Picking Splinters: Hopeful Start for Hoyas

Through five games, the Georgetown Hoyas stand unbeaten, already with two wins against likely NCAA Tournament teams. Sunday night, Georgetown absolutely dismantled a North Carolina State squad that should fall among the top four in the ACC. And yet, in a few conversations with the G-town faithful, there seems to be a little skittishness that the Hoyas’ success will continue.

Perhaps it’s because the Hoyas are about to enter the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, with games against two more NCAA caliber teams – Missouri (Nov. 30) and Utah State (Dec. 4) – with Memphis (Dec. 23) on the horizon? Or perhaps it’s because the Hoyas’ offense has seemingly relied on 3-pointers in the early going?

The unease on the latter point is understandable considering the skepticism surrounding long-distance relationships (with the rim). That said, fans should understand that the 3-pointer is one of the most efficient shots in the game.

Consider this: If you make 50 percent of 20 2-point attempts, you get 20 points. But if you make only 40 percent of 20 3-pointers, you get 24 points. In short, as long as you can stroke it from downtown, you’re rewarded, even if you miss a little more often.

Next point: I suspect there are a fair number of Hoyas fans out there who still remember the pain and suffering that formed the Craig Esherick Era. The founding principle of that offense seemed to revolve around the repeated process of squandering the shot clock until the Hoyas could launch a contested 3-pointer. Such scarring could certainly make you wary of the arc, but not all 3s are created equal.

The shots the Hoyas have hoisted this year are often uncontested looks at the basket, thanks in large part to their ability to move the ball. Georgetown’s fluid offense has assisted on 63.8 percent of its field goals this season, showing that the Hoyas have been able to find the open man. And the 3-point shooting percentages of Georgetown’s snipers confirm it. Austin Freeman (50.0 percent), Chris Wright (46.4) and Jason Clark (48.3) all flaunt marks well over 40 percent.

Two other factors have also been encouraging early. First, the Hoyas depth has been on full display. Last season the aforementioned trio of Freeman, Wright and Clark all averaged about 34 minutes per game. Through the first five games, those minute totals have dropped to closer to 30, with reserves like Vee Sanford and Markel Starks getting a little more burn. Fatigue didn’t often phase the Hoyas last season, but the stinker they turned in against Ohio University in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament – where defensive effort was minimal – wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for a season-long short bench.

The second factor is improved rebounding. While the Hoyas lost glass-cleaning center Greg Monroe to the NBA draft, along with 29 percent of last season’s Windex, Georgetown has actually been a better boarding team this season.

Through five games, the Hoyas are grabbing 36.8 percent of available offensive rebounds, while allowing opponents to snag just 27.7. Those are the best totals since 2007’s Final Four team. In short, the Hoyas are swarming the boards, particularly freshman Nate Lubick and junior Henry Sims who have combined for 37 rebounds in limited action.

You could argue that the rebounding numbers are a function of a small sample size and not indicative of a new look for the Hoyas. And no doubt a 36-20 rebounding edge against wee Wofford helped. But there’s an effort level in this squad that Lubick, Sims, Julian Vaughn and others have shown when pursuing the ball that simply wasn’t present last season.

Back then, Georgetown seemed to hoist a shot and beat a hasty retreat back down the court to contest the next possession. This season, the Hoyas haven’t quit until their opponents have wrapped two arms around the ball. And Sunday night against N.C. State, Georgetown rode that dogged pursuit to an eight-point advantage in second-chance points in the second half and a key win.

It’s true that solid early starts have fallen apart for the Hoyas before (See: 2008-09), but between the good looks this team is getting on offense and a newfound passion for pounding the boards, Georgetown’s long-range forecast could be bright indeed.