Sports

Picking Splinters: Eyes on Hoyas & Ovi in the Mailbag

Mike, the Hoyas are up to No. 14 in the Coaches Poll. Does that seem right for a team that couldn’t crack 50 points and almost blew a home game to Temple?

Craig E.

To be sure, the Hoyas’ current ranking is the product of the preseason opinion polls and a 5-0 mark against good, not great, competition. The one-point squeaker at home against Temple was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen the Hoyas win, but the Owls aren’t cupcakes, as they showed by knocking off mid-major darlings Siena a few games later. I’m willing to write that performance off to early-season kinks, particularly since we’re about to see who the true Hoyas are next week.

Tuesday kicks off a two-game stretch that will pit Georgetown against No. 20 Butler and No. 10 Washington. Each game features opponents with entirely different playing styles – the methodical approach of Butler and the frenetic run ‘n gun of Washington. Moreover, the Butler Bulldogs will be eager to validate the Final Four hype that’s surrounded the program after dropping decisions to Clemson and Minnesota earlier this season. Likewise, Georgetown may be the toughest opponent the Washington Huskies face all season, depending on how the Pac-10 shakes out. A win over the Hoyas may be a pre-requisite for a shot at a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament.

While the scare against Temple painted a fairly vivid picture of Georgetown’s lingering problems – too many turnovers, an inability to execute the offense in pressure situations – the rest of the early season has yielded some pleasant developments. And none has been more pleasant than the break-out play of sophomore guard Jason Clark. Through Monday’s game against Mt. St. Mary’s, Clark was third on the team with 13.2 points per game and tied for second in both rebounds (5.4) and assists (3.2). Defensively, he’s clogged passing lanes and harried opposing guards, averaging two steals a game. On the flip side, both Clark and junior point guard Chris Wright are turning the ball over far too often, particularly against teams that lack elite defensive talent in the backcourt. Washington, on the other hand, excels in creating chaos, forcing turnovers on nearly 25 percent of their opponent’s possessions.

If Clark can hold onto the ball and continues to provide points through the season, Georgetown will enjoy a very formidable starting five. Depth? That’s another matter. But it’s one that should be answered by the run ’em ragged Huskies. Needless to say, I’ll be paying close attention this coming week.

Hume, what’s your take on the Alex Ovechkin suspension, eh? Should he heed the warning from the NHL with the two-game benching and play less aggressively?

Barry M.

Absolutely not. Under no circumstances should Ovechkin, who has built his reputation not only as a hard-shooter but a hard-hitter, throttle down. By playing full bore, Ovi generates turnovers just by looking at opposing defensemen. A few strides in their direction and blueliners are firing the puck away from them with little regard for its direction. Often those hasty passes end up on the blades of Capitals’ sticks and in the back of opponents’ nets. Turning that aspect of his game off entirely robs the Caps of a potent weapon.

That’s not to say there aren’t adjustments to be made, however. The NHL isn’t saying the Great Eight needs to stop pounding on players. It’s saying he needs to make sure the hits are clean. And frankly, for his own good, he ought to listen.

The knee-on-knee job that netted him the two-game ban is a good example. Playing recklessly not only puts his team at a disadvantage (the five-minute power play resulting from the hit) it could also lead to injury (the bruised knee that currently has the game’s fiercest competitor listed as “day-to-day.”) The latter is of more concern to me. Injuries add up over time and slow you down, and sticking your knee into harm’s way accelerates that time frame. The Caps, and fans, will want to see Ovechkin at his best for as long as possible. Making sure he minds his knees is a good way to make sure that happens.