Otto Porter’s Head Injury Exposes Georgetown’s Weakness InsidePosted by IRenko on November 11th, 2012
I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court. You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Exactly seven months ago, rumors ran through the internet that top recruit Nerlens Noel was poised to follow up his tweeted plan to “shock the world” by picking the Georgetown Hoyas over John Calipari’s Kentucky juggernaut. Instead, Noel revealed his decision by unveiling a UK logo that had been cut into his famous flat-top haircut. His spurning of Georgetown dashed the hopes of Hoyas fans who had been fantasizing about adding Noel’s name to a legacy of dominant big men that includes Ewing, Mourning, Mutumbo, and more. More importantly, Noel’s decision left a big question mark on a program that had graduated star center Henry Sims and had no clear successor at the five spot.
On Sunday night in DC, that question mark was underlined in red. After an ugly 61-55 win against Duquesne, Hoyas fans’ biggest worry was probably the early departure of super sophomore Otto Porter, who, it was later revealed, was kept out as a precaution after he took a blow to the head in the first half. But a more subtle concern was the uneven play of Sims’ would-be replacement, sophomore Mikael Hopkins. Hopkins struggled to find his way on both ends of the court, often tentative on offense and decidedly unimposing on defense, despite playing an undersized Duquesne team whose tallest starter was just 6’7″.
After the game, coach John Thompson III readily acknowledged that Hopkins’ play was just “okay,” adding that “we’re going to need him to be good, not just okay. So he’s got a long way to go.” Indeed, JTIII demands a great deal from his centers. At Georgetown, the position brings lots of touches and a heavy responsibility for making the offense click and patrolling the defensive paint in their zone defense. Since Thompson took the helm at Georgetown in 2004, he’s had a string of strong big men — Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, and Sims — who could do so much more than just screen, rebound, and dunk, like so many others. In losing Sims, Georgetown not only lost 11.6 points and six rebounds per game, they also lost a team-leading 3.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per contest too. So although Hopkins had a couple of comfortable possessions in the second half and finished with 13 points on 5-12 shooting, a broader look at his line — including zero assists, four turnovers, and no blocks — more accurately reflects his growing pains.
In fairness to Hopkins, at 6’9″ and 223 lbs, he doesn’t profile as a prototypical center, certainly not the type that Thompson has featured since taking the helm at Georgetown in 2004. But Georgetown’s options are limited at best. Junior Nate Lubick had a strong freshman campaign, but seemed to regress last year, and currently looks on track to ride out his college career as a decent, but unspectacular, role player. Junior Moses Ayegba has played just 26 minutes in two years, missing all of last season with a knee injury. He played three minutes on Sunday night, and while he may be able to add some toughness and rebounding, seems an unlikely candidate to man the pivot consistently and capably. Sophomore Tyler Adams will miss his second straight season, presumably due to a heart condition that kept him out of action last year. And despite losing out on Noel, the Hoyas brought in two freshmen centers, 6’10″ Brandon Bolden and 6’11″ Bradley Hayes, but neither saw any playing time against Duquesne, suggesting that they’re even bigger works in progress.
Needless to say, it’s early, and there is still time for Hopkins and/or one of Georgetown’s other players to step up to the challenge. But the season’s earliest return hints that this could be a rebuilding year for the Hoyas as they try to groom a replacement at their most important position on the floor.