because you know it’s more important to capitalize on momentum than it is to play it safe sometimes. Scared money don’t make money. Give James two-three more possessions in that spot. Yes, he will tire out. But the buckets that come on the back of that solid play will give you enough cushion to ride into halftime with a lead secured, your point guard riding high on confidence, and enough rest time to have him start the second with no real concerns about fatigue. This was a pretty big mistake, and it somewhat contributed to….
Bad Pat Vol. II:. From 6:30-4:30, USF built momentum with an 8-3 run. The offense stagnated with Akinjo out, and Pat put him back in around the 5:15 mark. The Hoyas then committed three straight turnovers (two by Akinjo) and the game flow was just SCREAMING for a timeout. USF was getting open outside looks at will, and Akinjo and McClung looked WELL out of their depth. He opted not to – likely hoping the squad could hold steady on the defensive end and they could just use the coming 3-minutes-to-go TV timeout without using one of their own. They didn’t, and USF promptly nailed a three to bring it within two (24-22) – making it an an 11-3 run in two minutes of play that put USF squarely in the driver’s seat. The remaining three minutes of the half were a wash, making this stretch the most important of the first half.
Reasons why this was such an important mistake:
- If you call a timeout right away and re-group, you give yourself a much better shot of maintaining that five-point lead on the defensive end and potentially extending it to a 7-point lead on the other end. You then use the TV timeout to build your own momentum further, rather than having to stem theirs at that point. When the other team is running and gunning, you double up around the TV timeouts to turn momentum back in your favor. Otherwise, you’re putting a band-aid on a gash wound.
- In fact, this extended into the first six minutes of the second half, when the Bulls went on a 17-4 run. More on that later.
- Does the logic seem too easy? Consider this: Pat had ALL FOUR timeouts left! All four! With three minutes to go in the half! And you can't expend one? What? Come on, man.
- In a broader sense, when you have a team that commits turnovers as often as this team does, you should be using every single timeout you have. There is no reason why you should have 3-4 timeouts in your back pocket at the end of the first half when your team has committed 10 turnovers. You are starting two freshmen guards. Use your timeouts.
That said, I was really impressed by a couple of other coaching decisions. So let’s turn to those…
Good Pat: Earlier I mentioned some fade screen plays that set up Jessie for three’s. Whew, these plays were a thing of beauty. First, the context: USF was coming off the aforementioned 17-4 run to start the second half (the beginning-of-second-half-drubbing) and it looked like the game was slipping rapidly out of reach (43-32). Pat called timeout and called what is clearly one of his best back-pocket plays, a fade screen for Govan on the wing.
In this play, Govan feints like he is coming to set a high-ball screen (which was leaned on all day) but instead fades backwards around a waiting back-screen from one of the off-guards at the elbow. This allows him to back into a spot-up three on the wing. With the Hoyas reeling, this was the perfect call. Govan hit the three and even the announcers commented on it feeling like it took the air out of the USF run - even though the Hoyas were still down 8. This also coincided with the beginning of the aforementioned Jagan Mosely Ball Control Show, both of which allowed the Hoyas to slowly chip away at the lead over the next 4-5 minutes.
Pat called this play two more times and it worked once – resulting in another made Govan three. The third time, USF switched the screen and blocked the passing lane. Takeaway? This is a one-off - albeit it a nice one - but teams will be ready for this in the future if they do their HW. The bottom line though is that it’s nice to know Pat’s got some X’s and O’s acumen to go with his other strengths.
Good Pat Vol. II: BREAK OUT THE PRESS -- Pat dusted off a zone press midway through the second half to mixed results. However, I think it has the potential to be a game-changer. The Hoyas have length out the wazoo. The team's forwards are hyper-athletic. If Pat runs enough reps with this thing, I think it can help in a number of ways.
First, why press? A) The Hoyas are deep. Last recap, I encouraged Pat to USE THE BENCH! Pat is sitting on a Power Forward Terror Squad in LeBlanc, Pickett, Malinowski, Kaleb Johnson, and Trey Mourning. Each is long and athletic. And that's a lot of mouths to feed in one game. Using a press - specifically a zone press - plays off their strengths and allows everyone to get significant run. They've got to be looking to tire out the other team's forwards, every game. That is ultimately what allowed Govan to feast in the latter part of the second half -- USF frontcourt foul trouble and fatigue. This needs to be a part of the strategy.
B) Defense needs to create offense - in the case of this team. Akinjo is carrying way too much of the load. Putting some more pressure on the opponent will create more natural scoring opportunities that don't have to be conjured out of thin air by Akinjo late in the shot clock.
The results of the press in this one were middling. Four times he ran it, resulting in one turnover, two (tough) buckets for USF and a defensive stop/missed shot. One of the buckets came after a near-ten-second violation. I still think it needs to be more consistently incorporated.
Good Pat Vol. III: With 13 seconds to go in the game, Georgetown was down three after a terrible foul call on Jahvon Blair during a heady defensive stand. Pat called timeout. Now, I don’t know if he drew up the ensuing play this way or if players just took matters into their own hands – but if he did, I loved it.
Akinjo set up with his dribble at the top of the key and everyone in the arena was expecting a high ball-screen since it had been the main source of Hoya offense the entire game. The USF defender apparently read the same memo. He began peeking behind him every 2-3 seconds to locate the coming screener and position himself to get around it. Only one problem; the screen never came. Akinjo set him up as if he were going to break him down off the dribble, and then promptly pulled up and canned an NBA-range three with four seconds to go. This was bigtime on multiple levels. Not only did Young James continue to show that this whole move up to the college ranks really ain't that big of a deal for him, but Pat showed how 15 years as an NBA Assistant can benefit a college coach. Setting up for the screen and then never sending it is an NBA-level play call, IMO. I don’t know for sure if he drew it up that way – but something tells me it was part of the plan. Either way, Hands Down Man’s Down – we goin’ to OT.
Film Review Without The Film: The Hoyas proceeded to handle the overtime period cleanly. In fact, I’m about to skip over a lot of great plays from multiple players down the stretch. But that’s because there was one play in the first half that I really wanted to break down. So, I’m doing it.
Earlier on I mentioned a three-play stretch when Akinjo was "jamming." The first of these three plays is the one I want to break down here.
Context: It came with 10:30 to go in the first half. Trey Mourning had just drawn a second foul on USF’s starting power forward, sending him to the bench. On the offensive inbounds, Mourning set a screen for Mosely. USF's backup power forward inexplicably switched onto Mosely, leaving Mourning with a plus-plus-plus matchup against one of USF's guards.
The play: Akinjo got the ball at the top of the key and immediately recognized the mismatch. Mosely, on the wing, did not (slight shade). Akinjo waved Mosely through in order to create a passing lane into Mourning. Akinjo’s defender though, recognized the mismatch and the setup as well. As Akinjo set up to feed the ball in, his defender sloughed off and bit back-and-forth between Mourning and Akinjo to try to close the passing lane while also taking away space for a potential three. Akinjo, instead of forcing the ball into Mourning -- where he would have been met with an immediate double-team that he could not handle, or pulling up for what would have been a contested three -- feinted the pass into Mourning, and dribble-crossed into the lane. That put his defender on the back foot and drew help-side defense from the opposite wing. Akinjo then stopped and delivered a in-rhythm, in-the-shooter’s-pocket pass to Blair on the opposite wing (Blair's man had been the one to help on the drive). Blair promptly canned the open three. It was a thing of beauty.
Why are you making such a big deal out of this, you weirdo?: True, this particular play happened midway through the first half and Akinjo had much bigger plays at the end of the game. But this play showed really high-IQ and just makes me more and more confident that Akinjo can be a high-level leader of a college offense. To recap, he 1) recognized the mismatch 2) waved off a more veteran player 3) drew his defender into inferior positioning 4) didn’t take the bait on passing into Mourning or shooting the three 5) deftly knifed into the lane and drew help-side defense and 6) delivered a dime to the Hoyas’ best three-point shooter. This is good stuff. Go James, go.
CONCLUSIONARY CONCLUSIONS: I’m developing a crick in my neck from typing this much.
1. Ewing needs to create more opportunities for three-pointers….by people who should actually be shooting three-pointers. Our best three-point shooters are, in no particular order; Malinowski, Pickett, Blair, and Govan. Pickett and Malinowski shot zero three’s. Govan had four, but three of them were on the aforementioned fade screen play that Pat drew up. Blair had five, which is fine.
Right now most of our outside shooting is coming of the dribble. We also have an incredibly clogged lane on most offensive trips because no one is afraid to let us shoot. Draw up some plays for Pickett and Malinowski, in particular, and you will see teams begin to respect the three. But they need to be spot-ups. None of this off-the-dribble garbage. That’s for James Harden and James Harden alone.
2. The team’s identity is beginning to take shape. The hype of McClung is settling down a bit. LeBlanc is getting the minutes he deserves. Mosely’s performance today inspires confidence and creates a blueprint/roadmap for WTDWJS (What To Do When James Sits), and Govan’s monster second-half also provides a roadmap for how to get the offense going when it ain’t going. I still think the lack of clarity around Malinowski/Pickett/K. Johnson is worrisome, but that should shake out over time. The thing I am reminding myself here is; there’s a lot of young guys on this squad. We (and Pat) don’t know who this team is yet. Watching an identity unfold will be enjoyable to watch.
3. I missed the LMU game, so many of these ideas/critiques/analyses feel a bit hollow. It would have been nice to know what adjustments Pat made from Friday to Sunday. Either way, the Hoyas should feel lucky to have come away with the W against USF. The Bulls were in control for much of the game. The Hoyas do not yet have their house in order.
4. Mac McClung made his first three-pointer. That’s 1-17 for those counting at home. Hey, you gotta start somewhere…
I hope to do an article about potential lineup changes before our next matchup against Richmond, but if I don’t – just know that I was enjoying eating turkey and staring off into space over the Thanksgiving break. Lord knows I could use it after this one...
Until next time,