Night Line: Sims, Georgetown Becoming a Surprise Force in the Big EastPosted by EJacoby on December 2nd, 2011
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
Amidst all the disappointing results coming out of the Big East Conference so far this year, the Georgetown Hoyas are the league’s most pleasant surprise, quickly developing into an impressive team on both ends of the floor. After playing well in its first six games, John Thompson, III’s team officially confirmed its status as a legitimate Top 25 team with a hard-fought win at Alabama on Thursday night. Thanks to the tremendous improvement of center Henry Sims, the Hoyas look like one of Thompson’s teams of old, running a crisp Princeton offense with a go-to big man in the high post, a la Greg Monroe or Roy Hibbert. A team that was picked to finish 10th in the Big East preseason poll, Georgetown suddenly looks like a legitimate contender in the league.
Thursday’s road win at No. 11 Alabama should open plenty of eyes across the country, in case they weren’t focused on the Hoyas during their solid run last week in the Maui Invitational. With his team down by one, Hollis Thompson sank a game-winning three-point shot with two seconds to play for the win. In the process, Georgetown snapped the nation’s fourth-longest home winning streak, 24 wins in a row for the Tide in Tuscaloosa. The Hoyas are now 6-1 with two wins over top-15 opponents away from home, the other coming against Memphis in Maui. Their only loss was a slim defeat to Kansas in that same Maui tournament. Georgetown’s resume is shaping up nicely, and Hoya Paranoia is most definitely back in action.
Sims is what makes this team go. A solid four-star prospect coming out of high school, the senior had been a massive disappointment during his first three years on campus. But 2011-12 is a new-look Sims, one that averages 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Even more impressive, the skilled 6’10” center leads the team in assists (3.9 PG), blocked shots (1.4 BPG), and field goal percentage (58%). He occupies the high post in Thompson’s patented Princeton offense, which features constant back-cut motion and demands high basketball IQ and passing skills from its big man. He has been the perfect fit this season, consistently making the right decisions that have led to his high efficiency numbers. He has good court awareness up high, can hit the jumper if left open, and he’s a fluid enough athlete that can quickly move down on the block and use his polished low-post skills once the ball moves. What other team in the country possesses a 6’10” low-post threat with team leading passing numbers and a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio?
Thompson, who hit Thursday’s game-winner, is another one of the most improved players in the conference. The 6’7” junior played 23 minutes per game last year but was not a huge factor in the offense (8.5 PPG). He looks more like a natural scorer this year (14.3 PPG) who can create his own shot at any time, and he leads the team in rebounding (6.1 PG) with his athleticism. Jason Clark, as expected, is this team’s leading scorer and senior leader. He is the one remaining player that had the most significant impact on last year’s team, and he’s now the Hoyas’ most consistent offensive threat. He averages 17.7 PPG while shooting 50% from the field and 44% from three, and had a game-high 22 points in Thursday’s win. Besides Sims, Thompson, and Clark, the other ten players on this roster are all underclassmen, but several of the young players have developed quicker than expected, especially sophomore Markel Starks and freshman Otto Porter, who both average over eight points per game and can hold their own defensively. Porter has an impressive size and skill combination, where he’s already the second-leading rebounder on the team and can cause havoc when the Hoyas go to a zone defense like they did against Alabama. Sophomore Nate Lubick and freshman Greg Whittington also play significant minutes, and there are three other eligible top-100 freshmen recruits on the bench that could have an impact later this season.
As with any young team, some growing pains are expected. But Georgetown has yet to suffer any serious setbacks this season, a testament of Thompson’s coaching ability and his three upperclassman’s leadership skills. However, the Hoyas almost threw Thursday night’s game away, blowing a nine-point lead with 2:30 left before Thompson hit the huge game-winner. Georgetown has already built themselves an impressive early-season resume, but the true test for this team will come during the grueling Big East schedule. The Hoyas have struggled in Big East play in recent years, with 10-8 records the past two seasons despite being among the league favorites. They’ve also been upset in their first game of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years. Only time will tell how this year’s surprising squad holds up when it matters most, but a fresh set of floor leaders looks to be creating their own identity for this up-and-coming team.