Picking Splinters: Hoyas Adapt & Thrive

Adaptability is an essential trait for survival in this world, and among the beasts of the Big East, it’s even more true. As conference play began Wednesday night for the Georgetown Hoyas, John Thompson III’s squad has done far more than adapt in the absence of Greg Monroe – they’ve flourished.

Heading into Wednesday night’s game against Notre Dame the Hoyas led the nation in effective field goal percentage, an advanced statistic that adjusts a team’s shooting accuracy to account for the added value of three-pointers. And Georgetown has been downright lethal beyond the arc.

Paced by long-range assassin Austin Freeman (49.2 percent from 3-point range), the Hoyas rank fourth in the nation behind the arc (42.8 percent). And that downtown prowess has opened up the interior as well, with Georgetown hitting 58.3 percent of their 2-pointers, the third-best mark in the land.
How are the Hoyas generating such good looks? Movement. Both ball and player.

For the past two seasons its seemed Georgetown’s players have been relatively stagnant without the ball in their hands. The Hoyas would bring the ball down the court, toss it into the top of the lane to Greg Monroe and station themselves around the 3-point line for a kick or simply watch last year’s lottery pick take it to the hoop himself.

Without Monroe, most figured the Hoya offense would suffer, since he served as both the primary passer and scorer in the Princeton-based set. But the Hoyas have improved in his absence.

Hard cuts to the hoop have revived backdoor passes that were locked down last season. And a plethora of perimeter threats (four shooters at 40 percent or better from behind the arc) have given them ample room to operate in the interior.

Stat-head and hoops writer John Gasaway posted an article Tuesday on ESPN detailing exactly how prolific the Hoyas’ play has been. Gasaway dubs any possession that results in a shot, rather than a turnover as an “effective possession.” Teams average 1.28 points per effective possession as a whole. The Hoyas? They’ve pushed their average to 1.48 through Dec. 29. In short, if you don’t turnover the Hoyas, you’re going to give up a point and a half to them. That’s just downright silly to think about.

The question now is whether the Hoyas success can continue in conference play. And the answer hangs largely on two key factors: 1.) Can they continue to control the ball? 2.) Can their interior game stay strong?

While the Hoyas have been lethal when they haven’t turned the ball over, they’ve coughed up possession quite a bit – 20.7 percent of possessions, which is only slightly better than the average D-I team. That said, it’s the lowest percentage since the 2005-06 season that saw the Hoyas run to the Sweet 16. Add in the fact that they’ve played two of the best pressure teams in the country (Memphis, No. 6 in steal percentage and Missouri, No. 12) and you’d assume they’d improve in that area as the season progressed.

As to the second point, while the Hoyas have largely triumphed (just one loss) against a tough non-conference slate, they haven’t really met any team with a particularly imposing front court. Against the two opponents they did face who rank in the nation’s top 10 percent of 2-point shooting, they lost (Temple) and required a miraculous rally – and missed free throws – to scrape out the W in overtime (Missouri).

That’s a concern, particularly with an imposing Syracuse back line standing between the Hoyas and a potential Big East title. But consider this: Last season the Duke Blue Devils won the national championship with Brian Zoubeck as their center. No point-scoring juggernaut, but Zoubeck did contribute to the Devils’ title by hauling down a ton of rebounds, particularly on the offensive end. For the Hoyas, Julian Vaughn is doing the same thing this season, nabbing 20.5 percent of available offensive rebounds (fifth best in the nation). When you factor in the extreme efficiency we discussed earlier, that’s a huge boost.

The Hoyas are not flawless, but the transition they’ve made in the wake of Monroe’s departure sure makes it seem like Georgetown will not only survive, but thrive, this season.