Sports

Picking Splinters: Hoyas’ Defensive Woes

Defense.

It used to be the distinguishing characteristic of Georgetown Hoyas basketball. This season, it seems to be an elusive concept that has disappeared like a 3-point sharpshooter after an off-ball screen.

Time and again the Hoyas have appeared incapable of locking down any team on the defensive end. Particularly worrisome is their inability to even mark some of their opponents’ best scorers.

Against Pittsburgh, Ashton Gibbs torched Georgetown for 22 points, several of them coming off uncontested 3-pointers. A game earlier against West Virginia, Casey Mitchell poured in 28, again enjoying more open looks than a leading scorer should ever receive.

But it’s not just the talent-laden teams that have been exploiting Georgetown’s defense. Tuesday night, Seton Hall would have earned an upset had the Pirates’ Herb Pope not fouled out with 2:10 to play, allowing the Hoyas to rally with an 11-2 run to end the game and claim an 80-75 victory.

If you’ve been watching the past several Georgetown games and thought that opposing shooters were operating with impunity, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. In the last three games, Hoya opponents have all posted offensive efficiency ratings notably higher than their season averages.

For those unfamiliar with offensive efficiency, the stat is used to standardize tempo so we can see exactly how productive each team is with the same number of possession (in this case 100). Average Division I teams sport an offensive efficiency mark of 100.9. Seton Hall checks in at 101.7 this season, so not even a full point better than average. Tuesday night, the Pirates exploited Georgetown, largely via fast-break points, and posted an offensive efficiency score of 122.5. To put that in perspective, the nation’s most efficient offensive team, Pittsburgh, owns a 124.9 efficiency score.

Essentially, Tuesday night, the Hoyas allowed an average offensive team to play like one of the nation’s best. Suddenly that 3-4 Big East record doesn’t seem like such a mystery.

Ken Pomeroy, who developed the offensive efficiency stat, naturally has a counterpart for it called defensive efficiency. That metric measures how many points, on average, a team would give up in a 100 possession game. Georgetown’s defensive efficiency for this season is the worst it’s been since John Thompson III’s first season on campus. When the Hoyas were at their height in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, so too was their defense. So what happened?

If you want to turn back the clock, I can tell you about two underrated defenders named Patrick Ewing Jr. and Jeremiah Rivers that would hound opposing teams’ top scorers every night. This season’s team doesn’t have those types of players. In fact, most of the Hoya defenders look downright slow when working in their own end.

Maybe it’s lethargy, maybe it’s just confusion, but for some reason, Georgetown’s defenders really struggle when their opponents send out a simple screen for the ball handler. JTIII’s philosophy is always to switch off screens, which often produces mismatches favorable to the offense. In the past, Ewing, Rivers, even Roy Hibbert, have held that advantage in check through a combination of high energy (Ewing) and a combination of size and sound footwork (Rivers and Hibbert). The Hoyas simply don’t have that this season.

The lack of foot speed and inability to adjust is particularly evident on the interior. One way to see if players are in good defensive position is to look at how many fouls they’re charged with per 40 minutes of playing time. Julian Vaughn (5.1), Henry Sims (6.5), Nate Lubick (5.9) and Jerrelle Benimon (5.6) are all over an average of five fouls per game. Hollis Thompson, who plays a bit of a perimeter power forward role, checks in with a mark of 4.3. That means two things: 1.) These guys are likely out of position and have to foul in order to properly contest a shot or prevent a drive by their opponent. 2.) They have to sit out stretches of games due to foul trouble. Both elements hurt the Hoyas.

Georgetown has a week to prepare for their next matchup, a home game against a St. John’s squad who already beat the Hoyas once. It may be a good idea to address the defensive shortcomings in that time.