Picking Splinters: Hoyas Tip-Off Uncertain Season

The curtain goes up on another Georgetown Hoyas basketball season this Friday and it’s anyone’s guess how it will pan out.

With a Final Four-tested coach, three McDonald’s All-Americans in the starting lineup and a conference schedule that won’t be quite the gauntlet it was last season, there should be reasons for optimism. But there still remains the mystery of last season’s collapse.

After a dominant 12-3 start that included a win over then-No. 2 Connecticut, the 2008-09 campaign ran haywire to the tune of a 4-12 record over their final 16 games, including a pair to perennial punching bags Cincinnati and St. John’s. To date, no one has adequately put a finger on an explanation. Some have offered up inexperience, with only one senior and one junior shepherding a flock of freshmen and sophomores. Others have hinted at rumored chemistry problems in the locker room, but have yet to back it up with any concrete evidence.

With the past still fuzzy (at least to fans and sportswriters) the future remains in flux. There are few constants this season and a lot of questions. How well the Hoyas can answer them will dictate their fortunes in 2009-10.

First, the constant: Greg Monroe. A top recruit out of high school, the 6-foot-11 center lived up to his billing, named the Big East Rookie of the Year after a debut that included a 16-point, three-steal undressing of UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet. Monroe’s quickness got the better of the behemoth that would become a No. 2 overall NBA draft pick, and established the freshman as the next member in Georgetown’s pantheon of big men.

This season should see Monroe assert himself even more, particularly in the Hoyas’ Friday opener against Tulane in New Orleans, La., Monroe’s hometown.

But that’s where the certainty stops. Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, the other McD’s All-America selections, have yet to ascend to the conference’s upper echelon of stars. While Wright’s stats were strong last season, he sometimes looked uncomfortable with the shot clock winding down. The converse quality defined his predecessor, the less-heralded but (to date) more effective Jonathan Wallace. If Wright can make the transition from frenetic set-up man/scorer to cold-blooded assassin, the Hoyas will flourish accordingly.

Freeman had a tendency to disappear last season, most notably from behind the arc, where his three-point shooting percentage dipped from 40 percent to 30.6. Still, Freeman has the strength and leaping ability to drive to the rim. A few more pick and rolls with Monroe and fewer distant jump shots could greatly aid Georgetown’s offensive efficiency.

But the rest of the picture remains blurry. Can sophomore guard Jason Clark (1.5 turnovers per game in 18 mins. per game last year) or frosh Vee Sanford adequately spell Wright at the point? What will they get from Nikita Mescheriakov, the foul-prone, sharp-shooter that stoned the Hoyas final shot of the Big East Tournament off the side of the backboard? How improved will Julian Vaughn and Henry Sims be? And will one of them be ready to step into the starting five? Will a semester of experience for “freshman” Hollis Thompson (he graduated from high school and enrolled at GU last winter) help him have a more immediate impact? John Thompson III (no relation) has spoken extremely highly of his top recruit’s potential. If he realizes it quickly, he could fill a big hole left by departed junior DaJuan Summers.

And they’ll need him. While the Big East is down after a star-studded season that saw nine of its players taken in the NBA Draft, it’s no cakewalk. And the Hoyas will also face No. 10 Butler, No. 13 Washington and No. 8 Duke in their out of conference schedule. Off nights are non-existent. Georgetown will have to dial its effort up, way up, over last year if it wants to return to the NCAA Tournament.

The ball is certainly up in the air for the 2009-10 Hoyas. It comes down Friday night. Maybe we’ll get some answers then.