For the Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team, the 2009-10 season was a bit of a mystery, wrapped in an enigma- located in the Twilight Zone. There were world-class wins over national title finalists Duke and Butler, and outrageous losses to Rutgers and Ohio University, the later of which ended the Hoyas’ season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Here we sit, with a Friday game against Old Dominion serving as the opening to the 2010-11 season and questions are again in no short supply. Offensive lynchpin Greg Monroe departed for the NBA Draft, but the rest of the roster returned, giving the Hoyas a plethora of experience players for the new campaign. But can they be more successful without a do-it-all lottery pick like Monroe than they were with him?
When the season gets underway Friday, I’ll start looking for answers to the following key questions:
Can the frontcourt step up?
Forgetting Monroe’s contributions as a playmaker and the facilitator of Georgetown’s offense, the former starting center was one of the nation’s best defensive rebounders, pulling down 25.2 percent of available boards, the 26th best mark in the land. As a team, however, the Hoyas sat in the middle of the D-1 pack (148th).
Replacing that kind of rebounding efficiency won’t be easy, and with the Hoyas using a frontcourt-by-committee approach to replace Monroe’s skill set, it will be extremely important for returning forwards Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson, Jerrelle Benimon, Henry Sims and freshman Nate Lubick to pursue the basketball with maximum effort.
If opponents can continually extend their possessions, Georgetown’s deliberately paced game plan becomes far less effective.
Can the backcourt run the offense?
This isn’t so much a question of ability, but logistics. Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark may form the best backcourt in the Big East, if not the nation, but the beauty of a big man like Monroe running the show is that he draws his defender away from the basket, opening lanes for guards to make backdoor cuts or drive to the basket. A player like Julian Vaughn isn’t much of a threat on the perimeter, so the big question will be how the Hoyas create space to execute their offense.
One thing that will help is their three-point shooting. The Hoyas ranked 21st in the nation behind the arc last season and should be near the top again. With the perimeter shooting ability of Wright, Freeman and Clark keeping teams from packing the lane, Georgetown should be able to run a similar scheme to the 2007-08 campaign when Roy Hibbert anchored the lane after Jeff Green’s departure. The Hoya forwards may not be able to make the pretty entry passes Monroe did, but I suspect they’ll still be able to put plenty of points on the board.
Who’s this season’s X Factor?
Last season Jason Clark emerged from a turnover-prone point guard to one of the premier shooters in the conference (42.4 percent from 3-point range). If the Hoyas can get a similar contribution from Hollis Thompson this season, they should be in very fine shape.
Thompson, a red-shirt sophomore, enrolled midway through the 2008-09 season in order to better learn the Hoya systems. He showed progress over his first season of play in 2009-10, gaining confidence particularly as a perimeter shooter. Now he needs to take the next step and be an all-around threat.
Thompson may not have the same size as Monroe, but he has the best chance to emulate his all-around talent. It’s that versatility that makes him the most likely Hoya to inherit Monroe’s spot in the starting five, with Vaughn at center.
But don’t rule out the talent of two incoming freshmen, power forward Nate Lubick and guard Markel Starks. Lubick has been applauded for his interior Big East-ready intensity, while Starks knows how to light up the scoreboard. That tandem should give Georgetown plenty of depth this season, enabling the team to spell a starting five that saw about 82 percent of the available minutes last season, the fifth-highest total in the nation.
Now, with those questions all teed up, it’s time to get some answers. Bring on the college hoops season.