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Georgetown Hoyas Season Preview: Ten Questions

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Losing is the worst. And the once mighty Hoyas have done an awful lot of losing in the last five seasons.

After a consistently successful stretch filled with more peaks than valleys from 2006 thru 2013, there have been far more lows than highs since March 9, 2013 when Georgetown defeated Syracuse in their last regular season Big East matchup in front of Bill Raftery and a sold-out crowd at the Phone Booth.

Since winning the Big East regular season title in 2013, your Hoyas have missed four of the last five NCAA Tournaments and have looked more like DePaul than Villanova. (And somehow, even Providence has gone to the Tourney for five straight years!)

Last year was arguably the first time in decades in which Georgetown did not have any realistic chance to make the NCAA Tourney before the season even started. The Hoyas have now failed to make an appearance in the Top 25 for three consecutive seasons (the first time since 1997-2000) and have also failed to be invited to a postseason tournament for three consecutive years (the first time since 1972-1974).

Coach Patrick Ewing took over the reins of the program last season, and in Year One at the helm, Coach Pat certainly embraced a different style of basketball than we’d been accustomed to seeing: the Princeton offense was abandoned, Georgetown’s players kept raving about the weights and conditioning program, and there appeared to be a renewed commitment to rebounding. But losing basketball games remained a constant, even against a remarkably lackluster nonconference slate of opponents. Of course, there were bright spots: Marcus Derrickson improved his game to the point where he was NBA-ready, the Hoyas seemed to overcome their defensive fouling woes, and Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair offered a glimpse of a potentially bright future.

For better or worse, Year One of the Ewing era is in the books, and those of us inclined to offer him a mulligan because of a relatively weak returning roster and insufficient time to recruit will not be so inclined to cut him as much slack this season. By the time March is over, we’ll have a much better sense of what Coach Ewing’s brand of basketball will offer.

For now, before this season kicks off in grand style on Election Night at The Vault...

here is a look at ten key questions that will determine just how far we can go….

1. Will Georgetown finally win a game it’s not supposed to win?

Prior to last season, it’s hard to remember a season in which the Hoyas did not upset a superior opponent.

In JTIII’s first season, Georgetown had memorable wins at Pitt and against Notre Dame and looked instantly competitive with JTIII’s more patient style of offense. In his second season, we let the world know we were back:

In Ewing’s first year, we certainly looked different, but not necessarily better.

Suffice it to say that we did not have a single win that shocked the world. We squandered a second half lead to Syracuse, blew a 20 point lead against Butler in the conference opener, and ultimately lost five straight games (and nine of the last eleven) to close the season.

With the exception of a narrow win at Hinkle, there was nothing to write home about, and even that victory never really seemed like a statement game.

Will Year Two deliver a statement victory that lets the country know that Georgetown is back?

2. What will it feel like to finally have a point guard?

Since 2000, Georgetown has had approximately three legitimate point guards: Kevin Braswell, Chris Wright and Markel Starks. (And no, I do not consider Jonathan Wallace or Jessie Sapp to have been legit point guards even though they combined to be a very solid one.)

Under JTIII, positionless basketball sounded all well and good, but unless the offense was led by a point guard who could create his own shot if our reads didn’t lead to the shot we wanted, the team would suffer. But even if one were to argue that a true point guard is not an essential component of a Princeton-style offense, it is almost certainly an essential component of any other kind of offense.

Without strong guard play last season, we were helpless, we committed a significant number of turnovers, and we couldn’t handle pressure. Playing uptempo / out of control was sometimes a necessity, as it was more likely to lead to a good look than our half-court offense.

This season should be different. Why? Because we undeniably have a legit point guard. His name is James Akinjo and he is very, very good.

The 6’-0’’ California native will not have trouble bringing the ball up the court. He will not have trouble passing the ball. He can single-handedly break a press. And he is fiery as hell.

There are many reasons to be excited about this year’s group of freshmen. But if there’s one reason to be cautiously optimistic about our offense this season, it’s the existence of an actual, real-life Division I-A point guard.

3. Who will replace Marcus Derrickson?

To be honest, I was really looking forward to this season because I didn’t expect to lose any of our significant contributors. With our incoming freshmen, an improving Pickett and Blair, and Derrickson and Govan leading the way - that roster has a chance to finish Top 3 in the Big East. But alas, Marcus jumped to the league, and he leaves big shoes to fill.

Who replaces Marcus at the 4? It won’t be easy. There isn’t a single player on the roster who can replicate his combination of rebounding and quality perimeter shooting (a scorching 46.5% from beyond the arc). So, it will likely need to be multiple players, perhaps none more important than Josh LeBlanc. LeBlanc, a 6’-7’’ freshman from Baton Rouge, plays hard. And now that Antwan Walker is no longer with the program, LeBlanc is sure to receive a lot of run.

Although Pickett and Kaleb Johnson will likely start and carry the load, neither player is the sort of banger we will use to complement Govan in the middle. So LeBlanc may need to be that guy. Hopefully he’s up to the task to at least mitigate the loss of MD’s production.

4. Will our non-conference schedule keep us out of the NCAA Tourney?

It pains me to raise this point for a second consecutive season. Scheduling isn’t complicated. Whether the primary metric is RPI or this new NET thing, teams should participate in high-end tournaments, play a handful of games against quality opponents, spice things up with a few road/neutral games, and avoid playing the dregs of Division I (sub-300 RPI teams).

Last year’s non-conference schedule was one of the worst in the history of mankind and a constant source of ridicule from pundits and opposing fans.

This year’s schedule is better, but still lacks creativity, if not a basic awareness of the sorts of matchups that get you into trouble. Last year, we didn’t play in any tournaments and our only tough non-conference matchup was a home tilt against the Orange. This year, we play Syracuse and Illinois on the road and we have a home bout against SMU. We also play in a tournament in Jamaica (Patrick’s home). So, while it’s easy to shrug your shoulders and say “well, it’s better than last year,” let’s take a second to more carefully unpack the games.

Our only non-conference game against a legitimate NCAA Tourney team is our matchup at the Carrier Dome. Our only home matchup against a halfway decent power conference school features SMU (hooray?). And the big-time tourney we’re joining will feature fabulous games against the likes of South Florida and Loyola Marymount. But wait, there’s more. Remember those 7+ sub-300 RPI opponents on our schedule last season? This year is only marginally better. Check out this murderer’s row of home games:

  • Maryland Eastern-Shore
  • Central Connecticut State
  • Campbell
  • Liberty
  • Arkansas Little-Rock
  • Howard

Want more people in the seats? Maybe try finding a few opponents that fans actually want to pay money to see instead of flying in the Washington Generals.

Why bother harping on this? Because this year isn’t last year. Even if you were prepared to give the staff a mulligan for last year’s rebuilding season, and you appreciated the need to inject some confidence in a relatively young team, you can’t argue the same this season.

We should be relatively good. Prognosticators expect us to finish somewhere in the middle of the conference, which would give us a legitimate chance to go to the Tourney. But in late February and early March, when cases are made for and against bubble teams...this schedule could keep us on the wrong side.

5. Will the sophomores take a major step forward?

I see you, Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. Any way you slice it, our two remaining sophs (we hardly knew you, Antwan) will need to be leaders on this team. Pickett was our third leading scorer last year, but only shot 36% from the floor and led the team in turnovers (2.5 per game). He needs to play smarter and be more patient this season. During a year in which Georgetown’s offense only seemed to have one speed (fast as hell), Pickett embodied this carefree style. Sometimes it was a refreshing departure from the plodding Princeton days of old, but other times it just seemed reckless and loose. I expect more from Pickett this year. He needs to be a leader.

As for Blair, last season he alternated between looking electric and inexperienced. While Blair was second on the team with 49 three-pointers made, he also shot a team-worst 33% from the field, including 32% from beyond the arc. He needs to be more consistent. With a year under his belt, he can’t be as willing to let the ball fly so eagerly. Blair, like most players on the team, needs to be patient. He’s definitely talented, but he needs to channel his talent more effectively.

Here’s hoping the two super sophs make the leap.

6. Will Matthew McClung pull out these dunks in a game?

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, Georgetown has somehow attracted one of the most electric dunkers in the country. His name is Mac McClung. His mama calls him Mac, so I’ma call him Mac.

And if his play during Kenner League is any indication of how good he will be, we could be in for something special.

7. Will Jessie Govan play his way into the league?

In his three years at Georgetown, the tall guy from Queens Village has consistently been one of the best players on our team. Last season, he led the Hoyas with an impressive double-double average (17.9 points and 10 rebounds per game). This season, he is on the preseason all-conference first team and people expect big things.

Jessie’s progress has been exciting to watch. He has gotten a little better every year; and now, with two off-seasons under Coach Pat, this could very well be his opportunity to establish himself as the premier post player in the conference. With the departure of Marcus, Jessie is the most experienced player on the roster and we’ll need him to be a leader. And the loss of Antwan Walker will make it even more important for Govan to secure rebounds and dominate the paint.

But as much as I want Jessie to play well this season to improve his NBA draft stock and be the next in line of GREAT GEORGETOWN BIG MEN.

I also want him to succeed because he has been unfortunate enough to never have a winning season on the Hilltop. Three years, no postseason tournaments, and a whole lot of misery.

If we miss the Big Dance, I believe he’d be the first four year player at Georgetown to never see the NCAA Tournament in 40 years.

Do it for Jessie!

8. Will we beat Syracuse?

Obvi.

Saturday, December 8th at the Dome. Payback for last season. If we win one game all season, please Lord, let it be this one. Maybe they’ll retire Gerry Mac’s number or something. And our Mac will drop 30 to kick off the party.

9. How will we define success?

The most effective way to measure Ewing’s progress is to focus on three areas:

  • Turnovers: Last season we turned the ball over at an alarming rate, especially in half court sets. While the lack of a true point guard contributed heavily to this problem, our tactics and execution often left something to be desired. This is one explanation for why we squandered so many second half leads. For whatever reason, the Hoyas just didn’t understand when or how to adjust speeds. It often seemed like we were playing one long game of pick-up instead of calibrating our offense based on opponent, score and time. Will that change this year now that we have a new backcourt and returning players have more experience under a new system?
  • Perimeter Defense: While Ewing deserves credit for helping to improve our foul rate and reduce the number of opposing free throws that so often plagued us, our perimeter defense was fairly terrible last season. The pick and pop frequently gave us fits. We need to do better.
  • Recruiting: While Ewing should be commended for drawing guys like Pickett, McClung and Akinjo to the Hilltop, the classes of 2019 and 2020 will go a long way to determining the success of our program. After an active summer, in which Georgetown seemed to be included in a number of top recruits’ final lists, we continue to be the bridesmaid, but never the bride. Winning will certainly help. But to be truly competitive, we need to secure commitments from the best of the best. The Princeton offense and our lack of a practice facility can no longer be used as excuses. Let’s go and get some players.

Putting these three things aside, if you’re the type of person who likes to keep things simple, but still wants to know whether our team is heading in the right direction, then you just need to focus on one specific thing:

We need to go to the NCAA Tourney this year. Period.

No more feel-good stories or transition years. We have enough talent on this team to finish at least in the middle of the conference and I expect us to do just that. In a fairly depleted Big East, we should fare pretty well. After three straight years of misery, I expect more. The time to feel bad for ourselves is over. Just go out and win some f*cking games.

Will we win the national championship this year?

Yes, we will win the national championship this season.

What’s up, Brian?

And so it begins….

Let’s go Hoyas. Beat Maryland Eastern Shore.