Friday, February 16, 2007

Preview of #14 Georgetown @ Villanova, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007, noon @ Wachovia Center

By Craig Dimitri

The Wildcats will face the #14 Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday, February 17, 2007, at high noon at the Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia. In January, they stopped a seven-game Hoya winning streak; now, they must ratchet it up a bit, in order to break an eight-game Georgetown winning streak, the longest such streak for Georgetown in Big East play in nearly 20 years (1989 was the last time it happened...) A comprehensive preview…

Georgetown is celebrating its basketball centennial this season, as it has an extremely ancient program. Villanova's did not start until 1920-21, almost a generation later.

The Viewpoint on the #14 Georgetown Hoyas

Coach: John Thompson III, who spent four years at the helm of Princeton (where he also played, graduating in 1988) and now in its third season at Georgetown, 61-28 record. Guided the Hoyas to a 23-10 record in 2005-06 and to the Sweet 16.

2006-07 season analysis:
9-2 Big East, 19-5 overall, RPI rank #26

Nonconference Schedule

Georgetown’s record is impressive. At the same time, it should be noted that they faced a reasonably arduous nonconference schedule, and by Georgetown historical standards, extremely arduous. This is yet another area where JT III does not in fact resemble his father. The elder JT was notorious for loading his December schedule with the highest transfat content in America, playing some of the weakest opponents in the old, decrepit Capital Centre in distant Landover, Maryland.

In contrast, Georgetown’s strength of schedule (SOS) as calculated by Jerry Palm of, as of Sunday, February 11, 2007, is at a respectable #38. (Villanova has one of the toughest, ranked at #6). The Hoyas even invaded Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke in December, which is the sort of place that his father would avoid like the plague in December. Duke’s weakness this year means that the Hoyas’ loss there does not give them the RPI bump it ordinarily would have, but GU deserves credit for scheduling the home-and-home. Other power-conference games: the Hoyas also traveled to Michigan and Vanderbilt, while losing at home to Oregon.

Cupcakes: Georgetown racked up some easy wins over Hartford, @ Fairfield, Ball State, James Madison, Oral Roberts, newly-Division I Winston-Salem State (whom I believe shares the Lawrence Joel Coliseum in that North Carolina town with Wake Forest), Towson, and Navy. They also had a home loss to Old Dominion, but the Monarchs are having a solid season, ranked #58 by the RPI.

(To the current students reading this – ODU is one of the chief villains in Villanova basketball history. As a #14 seed, Petey Sessoms led the Monarchs to a shocking upset of the Kerry Kittles/Jason Lawson/Alvin Williams/Jonathan Haynes Wildcats, a #3 seed, in triple overtime on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995. That team roared into the NCAA tournament after winning the Big East tournament title, the only Villanova team to do so, before or since.)

The only common opponent with VU, outside of the Big East, was Navy. Both Big East schools hosted the Midshipmen, but Georgetown had a much easier time sinking Navy, sending the Midshipmen to the bottom of the Potomac by an easy 65-44 margin. In contrast, the Wildcats had a much more difficult time sinking Navy, to the bottom of the Schuylkill, winning just 70-61, on November 25, 2006, at the Pavilion.

Big East Schedule

The Hoyas embark upon the Villanova trip on a torrid tear, having won eight consecutive games. Their most recent loss was in mid-January, losing @ then-#7 Pitt, 74-69 on Jan. 13, five days after falling by four points, to the Wildcats at the Verizon Center (where Villanova remains inexplicably undefeated, since the building opened in 1998!)

The Hoyas actually stumbled a bit out of the gate, beating Notre Dame and then losing at home to ‘Nova and @ Pitt. Villanova’s victory snapped a seven-game winning streak for Georgetown. However, in the subsequent eight-game winning streak, they have been very impressive, not just in the caliber of opponent but in the margins of victory. After the loss to Pitt, seven of the eight victories have been by double-digits. And in an ominous sign for Villanova, Georgetown’s two most recent conquests have been blowout victories over quality opponents in Marquette and West Virginia.

First, they made the New Jersey road trip, to both Rutgers and Seton Hall in three days, and beat both of them by double-digits (RU is dangerous in the RAC, even when they are bad, like this year). They returned to DC, pounded DePaul and Cincinnati, and then went back on the road – where first they crushed St. John’s, 72-48. And in what was the most incredible victory of all, properly garnering national attention – the Hoyas wrecked Louisville’s dedication of Denny Crum Court at Freedom Hall, winning 73-65 on Feb. 7, 2007. The Hoyas then returned home and mauled # Marquette by 18 points, 76-58 on February 10, 2007. On Monday, February 12, they crushed West Virginia, 71-53.
Georgetown Starters/Rotation

The Georgetown starting five is set in concrete: Hibbert, Green, and Wallace have started all 24 games, with Sapp starting all but one, and Summers all but three. They have some additional depth, though, in light of such a rigid starting lineup. It’s in theory a eight-man rotation, but the starters have the bulk of the minutes, with the sixth, seventh, and eighth players all averaging 12.3 min/game or less. Of the starters, all but Roy Hibbert can shoot from the perimeter, with varying degrees of success. (Ironically, although the pure Princeton system calls for even big men to take a three-pointer every once in a while, Hibbert has yet to take an attempt from long-range.)

The Player to Stop

#55 Roy Hibbert - 7-2 - Jr - Center- 13.4 points/6.4 rebounds/2.4 blocks/26.1 min/per game (Adelphia, MD)

Hibbert is the linchpin of Georgetown’s team, and stopping him is critical to the Wildcats’ hope of success. His one discernible weakness is his tendency to slide into foul trouble. He averages only 26.1 min/game, a low total for a star player, and the chief reason for that is that he also averages 2.4 personal fouls/game, tied for tops on the team.

Other Starters

#2 Jonathan Wallace - 6-1 - Junior - Guard - 11.3 points/2.8 rebounds/3.1 assists/2.5 turnovers/30.9 min/per game (Harvest, AL)

Wallace is vulnerable to Villanova’s intense defensive schemes, as he committed half a dozen turnovers in the first game, and through the whole season, he has only a few more assists than turnovers. Like Hibbert, he is also prone to foul trouble, averaging 2.4 fouls per contest.

Despite those limitations, Wallace is of central importance to the Georgetown offense. is a stellar marksman from three-point range, shooting an incredible 48.4% from that range and an impressive 51% from the floor. This makes him particularly valuable, as the Princeton motion offense places a premium on the three-point shot – one of its central tenets is that three-point shots should be taken without defenders in the way, something the weave strives to do on a regular basis. In addition, even for a guard, he is a great foul shooter, converting 88.7% of his shots from the line. Great shooter, mediocre ball-handler.

#21 Jesse Sapp - 6-3 - Sophomore - Guard - 8.8 points/3.6 rebounds/3.2 assists/1.8 turnovers/31.9 min/per game (New York, NY)

Sapp takes fewer three-point attempts than Wallace, but is far less talented at them, shooting only 32.9% from that range. Villanova will need to permit open looks on the perimeter, and one of Villanova’s goals will be to assure that Sapp, rather than Wallace, Summers or Green, receives those opportunities. OK foul shooter for a guard (67.4%). With the mid-season departure of Marc Egerson (see below), Sapp and Wallace are the only reliable ball-handlers the Hoyas have and if one or both fall into foul trouble, Georgetown will have enormous problems

# 3 Dajuan Summers - 6-8 - Freshman - Forward - 9.0 points/3.2 rebounds/24.1 min/per game (Baltimore, MD)

Summers was the star for the Hoyas in the first game, as we discuss below in “What to Expect”. Of the five starters, he is the one who missed three starts and also plays the fewest minutes. Good foul shooter, at 75%, and another dangerous perimeter threat at 38.9% from beyond the arc.

#32 Jeff Green - 6-9 - Junior - Forward - 13.2 points/5.9 rebounds/3.7 assists/2.8 turnovers/32.5 min/per game (Hyattsville, MD)

For a 6-9 forward, Green handles the ball a lot, as his high total of assists, as well as turnovers, indicate. The team leader in minutes played, he is a great three-point threat at 41.5%, and well as 77.5% from the line.

Off the Bench

A Player No Longer With the Program

#34 Marc Egerson 6-6 - Sophomore - Guard/Forward - 7.5 points/4.0 rebounds/24.1 min/per game (Wilmington, DE)

Egerson had been the clear sixth man, playing the most minutes by far of any bench player, and also starting three games. However, he had only participated in 13 games this season - a good foul shooter and a weak perimeter shooter. His final game was the December 30, 2006 trip to Michigan. Obviously, he was not all that crucial, as he didn't play a single BE game and the Hoyas are 9-2 without him.
On January 5, 2007, Egerson announced that he was leaving the Georgetown program, due to personal rebounds. The Washington Times speculated at the time that Egerson might have been unhappy that JT III had appareently recruited "over" him, so to speak, with the next recruiting class. Regardless of the reason for Egerson's departure, however, his loss means a considerable lack of depth, particularly due to his role as one of the trio of ball-handlers,.as none of the other bench players play significantly. The three bench players are likely non-factors.

#5 Jeremiah Rivers 6-4 - Freshman - Guard - 1.3 points/1.5 rebounds/12.3 min/per game (Winter Park, FL)

#1 Vernon Macklin 6-9 - Freshman - Forward - 3.4 points/1.5 rebounds/11.5 min/per game (Portsmouth, VA)

# 33 Patrick Ewing, Jr. 6-8 - Junior - Forward - 3.4 points/1.6 rebounds/10.9 min/per game (Marietta, GA, via Indiana University)

The younger Patrick Ewing also wears his father’s #33. He’s not as big, fortunately for the Big East, being only 6-8 and thus not big enough to be the dominant post player his father was. Ironically, he did not initially attend Georgetown. Instead, he opted for Indiana, where he played for two years, and then transferred, possibly because of the ascension of JT III as head coach. Ewing, Jr., sat out 2005-06 as a transfer, and is newly eligible. He’s the ninth man, though, in a nine man rotation.

Overall Analysis of the Hoyas

JT III has opted to install the pure version of the Princeton offense, which he learned as both a player and while the head coach at the elite school, which Pete Carril had devised and perfected, for so many years. It is a gorgeous illustration of the method of play of days gone by, with its emphasis on weaving, cutting, bounce passes, and the like. Carril actually tried very hard to keep its secrets within the Princeton family, correctly recognizing that if the offense became commonplace, it would be easier for opponents to stop. Accordingly, only Princeton family members (of which JT III was one, as a former player and eventual head coach) were let in on its true nuances, guarded as carefully as the inner workings of Freemasonry. Other schools have had some success with it, most notably NC State, although the Wolfpack’s Herb Sendek had to puzzle it out on his own, not being a member of the Princeton inner circle.

As a result, the transformation of Georgetown’s program is one of the most radical undertaken, by any significant program in the entire history of the sport. The formula of his father was to play incredibly ugly basketball, with an emphasis on tenacious and aggressive defense. As a result, the typical Georgetown game in that era was slow, marred with fouls, hideous shot selection, and scores in the 40s and 50s. In fairness, Thompson had a glittering run of success with this strategy, as he did win a national championship, go to three NCAA title games, and produce a stellar list of NBA players such as Sleepy Floyd, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and the long-time 76er star Allen Iverson, to name just a few. (See the Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History for more on that era.)

After Thompson resigned in the midst of the 1998-99 season due to a highly messy and public divorce, one of his inner-circle disciples, Craig Esherick, took over the program. Esherick had played under Thompson and also served as an assistant for many years, and by and large, he continued the formula established by his mentor. However, Esherick – for a variety of reasons too numerous to deal with year – did not enjoy anything beyond modest success in the five-plus seasons at the helm. Out of six postseasons, the only feathers in the Hoyas’ collective cap were a NIT championship and one NCAA tournament bid. This decline took place, ironically, at the same time that Georgetown had finally developed a significant home-court advantage. Beginning with the 1998 season, the Hoyas moved from the dilapidated Capital Centre – located in distant Landover, MD – to the plush new MCI Center (now Verizon), located in downtown DC. Fans, especially students, now had a state-of-the-art facility as well as a much shorter trip.

Esherick, after a long siege shared by his AD, Joe Lang (who was encumbered by the albatross of foolishly stating – at least, publicly – that it was unreasonable to expect that Georgetown should make the NCAA tournament every year) was finally fired at the end of the 2003-04 season, under enormous pressure from alumni.

When Thompson took over, he inherited a program which had largely lost the interests of the students (in general, Georgetown hadn’t really been a major national power, since Iverson left in 1996), and had entirely lost the interest of the DC media market, always Redskins-obsessed. The stellar success of crosstown rival Maryland, in nearby College Park, became the focus of college basketball in the market. Georgetown just didn’t matter any more. And so his success in reviving the program – and doing it in such an innovative way – is really quite an achievement.

Thompson abolished the previous approach of his father and Esherick, of emphasizing defense over offense and a commitment to winning ugly. Instead – and moreover, doing it with players who had been recruited under Esherick – he installed the elegant Princeton offense, beautiful to watch but extremely unpleasant for opponents to face. In addition, it had the advantage of destroying the orthodoxy on how to beat Georgetown (which by 2004, the end of the Esherick regime, had spread throughout the entire conference). Every opponent had to discard their previous ideas on how to stop the Hoyas and adapt to facing the same players, but playing a radically different style, the basketball equivalent of being used to playing at the equator and suddenly having your game shifted to the South Pole.

What to Expect

The most instructive source for what will happen, is the previous game on January 8 at the Verizon Center. Villanova’s 56-52 victory was a throwback to the old Big East days of ugly ball, as the teams combined for an astonishing 39 turnovers (21 by Georgetown, 18 by Villanova; ‘Nova also had 11 steals, and steals are more likely to lead to easy baskets than other sorts of turnovers). The eventual Villanova victory can be attributed to three major factors, beyond the defense that forced 21 turnovers:

1) A superb 16-point effort by Scottie Reynolds, who as a freshman in the early part of the season, was not well known to the Georgetown coaching staff, who realistically underestimated the offensive threat he posed.

2) An equally superb 14-point outburst from Shane Clark, a sophomore who was used primarily as a defensive specialist during the 2005-06 season.

3) Finally, and most importantly, a clampdown on Roy Hibbert. This clampdown was the most effective of any Georgetown opponent this season. He was a complete non-factor on the offensive end. Hibbert played 24 minutes, and not due to foul trouble (he finished with only two fouls). In those 24 minutes, he never even had a field goal attempt (his two points came at the line), and grabbed only three rebounds.

Hibbert leads the nation in field goal percentage, shooting at over a 70% clip, and he didn’t even get a single shot that day. He was a presence on the defensive end with three blocks, but Georgetown was not able to get him the ball (when he gets no shots, it’s safe to say that Georgetown had no ability to integrate the low-post into their offense. The low number of rebounds – rebounds for big men generally come when short shots are missed – also reflects this fact.

For Georgetown, the star was Dajuan Summers, who finished with 16 points, four rebounds, and three assists. The only other Hoya who reached double figures was Jonathan Wallace, whose dozen points were partially offset by the fact that he committed a half-dozen turnovers and had only two assists.

Villanova Update

The Wildcats (6-5 Big East, 18-7 overall, CollegeRPI rank of #13 as of Sunday, February 11, 2007) are riding their own four-game winning streak into the contest. The emergence of Dante Cunningham (last year, as with fellow freshman Clark, he was used primarily as a defender, and would be shuttled in and out on defensive possessions in the end game) as an offensive force has helped propel the Wildcats off the bubble and into safe NCAA territory. His high field goal percentage has taken some of the burden off Curtis Sumpter, and given Villanova additional presence in the paint.

I’ll have a full recap after the game.

Questions? Comments? Information? You can contact Craig Dimitri by e-mailing

No comments: