Season Preview – The 2019-20 Georgetown Hoyas
Oh, hi. What’s up?
It must be that time of year again. As the dog days of October come to a blissful end and we turn our calendars to November, we discover that arguably the most exciting season of Georgetown basketball in the last five years is about to begin. Why so exciting, you ask? Because we might finally, possibly – no, for real this time – actually, seriously, be good. For those of you scoring at home, this is YEAR THREE of the Coach Patrick Ewing era; and while seasons one and two have been kind of meh, season three should give the forever BMOC a chance to put his stamp on the program and (hopefully) turn a corner.
Let’s quickly recap how we got here. After missing the NCAA Tourney in three of four seasons, the powers that be at Georgetown decided it was time for a change. Exit JTIII and his glorious, plodding, consistent, frustrating, Final Four happiness, defensive foul-inducing, generally positive until it wasn’t, tenure. Enter Patrick Ewing. After two seasons at the helm, Ewing has instilled a decidedly different brand of basketball: we run, we attack, we foul less, we turn the ball over more, we are well conditioned, our rotation is deeper, we no longer run the Princeton offense…let’s take a look at last season’s top plays:
and yet….we have yet to visit the NCAA Tourney. Alas, in the last six years, your Hoyas have entered the Big Dance exactly one time (in 2015). That’s bad.
Considering this downward trend, why should any self-respecting Hoyas fan feel optimistic entering this season? (First of all, no Hoyas fan should feel self-respecting, so get over yourselves.)
The sense of optimism stems from the aforementioned YEAR THREE of the Ewing regime. Heck, in JTIII’s third season on the Hilltop we went to the Final Four in Atlanta. And guess which city will host this season’s Final Four? You guessed it – Atlanta.
How much will we miss Jessie Govan?
Jessie has been the centerpiece of Georgetown’s offense for the last four years and his steady improvement, particularly on the offensive end, has been fun to watch. Last year, his 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game earned him a coveted spot on the All Big East first team. Despite Ewing’s frequent ribbing of Govan for his “home run trot” and his lack of defensive mobility, Jessie was probably our best offensive player: he could knock down threes at a 41% clip and use his bevy of low post moves to score buckets down low.
[SwordOfBrunner note: I still have a migraine from some idiot on this god forsaken hell website claiming that Govan should have averaged 30ppg. Show yourself, we can name an award after you.]
But many have argued that Jessie’s lack of mobility was a hindrance on defense, as the Hoyas were consistently bad at defending the high pick and roll and switching off on screens. And Jessie’s motor may have been better suited the JTIII motion offense for which he was recruited than Ewing’s frenetic run and gun style of play.
A better way to look at this question is to focus on Govan’s replacement: incoming transfer Omer Yurtseven, a seven-footer from Istanbul who averaged an impressive 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds during his sophomore season at NC State. Yurtseven is a long and active defender who has no trouble running up and down the floor and is even adept at hitting the occasional three (while he does not attempt as many as Govan, he connected on 50% of his threes during his sophomore year, and he even hit five of six threes in a game against Clemson).
There is no question that losing Govan will be an adjustment, but this Hoyas squad will have no trouble welcoming Yurtseven to the mix. NOT to be confused with Yurtsix.
Pretty soon all of us will be Hurting for a Yurting.
Which of these newcomers will step up and provide meaningful minutes?
So many new characters, so little time to discuss them.
Here are some quick hitters on the newbies:
Malcolm Wilson: A 6’11’’ freshman who is probably still growing, Wilson is a bit raw and still needs to hit the weight room, but he’s a blocking machine and runs the floor with ease. He has a bright future, but he will likely only receive spot minutes here and there this season (and may even be red shirted).
Terrell Allen: A 6’3’’ grad transfer from Central Florida, Allen is a stout defender and a heady distributor. On a team with quite a few scorers in the backcourt, Allen will provide the sort of leadership and glue that this squad needs to gel. He should play 10-15 minutes per game and serve as a key facilitator for our bigs down low (after throwing lobs to Tacko Fall, he should have no problem getting the ball to our giraffes).
Timothy Ighoefe: A 6’11’’ big man from Nigeria, Timmy Iggy is a bit more ready than Wilson, but will likely only receive five minutes or so per game as a reserve for Yurt and LeBlanc. He should have an exciting future once he adjusts to the pace of the college game.
Myron Gardner: A 6’6’’ freshman from Detroit, this young buck reminds us of Jabril. He’s energetic and assertive on both ends of the floor and will fit in nicely in Ewing’s frenetic system. His shot needs a bit of work, but Hoya fans will love what this kid brings to the table on Day One.
Galen Alexander: A 6’6’’ junior transfer from Louisiana, Galen is another gift from former Hoya Darrel Owens (as well as Tyler Adams and Robert Kirby), who should push Pickett for minutes at the wing. Think of Aaron Bowen. This kid will definitely play; the only question is whether he will eventually start.
Qudus Wahab: At 6’11’’, Wahab is yet another freshman big man (also from Nigeria) who will join the frontcourt rotation. Wahab is more college-ready than Wilson and Ighoefe and should be the first big man off the bench. Expect him to spell Yurt and LeBlanc in the paint. His shot is still a work in progress, but he should be able to bang bodies and rebound down low. Expect him to play 15 mins per game.
Bottom line: Wahab, Gardner, Alexander and Allen should all receive key minutes on this year’s squad. Wilson and Ighoefe are a little more raw but should contribute here and there.
Can Ewing take the next step as a head coach?
Patrick Ewing received a lot of uneasy (unfair?) questions when he first took the head job at Georgetown. How can he succeed if he’s never been a head coach? How will he adjust to the rigors of college recruiting? What will his style be? How will he transition from JTIII’s more plodding motion offense? Can he develop guards?
So far, the report card on Ewing is decidedly incomplete. It’s clear that our teams are well trained, which is a testament to our rigorous strength and conditioning program. And Ewing has also excelled on the recruiting trail. He is a regular in high school gyms and at sneaker tournaments. He has reeled in a number of high-ranking players like Akinjo, Gardner, Wahab and Terrence Williams. He has struggled to lure in the top blue chippers, but that is to be expected until we start winning consistently. And he also deserves credit for bringing in talent in a variety of ways: JuCo transfers (Galen Alexander), straight transfers (Yurtseven), and grad transfers (Malinowski, Allen).
Less clear is the verdict on Ewing’s preferred style of play, his tactics and his role in player development. Ewing has freely admitted that he doesn’t really have a preferred style. He just wants his guys to run up and down the floor and play hard. Sometimes this has been a breath of fresh air, especially after several years of JTIII’s plodding offense. While it’s been exhilarating to see our team rally from double-digit deficits, it’s been frustrating to see our inability to protect leads or our players’ seeming inability to adjust our style of play based on score and time.
When it comes to developing talent, Ewing certainly deserves plaudits for shaping Derrickson’s game in only one season. Govan also seemed to improve under Ewing’s tutelage. But it’s still too early to tell whether Ewing has developed guards and wings. Pickett’s sophomore struggles are well documented; time will tell whether Mac and Akinjo can take the next step.
One area that is ripe for improvement is in-game adjustments. Our average first half scoring margin last season was +.9, while our average second half scoring margin was -.1 (only STJ and DePaul had worse marks in the Big East). While we all appreciate Ewing getting in players’ faces and urging them to REBOUND and BOX OUT, can he make the sort-of in-game tactical adjustments that could mean the difference between us going to the NCAA Tourney and flaking out in the NIT?
Which brings us to a related point….
Will Georgetown’s defense regain its swagger?
Last year our opponents averaged 78.1 points per game (which put us at #314 in the country). The only major conference team with a worse mark was Washington State. Now, we understand that this metric isn’t exactly the biggest indicator of success or failure on defense. (And heck, when you factor in our frenetic pace of play on offense, it’s slightly more understandable.) But this number seems to confirm what a lot of us were thinking last season: our defense wasn’t really that good.
And yet, what explains this? How did we give up 94 points to Arkansas Little-Rock, 97 points to St. John’s, 91 points to Creighton, 90 points to Seton Hall, and 101 points to freaking DePaul? (Yes, these are all accurate numbers.) And why did our opponents shoot close to 50% on two-point field goals?
While it would be convenient to blame all of this on Govan’s defensive immobility or our increased pace of play or players who simply don’t fit Ewing’s “system”, we really don’t have a clear answer.
Now that Ewing seems to have “his” guys (Mosely being the last remaining player from the JTIII era), will our newfound depth and athleticism translate into a more punishing defense? Will we press the sh*t out of teams? Will our incredible length lead us to play more zone? Will we finally be able to defend against the pick and roll?
This is the thing that boggles our minds. Where is that old Georgetown defensive swagger? If we have to witness DePaul light us up for over 100 again...
Will the Marquee Three make the sophomore leap?
Our three stud freshmen each made the All-Big East freshmen team. And Young James Akinjo took home Freshman of the Year honors. It’s not much of a secret around these parts: Akinjo, McClung and LeBlanc are the core players on this team and their ability to make the sophomore leap will go a long way in determining Georgetown’s success this season.
After an up and down (mostly up) first year, here are a few areas of improvement for these guys:
Despite heady point guard play, James still averaged three turnovers per contest and only 36.5% from the floor. With more complementary pieces on the roster this year, will his decision-making improve? Will he facilitate more and try not to force too much dribble drive? Will he have the upper body strength to finish penetration?
Last season he averaged two assists and two turnovers per game, and he only shot 27% from beyond the arc. Can Mac make better decisions with the basketball? And will his shooting stroke improve? Hopefully he’s been training hard.
As well as Josh played last year, he only averaged 24 minutes per game and shot a mere 69% from the free throw line. Will he be able to maintain his energy level if his minutes increase? And will he develop a midrange game to complement his already strong post game?
Will our non-conference schedule actually (gasp!) help us make the NCAA Tourney?
There’s no way to sugarcoat our non-conference scheduling these last two seasons, IT STUNK.
In 2017-18, our schedule was one of the worst in the history of mankind. Last year’s schedule, although slightly better, did not put us in a good position to make the Tourney (and our third-place conference finish didn’t even leave us on the bubble because of our comparatively weak strength of schedule).
This year the coaching staff has (finally!) offered us a real non-con schedule. We’re in a tournament at the Garden with Texas, Duke and Cal. We have home games against Penn State and Syracuse. We have road tilts at Oklahoma State and SMU. And the rest of our games are not against sub-300 teams. Sportswriters are justifiably praising our staff for an excellent schedule. Now the only question is: can we win games against these teams? If so, we should be rewarded nicely by the Selection Committee in March.
Side note: That game against Texas is gigantic. If we win, we likely play Duke (which, win or lose, will be huge for our SOS). If we lose, we likely play Cal (which will crush our SOS). Need to beat Shaka.
Whither Pickett and Blair?
Juniors Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair were both something of an enigma last year. As freshmen, they both showed a lot of promise, but during their sophomore campaigns, they really struggled to carve out roles among so many new faces.
Let’s start with Blair.
His scoring average dropped by five points per game, but it wasn’t all that surprising, as he had a lot more competition in the backcourt with Akinjo, Malinowski and McClung joining the mix. For Blair, the question is whether he can be a consistent three-point shooter off the bench and give us solid minutes in reserve. With Malinowski gone, we really could use Blair’s veteran presence and shooting ability. With a crowded backcourt featuring Akinjo, Mac, Jagan and Allen, Blair may not receive as many minutes as he wants, but if he can knock down threes on the regular, he should receive more steady play as the season goes on.
Pickett is the biggest enigma on the team.
On the one hand, his length and athleticism make him arguably the strongest defender on the team. We shouldn’t undervalue his presence on the defensive end, where he is a matchup nightmare at multiple positions. On offense, though, his struggles have continued. Despite playing a similar role both seasons, his scoring average dropped by about three points, he only shot 38% from the floor and he continues to commit far too many unforced errors.
Some of his struggles can likely be chalked up to the fact that Pickett is still growing into his body. This year, we expect him to find more success as a spot shooter. When he plays within himself, he’s a net positive; but when he tries to create too much off the dribble, he often struggles. We need Jamorko to give us solid minutes at the three, or else he may lose minutes to Galen and Gardner.
Will we beat Syracuse?
We better. For realz this time.
Saturday, December 14th at the Vault. We have lost the last two games to ‘Cuse in heartbreaking fashion. In 2017, we squandered a lead at home down the stretch and pissed away the game in overtime. In 2018, we had the lead and the ball with very little time remaining, until we managed to mess things up at the end, and Tyus Battle hit a big shot to beat us by a single freaking point.
This year will be different. It has to be different. Patrick Ewing needs to get that first victory against Boeheim.
How will we define success?
Year Three under Patrick Ewing. A relatively deep team with experience in the backcourt, a solid presence in the middle with Yurtseven, and several long and hungry players. Last year’s goal was to make the NCAA Tourney. And despite a third-place finish in the Big East and a handful of impressive wins, our schedule wasn’t strong enough and we were too inconsistent to merit serious consideration. Case in point: we beat Villanova and Marquette, but somehow lost at DePaul by 32 (seriously, that sh*t actually happened).
Most view last season as a qualified success because our freshmen picked up some serious minutes and blended in nicely. And we finally had a winning record for the first time since 2014-15. Hooray?
Our expectation this year is simple: go to the NCAA Tourney and win at least one game while we are there. No more feel-good stories or transition years. We have enough talent and experience on this team to win the damn conference. Let’s say that again. We have enough talent and experience on this team to win the damn conference. Sure, the Big East should be very good this season, with over 40% of the conference’s starters returning. But the fact that we are projected to finish sixth is, in our view, an absolute joke. Seton Hall and Villanova are favorites to win the conference. We beat both of those teams last year. And we should be even better this season.
After three straight years of heartache and misery, we expect more. The time to feel bad for ourselves is over. Just go out and win some f*cking games. Go to the Tournament. This year. Please and thank you.
Will we win the national championship this year?
Yes, we will win the national championship this season. In ATL, Georgia, what do we do for ya?
(NYHoya note: SwordOfBrunner and I both attended that lame AF Final Four. We remember frequent trips to Waffle House, “Blades of Glory” in theaters, and trips to the aquarium. And it was f*cking Passover. This year will be different. It will not be Passover.)
(SwordOfBrunner note: I didn’t go to the aquarium. or seeing a movie. All I remember is that blatant charge by Greg Oden being called a block on Uncle Jeff Green.)
ANYWAY...so it begins….
Let’s go Hoyas. Beat Mount Saint Mary’s.