At this time last season, the Georgetown University men's basketball team had just rattled off their eighth consecutive conference win, their second in a row over a ranked opponent, and were smoothly sailing their way to the Big East regular season crown with a conference record of 13-3. One year later, the Hoyas still stand atop the conference at 10-2, but a recent string of uncharacteristically ugly play has cast a pallor on early expectations of a second straight sterling season.
Turnovers, an inconsistent offense, sporadic perimeter play, poor decision-making — these blemishes have sullied a recent stretch against Villanova, Louisville, South Florida and Seton Hall. That the Hoyas emerged from those four games with a mark of 3-1 softens worries of their recent suspect play. However, for a team with national title aspirations, the increasingly unsteady play gives cause for concern.
The glass-half-empty crowd will point to the following: In the last four games, Georgetown's normally deft three-point shooting touch has swooned. The Hoyas hit just 28.75-percent of their shots from behind the arc during that stretch, down from a season average of roughly 37-percent.
In the past two games, All-American center Roy Hibbert has averaged just 7.5 field goal attempts, a sign his teammates are having difficulty feeding him the ball in the post.
Freshman starter Austin Freeman appears to be struggling somewhat with the rugged Big East schedule. Since the start of Big East play, when the Hoyas have suited up on the Monday following a Saturday game — three occasions thus far — Freeman is averaging only five points and is 1-for-10 behind the arc in the second leg.
Guards Jesse Sapp and Jonathan Wallace have scuffled against the press of quicker teams like Louisville, Villanova and Seton Hall.
Those that harp on the aforementioned flaws similarly hearken back to memories of a Georgetown team that breezed through the Big East thanks to a fluid offense led by Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green. It's true that no one on this year's team has risen to match Green's stature and it's a fact that has hurt the Hoyas to this point, but how far is this year's team lagging from 2006-07?
Through the first 12 conference games last season, the Hoyas posted a mark of 10-2, with two losses — one at home — to teams in the RPI top 20 and a narrow win over Villanova. In their 10 Big East wins, the Hoyas featured an average margin of victory of 13.8 points. This year, the Hoyas have posted a mark of 10-2, with two losses — both on the road — to teams in the RPI top 20 and a narrow win over Villanova. In their 10 Big East wins, the Hoyas featured an average margin of victory of 10.9 points.
So … three points? That's what all the worry is about? And you can explain away that difference by the simple fact that the Hoyas' conference slate has been considerably tougher through 12 games this year compared to last. The Hoyas' 12 opponents' average RPI ranking this season is 74.6, compared to 77.75 last year, which counts Villanova (RPI of 19) twice.
Maybe Georgetown's defense — the best in Division I — is masking some of the Hoyas offensive flaws, but as of now, the warning signs just serve as cautions against further slips. A team with a 20-3 record is far from a team in crisis. Furthermore, as the big gun of the Big East, Georgetown has weathered the best shots from talented, middle-of-the-standings teams desperate for an attention-grabbing win — see Syracuse and West Virginia.
Doomsday is not at hand for the '07-'08 Hoyas, but some of their foibles still need fixing.
The most pressing fix for the Georgetown offense is a consistent way to work the ball into the lane and, in turn, Hibbert. Georgetown has often put four players on the perimeter to isolate Hibbert and relied on lob passes to feed the All-American. At times it's led to almost a passive approach, with the Hoyas seemingly testing the defense with slow passes around the perimeter rather than attacking and exploiting defenders by making quick decisions — and passes — and cutting hard without the ball.
When the entry pass to Hibbert isn't available and Hoyas haven't been able to exploit their man-to-man matchups (Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova) or crack the zone (Syracuse) they've fallen back on the three ball. When they've converted, as they did against Syracuse (8-25) and Villanova (7-20), they've won. Struggle — 7 of 42 combined against Louisville and Pitt — and you can file it in the loss column.
Georgetown will have to correct this and get the ball inside to win Saturday's rematch with Syracuse, particularly given the Carrier Dome's reputation of being notoriously tough on visiting shooters.
The Hoyas may not have a quick, off-the-dribble group of guards, but they didn't have them last year either. Instead, they utilized short rapid passes to make defenders commit and move away from their positions on the perimeter or double teams on Hibbert. Freeman, DaJuan Summers or Patrick Ewing Jr. will have to make plays from the baseline and the foul line if the Hoyas are to correct what has ailed them of late.
The games may not have been masterpieces, but to date the vast majority have still fallen in the win column. A few tweaks and the Hoyas will be every bit of the contenders they were last year.