The Georgetown Hoyas head to Madison Square Garden tomorrow evening to face the Red Storm of St. John’s (0-4 in conference and 7-10 overall) and their first season coach Chris Mullin, former superstar of Louis Carnesecca’s “Redmen”, NBA legend and member of the One and Only USA Dream Team (with teammate Patrick Ewing among other legends). The Hoyas enter the game 10-6 overall and 3-1 in the Big East, with 2 of those victories over winless (in-conference 0-5; 6-11 overall) DePaul, a win over 2-2 Marquette (80-70) and a loss at 3-1 Creighton (66-79).
While the Hoyas are wise to follow the guidance of playing “one game at a time”, this blogger is going to address the remaining, largely Big East Conference schedule--with the exception of one game vs former conference foe UConn–and the possibilities for the Hoyas as they sit halfway through the season having suffered several disappointments and no measurable high. While the victory over the Syracuse Orange was enjoyable for sentimental rivalry reasons, it has virtually little meaning in this season as the Orange continue to bumble through its season at 0-4 in ACC and 10-7 overall. Similiarly, the 71-61 victory over Wisconsin at the Garden was nice but this was not the Bo Ryan team that battled and lost to Duke in the 2015 national championship. On the other hand, a few of the losses were real downers, from the home opener 2 OT loss to Radford and the home losses (not close) to Monmouth (68-83) and UNC-Asheville (73-79). This was not the season fans were expecting with so much talent returning from senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to four super sophs and a highly touted freshman class, who were said to be “ready” for action. (At least one of them clearly is.)
If you are hungry for statistics and analytics, they are out there on every site and this blog will hit the high and low points. DSR started struggling early in the season, and his field goal percentage is still off (40% from the field, 30% from 3-point line). Those super sophs have been inconsistent. While the talent is there, with Isaac Copeland and LJ Peak, a leader has not yet emerged among that class and Tre Campbell has disappeared for large portions of games while he is the “true point guard” of the team. When the Hoyas struggle in games, the natural inclination is to rely on and turn to the senior captain DSR, but it is obvious after 16 games that he cannot carry this team through the remainder of the season. Talented forward Paul White remains injured and inactive, and he along with Isaac Copeland were expected to be leaders this season. Bradley Hayes, senior center, after a few early season double doubles, has returned to earth and honestly, what can one expect from a senior who rarely played in his first three seasons yet flawlessly in the NCAA tournament in 10 Perfect Minutes vs Eastern Washington University in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament?
On the bright side, freshman center Jessie Govan has been a Revelation. His play continues to improve with minutes and while he doesn’t start, he should. He is ready for prime time. Freshman forward Marcus Derrickson has had his ups and downs but has a killer 3 point shot. Freshman forward Kaleb Johnson too rounds out a class that most teams’ fans should treasure to watch them mature in a season’s time. However, Govan, Derrrickson and Johnson, as good as they are, are freshman and human. They should be filling in pieces of the puzzle and not to be relied on to carry this team but that is what seems to be happening. I predict that as the Freshmen Go, the Hoyas season will Go. That is a lot of pressure but as they log 48 minutes per game, the Hoyas will continue to rule on this Trio of Talent.
The Bottom Line: Three Potential Scenarios
I. IF the Coaching Staff Cannot Crack the Big East Code: Of the remaining 15 games of the season, 8 of those games are home and away with current Top 25 teams Villanova (#6), Xavier (#7), Providence (#13) and Butler (#23). Additional games include road games at Connecticut, Marquette (looking to avenge early season loss at Verizon Center), at Seton Hall (and St. John’s) along with the road contests at Xavier, Butler, Providence and Villanova. This currently looks like one of the toughest schedules in the nation, coming after early season road losses at #3 Maryland (71-75) (before tonight’s loss at Michigan) and against Duke at MSG (84-86). Worst case scenario is that the pieces do not fall into place, the defense fails to coalesce and the offense fails to form before it’s too late, in which case, even assuming a few home victories, a losing record or at best a .500 record in the conference is a possibility. Assuming 8-7, with an 18-13 record in conference, the Hoyas will have to do serious damage in the Big East tournament to earn their dancing shoes. Of course, there are many factors to be considered at that time, but the Hoyas will need to improve all facets of their game in the coming weeks to dance and not accept the dreaded NIT invitation.
2. IF The Hoyas Beat the Red Storm and Build on It: There is nothing like a road win to gain confidence and if the Hoyas win in New York, they return home Saturday to face the Villanova Wildcats, now sitting pretty in the Top 10, with memories of their meltdown in DC last season. A better scenario for the Hoyas is a win over the Johnnies followed by a fan-fueled and emotional win at Verizon Center on Saturday over the Wildcats leading into 2 games at Xavier and UConn. Last season the Musketeers had the Hoyas number and I expect a loss at Xavier again this year followed by a win at faltering UConn of the American Athletic Conference (what, you say?), though that will be tough game on the road. The subsequent games at home are against Creighton (revenge for an ugly loss in Omaha, “somewhere in middle America”) and the Big East darling this season, Providence, led by the best guard in the conference (and one of the best in the nation?), Kris Dunn. Again, it all depends on how far the Hoya coaching staff develops this team or all predictions here could fall by the wayside. In this scenario the Hoyas, with or without a strong conference tournament, may hit 20 or 21 wins and with wins over Villanova, Butler (at home) and Providence, may punch a ticket to the Big Dance if not held back by the early season meltdown against teams that don’t even qualify as mid-major.
3. IF The Coaching Staff and Team Rise as One and Take the Big East By Storm/The Delusional View?: I am open to the possibility that this team can turn around and surprise everyone in the Second Half. With ample talent on the floor, the only question is whether the right players will play and the team will gel, play some vintage Georgetown D and use teamwork to score rather than to rely on a single player to–DSR–to rescue them from danger. I believe that Isaac Copeland can become consistent and have that breakout (second half) of season that many were expecting; that LJ Peak can either start or come off the bench and lead his team slashing to the basket and getting to the line; and that the Talented Freshman Trio, particularly Govan, can rival some of the best players–not simply freshmen–in the Big East.
GoVan! This man needs to play more than 16 minutes per game!
A Few Additional Observations:
–Little Room for Error: The Hoyas average 74 pp. and their opponents 69 pp. with a scoring margin o 5.
—Turnover Trouble: The Hoyas currently average 14 turnovers per game.
It all starts tomorrow night in New York City. Are the Hoyas going to the NCAA, the NIT or worse? The cards are in their hands and in a conference filled with great talent, including coaching talent, the stakes are high and may set for years ahead the expectations of the Hoyas. Is is greatness we seek or merely competitiveness in the Big East?
Sad Conference News: At this time, I’d like to take a moment to send condolences to the Butler family and the family of Andrew Smith, the team’s former center, who played for Brad Stevens before the Butler Bulldogs entered the Big East. Just 25 years of age, Smith succumbed to brief battle with cancer this week. According to reports, he had remained close with his former coach, Stevens, who visited Smith recently while missing a Celtics game to be with his former player and star.