Markel Starks Leaves Senior Night Fighting, As Always

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 5th, 2014

On Tuesday night in Washington DC, Markel Starks sat in the press conference room inside the Verizon Center for the final time. In one of the final questions from reporters, Starks was asked if he had mixed feelings about his final home game, specifically coping with the fact that Georgetown has had a disappointing season under his stewardship as the senior leader. His (and John Thompson III’s) response: “there’s still time”. After Georgetown’s surprising 75-63 upset of Creighton, where Starks himself had 17 points and 11 assists, they indeed bought themselves more time. More time to reconcile this season as they now have a puncher’s chance at an NCAA Tournament bid; which would be the appropriate send off for the fiesty senior point guard.

Markel Starks is a major reason the Hoyas have not fallen apart.

Markel Starks is a major reason the Hoyas have not fallen apart.

While Starks, and JTIII, tried to put a positive spin things, the essence of the reporter’s question was true; this is probably not how Starks played out his senior season in his mind. Outside events occurred, that were well out of his control, and took a toll on the Hoyas’ season. First, Greg Whittington, probably the most talented player on the roster, tore his ACL last summer and was dismissed from the team at the end of November. In January, the Hoyas lost their lone scoring option down low, Joshua Smith, for the remainder of the season due to academic issues. Finally, as if they weren’t thin enough already, they also lost the services of Jabril Trawick for a couple of weeks from a broken jaw. So their season suffered, and it was up to the backcourt, Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, to make lemonade and carry the team on their backs.

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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on January 27th, 2014

Every Big East team played on Saturday. Some had impressive outing, while others fell flat and disappointed. Here we highlight some of the positives and negatives from the weekend’s action with Three Up, Three Down.

Three Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

  1. Providence’s Supporting Cast. Coming into the season the emphasis was placed on senior scoring machine Bryce Cotton. In the non-conference slate, the team fared well but started with a poor 0-2 mark in conference play with a bad home loss to Seton Hall and a blowout defeat to Villanova. In those early losses, players like LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and Josh Fortune had rough performances. They turned the ball over too much — 15 from the starters vs. Villanova — played poor defense, and failed to make the key plays that win games. More recently, Providence has been on a roll and these players are the primary reason for the difference. In the Friars’ win on Saturday against Xavier, four starters had at least 10 points with Henton dropping 23, Harris and Batts scoring 12 each, and Fortune hitting a key three as he was fouled to stymie a Xavier run. Carson Desrosiers was also very impressive on the defensive end, with six blocks against the Musketeers. Providence has now won five in a row to move to 5-2 in league play, good for third place in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 27th, 2014

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  1. Things aren’t going well for Georgetown as demonstrated by this sad fan which may be the funniest college basketball meme of the season. The Hoyas have lost five of six games to fall to 11-8 on the season and are on the outside looking in with respect to the NCAA Tournament. That stretch began with Joshua Smith’s first missed game (and he’ll miss the rest of the season), and Jabril Trawick only played in the first loss to Providence. Those two certainly have their flaws, but they’re significantly better than the other players who remain in John Thompson III’s frontcourt. It appears that it will be a long 2014 for the Hoyas and Sad Scott is only going to get sadder over the next two months.
  2. Creighton is fully embracing Ethan Wragge‘s status as a three-point shootin’ lumberjack. More importantly, Wragge has also adopted the persona as depicted in an excellent Omaha.com profile about the nation’s best shooter. Wragge revealed in the article that at one time he considered transferring from Creighton, but thankfully for Bluejays’ and college basketball fans everywhere, he stuck around. Wragge currently leads the nation in effective field goal percentage at 73.4 percent and true shooting percentage at 74.1 percent, and his 50 percent three-point stroke makes him a key part of the top offense in college hoops this season.
  3. Xavier coach Chris Mack thought he had escaped LaDontae Henton when the Providence wing picked the Big East’s Friars over the Atlantic 10′s Dayton during his recruitment. Then the Musketeers joined the Big East and Mack was stuck facing Henton, who had 23 points in the Friars’ win on Saturday, anyway. Henton’s improvement is one of the primary reasons why Providence has been able to weather a storm of player injuries and suspensions to be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
  4. Butler‘s Big East struggles culminated over the weekend with a 17-point home loss to St. John’s. The Bulldogs, a team that had already dropped six of seven conference games heading into the Saturday match-up, may have finally hit rock bottom according to IndyStar.com writer Zak Keefer. With three road games in a row coming up next, Butler is likely to find itself looking up at DePaul in the league standings for the rest of the season. This could turn out to be the first year that the Blue Demons don’t finish last in Big East play since 2008.
  5. Are things already going sour for Steve Lavin at St. John’s? The Red Storm only have one NCAA Tournament appearance in four years under the head coach and they likely aren’t headed to the Big Dance once again this year. The pressure may be on Lavin after a recent report suggested his relationship with the school is going south. He’s already denied the report, of course, but Lavin needs to start winning with the tremendous amount of talent he keeps bringing into this Big East staple.
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Morning Five: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 27th, 2014

morning5

  1. After he scored 25 points in the first game of the season we thought that Joshua Smith might have actually turned a corner and could be a productive force for Georgetown. Although he did continue to be a productive player averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game his numbers tailed off as the season went on and after on Friday he was declared academically ineligible by the school. Smith, who transferred from UCLA last season and surprisingly got a waiver to play this season without missing any time, has never been able to get into playing shape for any long period of time and at this point we are not sure whether or not he will stay at Georgetown. What we are sure of is that if he does not there will be no shortage of coaches out there willing to take a chance on him thinking that they will be the one to get through to him.
  2. This Bubu Palo case does not appear to be going away any time soon  for Iowa State. Palo, who was charged with second-degree sexual assault that were later dropped, was kicked off the Iowa State basketball team despite his legal victory because the school felt that the had violated the student code of conduct. Unfortunately for Palo the decision came after the transfer window for this season closed. Last week a county court ruled that Palo should be allowed to play for Iowa State, but the Board of Regents objected so the case went to the Iowa Supreme Court where they again ruled in favor of Palo and denied Iowa State’s request for an immediate stay. As we mentioned last week, there have been several cases like this in that a player was kicked off a team despite having charges thrown out against him, but this is the furthest a school has went to keep a player off a team. We are not sure if Iowa State will try to take this even further, live with the decision, or just tell Fred Hoiberg just to keep Palo on the team (we are assuming the last choice is not an option).
  3. On Friday, Robert Morris announced that four members of its men’s basketball team–Jeremiah Worthem, Britton Lee, Evan Grey, and Shaire Tolson-Ford–had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of an unspecified university policy. The loss of four players will certainly hurt the team from a depth perspective, but only Worthem (8.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game) was a significant contributor. The bigger issue for Robert Morris is that with Worthem out and Mike McFadden already reportedly considering leaving the team an even bigger onus will be placed on Stephen Hawkins to step up as Lucky Jones, a guard who leads the team in rebounds, cannot be asked to carry a much bigger burden.
  4. Mark Emmert and the NCAA leadership might be sticking by the idea of maintaining a single organization. Why wouldn’t they since their existence depends on it? It appears that not all of the schools feel the same way. Gordon Gee, the interim president at West Virginia, has come out and endorsed splitting the top-tier of schools into a separate division with separate rules or completely breaking away. Gee, who has led numerous universities (see his Wikipedia profile for more details than we care to provide), claims that having these schools leave the NCAA would allow them to “really reinvent the whole nature of the governance structure.” That might be true, but we have a feeling that this new group of schools would eventually create another overseeing body not unlike the NCAA and we would have many of the same problems that we have today.
  5. It has been a very long time since we heard from Marshall Henderson. Part of it has been Mississippi’s uninspiring schedule, but he also seems to have been his best behavior. That is until Saturday when he appeared to exchange words with Mississippi State coach Rick Ray. Henderson has not publicly commented on the altercation, but Ray did yesterday and apologized for his actions. As Ray notes, no matter what Henderson did (and Ray doesn’t mention him by name), there is no reason for a coach to get into an altercation like that.
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Georgetown in Bad Shape Without Joshua Smith

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 22nd, 2014

Back in December, I wrote how Joshua Smith’s inability to play full starter minutes is an opportunity cost to Georgetown. Now a month later, John Thompson III and the rest of his staff are just wishing they could get those partial minutes back from their big man. The junior center has missed the last five games due to academic issues, which has — in addition to the indefinite loss of Jabril Trawick (broken jaw) — caused the Hoyas to go 1-4 in Big East play including Monday night’s 80-72 overtime loss to Marquette. Without Smith available, Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera are the only viable scoring options for the Hoyas and teams have adjusted by clamping down on both players. To their credit, each has stepped up his efforts by scoring more than half of the team’s points in nearly full-time minutes during this five-game stretch. But it is this over-reliance that has caused Georgetown to give up leads at the end of games and why the Hoyas find themselves in their current troublesome state.

Markel Starks scores a career-high 28 points in a losing effort to Marquette. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Markel Starks scored a career-high 28 points in a losing effort to Marquette. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

First, let’s look at the impact Smith’s absence has had on the Hoyas. Basketball numbers man Dan Hanner has an article at realgm.com where he splits the advanced metrics of team performance for Georgetown both with and without Smith. (note: these numbers do not take into account Georgetown’s game against Marquette). The numbers are staggering. The team’s Pythagorean Winning Percentage went from 0.899 with Smith to 0.435 without him — in other words, given a middle-of-the-road schedule, the Hoyas with Smith in the lineup would win around 90 percent of their games, while the same schedule played without Smith would win only 44 percent of their games. In my previous post examining Smith’s impact, I believed his contribution was more significant on offense rather than defense. What Hanner’s analysis shows is that the Hoyas have felt the sting of his loss on both ends of the court. Without him, the offense scores 11.4 fewer points per 100 possessions and the defense allows 10.5 more points per 100 possessions. As a result, the Hoyas face a structural deficit where they are allowing 2.3 points per 100 possessions more than they are scoring. Before Smith’s benching, this difference was an offensive advantage of 19.6 points per 100 possessions (a 21.9-point swing). What Hanner’s analysis shows is that the loss of Smith has had a much bigger impact on the outcomes of the Hoyas than I previously thought it would.

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Big East M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Georgetown will be playing undermanned tonight when the Hoyas travel to Cincinnati to play Xavier. Joshua Smith is still battling academic issues and Jabril Trawick will miss his second straight game after he broke his jaw against Providence last week. The Hoyas were impressive in their overtime victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, but Xavier poses a tougher test as they are 8-1 in their last nine games after a loss to Creighton on Sunday. Xavier has a very good frontcourt and will likely look to exploit Georgetown’s relative lack of size. Moses Ayegba and Reggie Cameron will have to step up and play more than the 10 minutes they have averaged so far this season. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera must continue their own exceptional play, but not having their big men to help space the floor will make finding open shots more difficult.  
  2. Xavier lost its first game after an eight-game winning streak, but the Musketeers are ready to face Georgetown after taking away several positives from their close loss to Creighton. They had trouble guarding Doug McDermott and didn’t shoot their free throws well (59%), but the team was happy about the perseverance they showed throughout. Center Matt Stainbrook said, “it [showed] a ton of resiliency and the fact that we can all have short-term memories. You learn from your mistakes, but when it comes to misses or stuff that’s not favorable for us, we have a really short-term memory.” Going forward in conference action, Xavier will need that short memory to keep fighting when momentum is not on their side, like they experienced on Sunday when Creighton was simply unconscious from deep.
  3. Luke Fischer‘s transfer was officially announced on Monday when he began classes at Marquette; yesterday he spoke to the media. He has already begun practicing and assistant coach Jerry Wainwright sounded excited about working with the new big man. Fischer has 11 months until he can suit up, but Wainwright says he will have an instant impact on the Golden Eagles. Fischer will match up against Davante Gardner and Chris Otule in practice, giving the centers a break from each other and a new challenge on both ends. The league has several centers similar to Fischer, but few like Gardner and Otule, so they will have a player to practice against that will more closely replicate games. In other Marquette news, Paint Touches takes a look at the freshmen so far, discussing those who are coming into their own and becoming significant contributors. Cracked Sidewalks has five charts that show why Marquette should be better than it has shown this season. The Golden Eagles seem to be rounding the corner every other game, but have yet to beat a team ranked higher than themselves.
  4. The Big East may not be as strong at the top this season with only two teams currently in the Top 25, but the league has tremendous depth. While Villanova and Creighton have moved up to #6 and #20 in the latest AP poll, the rest of the league may not be ranked but there are no really bad teams this year. In years past, teams like Syracuse and Louisville were national title contenders, but the league also suffered South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, and Providence perennially struggling to win more than a few games. As of last night, seven of the 10 conference teams were ranked in the top 70 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings, and DePaul was the lowest at #130, a number likely to rise after beating St. John’s. So far, the league has only had six blowout wins, showing the relative parity among all of the teams. This had led to a ton of excitement on numerous Big East campuses this season.
  5. ESPN had a series of posts on the best venues in college basketball, and not surprisingly, Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs, was included. Eamonn Brennan wrote about the history of the building, including most famously being where the “Milan Miracle,” the game that inspired the making of the movie, Hoosiers, occurred, and the incredible atmosphere in the building. He gives a great description, “You ascend the same blue-tinged concrete concourse to find your seat. You see the same afternoon sunlight shine down at the same angle through the same windows on the same, original wooden floor, the oldest in college basketball.” Hinkle seems to be a magical place as there constantly outstanding games there, including five overtime periods already this season. The Big East has some great venues with the Cintas Center, Bradley Center, and CenturyLink Arena among them drawing some of the largest crowds in the nation.
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Three Thoughts on Georgetown’s Win Over Butler

Posted by Walker Carey on January 12th, 2014

Butler came into Saturday night’s game in dire need of a victory. The Bulldogs entered with an 0-3 Big East record and they had hit a low point Thursday night when they allowed lowly DePaul to leave Hinkle Fieldhouse with an overtime victory. Georgetown also entered the contest needing for a win. The Hoyas struggled mightily in their first road conference game on Wednesday, falling at Providence, 70-52. Georgetown also experienced some personnel issues in the past week with center Joshua Smith unavailable due to an academic issue and forward Jabril Trawick suffering a broken jaw in Wednesday’s loss. As it turned out, Georgetown was able to overcome its depth issues and hand Butler yet another overtime loss in a 70-67 Hoyas’ victory. The following are three thoughts from Saturday night’s game in Indy.

John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Playing At A High Level (Getty)

John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Playing At A High Level. (Getty)

  1. Georgetown’s Perseverance Was Impressive: Already with Smith and Trawick unavailable, Georgetown’s frontcourt battled foul trouble all night long. Starting forwards Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins and reserve big man Moses Ayegba were all disqualified before the final buzzer sounded. The Hoyas refused to use that as a hindrance, though, as they were able to seamlessly shuffle in senior forward Aaron Bowen, freshman forward Reggie Cameron, and former walk-on John Caprio to pick up the slack left by their fouled-out veterans. The Hoyas also persevered in the final minute when it looked like Butler was going to escape with a victory, but senior guard Markel Starks nailed a clutch three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to tie the game at 60 and ultimately send it to the extra period. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 10th, 2014

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  1. Creighton let out a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday. First, Doug McDermott‘s shoulder injury turned out to be a shoulder sprain. He is expected to play on Saturday and downplayed the injury, a good sign for the stud. Later, fellow senior Grant Gibbs received good news as his scary knee injury was revealed to be a dislocated kneecap. The worst case scenario some were fearing was a torn ACL, but luckily the sixth year senior will be able to play in his final year. Gibbs is expected to be out about a month, returning in time for the final month of the Big East season and postseason tournaments. The Creighton offense has been playing spectacularly and the team will feel the loss of Gibbs, but should survive without him, as several players like Jahenns Manigat, Austin Chatman, and Devin Brooks have stepped up their games this year. Each is averaging at least seven points, three rebounds and two assists per game. 
  2. Georgetown center Joshua Smith did not travel with the team to Providence due to academic reasons. The Hoyas ended up getting run out of the gym against a Friars team that started 0-2 in the Big East. The Hoyas had their worst offensive performance of the season, shooting 39.6% from the floor while committing 15 turnovers. This situation looks similar to the suspension Greg Whittington was dealt after the first semester because of grades, and he ended up not playing the rest of the year. Hopefully Smith resolves the academic issue and returns back to the lineup because the Hoyas need his offensive presence down low to open up the floor for Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is having a breakout year. 
  3. Doug McDermott is gaining traction as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors. With all the early season buzz about the top freshman across the country, McDermott is earning more recognition from the press for his remarkable season. Seth Davis wrote a great piece highlighting him as the top senior and SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton wrote about the star bucking the one-and-done trend to continue to hone his game,  and his relationship with his coach, who is also his father. CBSSPORTS.com‘s Gary Parrish gave Doug a ton of attention this week by looking at whether he will win his first scoring title as well as putting him at the top of his list for NPOY, pointing out the last player to have the numbers he is putting up was Kevin Durant.
  4. The world’s most famous bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, published his latest bracketology yesterday. He has four Big East teams in the field, with Villanova leading the way with a #2 seed. Creighton improved to a six seed and Xavier moved up to an eight seed. Georgetown regressed down to the 10 line after their loss to Providence. Butler was the eighth team out before they lost to DePaul, likely setting them back farther. Creighton and Xavier have impressed and should continue rising if their recent play continues. Seth Davis thinks the league will end up receiving five bids, but the rest of the league’s teams have not been helping their case. As unlikely as it seems now, don’t be surprised if Marquette and Providence make serious runs for berths as both have seemed to turn a corner and have the talent to win big resume boosting games.
  5. Seton Hall solidified their 2014 recruiting class with the addition of Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou. The Sudan native is 7’2″, but failed to see the court often while in Evanston. Ajou has a great story, coming to the United States after being held hostage in his home country. He will be eligible after the first semester next season and joins one of the nations top recruiting classes. The one missing piece for Kevin Willard’s team was at the center position, and he now will have a player in conference play to battle in the post. He has great size and physical tools, and will have the next year to get to know Willard’s system and improve his game. Ajou has the genes as his cousin is Luol Deng, but it will take more than that for him to play big minutes next year.
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D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera Ready to Become a Household Name

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 6th, 2014

Markel Starks is the leader; Joshua Smith is the enigma; and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (DSR) is the scorer. These are the identities of each of Georgetown’s three best players this season. In Saturday afternoon’s blowout win against St. John’s, Smith-Rivera fulfilled his role by dropping 31 points on a remarkable 12 shots. It was a big game for the sophomore guard from Indianapolis — not only did he score in buckets, but he also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists. After watching Georgetown through several games, it’s hard to conclude otherwise that Starks, the senior point guard and unquestioned leader of the team, is the most important player on the Hoyas’ roster. He was the reason Smith-Rivera was able to score as much as he did, by setting him up with clean passes right as he came off screens with enough space to get his shot off. But it’s equally just as difficult to come away from the weekend game without realizing the offensive powerhouse that Smith-Rivera has become and concluding that he’s poised to join the national conversation as  an elite scorer.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is JTIII's most efficient scorer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is JTIII’s most efficient scorer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Smith-Rivera is part of a superb 2012 recruiting class from the state of Indiana that includes names like Yogi Ferrell, Gary Harris, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Not as highly regarded as his Hoosier State peers, several Big Ten coaches recruited Smith-Rivera but did not make him a top priority. As a result, he decided to stay east, where he was attending Oak Hill Academy, ultimately committing to Georgetown. We need only look at Smith-Rivera’s performance for the season to understand the impact he’s had on the Hoyas’ offense. According to sportsreference.com, he leads the Big East in offensive efficiency (1.27 points per possession) and effective field goal percentage (59.7%). Among conference players, he is in the top five in the following categories: field goal percentage (48.2%), three-point field goals made (32), points per game (17.1), and win-shares (.231 per 40 minutes). These numbers alone would be impressive for any sophomore playing in a major basketball conference, but it is even more so from a player who’s considered a longshot to make the NBA (DSR is listed as the 74th-ranked sophomore at draftexpress.com) due to his physical shortcomings.

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Takeaways from the Big East Opening Day

Posted by George Hershey on January 1st, 2014

What an opener for the new Big East. The league had two overtime thrillers, there was an upset, and all three of the new members impressed. Here are some takeaways from a great day of hoops.

St. John’s vs. Xavier

St. John’s is great in transition, but struggles mightily in the halfcourt:  The Johnnies rushed out to a big lead in the first eight minutes, in large part to their transition offense. They scored their first seven points in transition off of turnovers or running after rebounds. Throughout the game it was evident that the halfcourt offense was not working well and often times ended with a contested jump shot. The Red Storm made a push in the second half by pushing the ball up-court, but ended up settling for tough shots as the game winded down. D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Orlando Sanchez all are capable of running the break and Jordan had a great game as he got to the rim, hit some outside shots, and showed a nice pull-up jumper. Many talk about this team’s great talent, but their halfcourt offense is limiting their ability to use their athleticism. If the Johnnies want to win go from an under-achieving team to an NCAA Tournament one, they need to get out in transition, while they improve their offensive sets.

Seton Hall vs. Providence 

Seton Hall can get out of the cellar in the new Big East: What a game! A great double overtime thriller on opening night. Seton Hall showed incredible fight and resolve yesterday as they saw their double digit lead dissolve in the final minutes. Some questionable calls did not help them in the extra sessions, but they made winning plays when it mattered. With starting center Eugene Teague our for the game, Kevin Willard was without his best post player. The Pirates forced the Friars into 14 turnovers, eight in the first half, which helped create  most of the early offense. They limited Bryce Cotton to 1-8 from three and the Friars struggled all night to score. The win should give the team a ton of confidence going forward as Brian Oliver, Brandon Mobley, and Jaren Sina stepped up to make crucial baskets. Sina came off the bench in overtime to hit a three with two minutes left to spark the Pirates. Oliver was the player of the game as his hot shooting provided most of the offense in the second half and Mobley came up time after time, especially with his three free throws with a minute left. This team may have suffered injuries to every significant player thus far, but their win over a high quality opponent while shorthanded is impressive, and there is no reason they cannot build off this win.

Smith Should Be A Bigger Force For Georgetown

DePaul vs. Georgetown:

Joshua Smith needs to produce more offensively: The big fella came in and dominated in his first game against Oregon, but since he was beaten up by Kansas, he has struggled mightily, and yesterday was no difference. Against a smaller and inexperienced front line, he only had five points and one assist, without even recording a rebound. There is no reason why Smith, who has been heralded as an excellent low post scorer since he arrived in UCLA, should not average at least 10 points during conference play. The Hoyas have struggled at times to score so far and Smith is a player who can provide instant offense. He also can create for his teammates by attracting double teams and finding them. Smith needs to get to the line, to get opponents in foul trouble and also get some easy points. The Hoyas have a good team with many pieces that make a winning team, but they could use a player you can dump it down to and let go to work on the block.

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Nate Lubick, Todd Mayo, Semaj Christon Lead Big East Players Who Need to Step Up

Posted by Jameson Fleming on December 28th, 2013

With the exception of Villanova and perhaps Butler, every Big East team at this point probably wishes its season was going a little better. Still, with the exceptions of Seton Hall and DePaul, the league’s teams as a whole have done enough to avoid resume-killing losses entering conference play, and therefore eight teams have a reasonable chance to dream about making the NCAA Tournament field in mid-March. But every team, including top 10 Villanova, has its weaknesses and struggling players, so here’s a look at who needs to step up on each squad if it hopes to achieve its postseason goals.

Villanova

Villanova (U.S. Presswire)

Villanova Has Had a Great Preconference Season – Can It Continue? (U.S. Presswire)

The Wildcats haven’t been shy about shooting the three-pointer this year. During the past six years, Jay Wright’s club has dedicated about 34 percent of its field goal attempts to the long ball. This year, that number has skyrocketed to 45.7 percent, seventh highest in the country. The problem? The Wildcats are shooting only 32.7 percent from three, 204th best nationally. Jay Wright has role players who are capable shooters – Josh Hart, Dylan Ennis, and Kris Jenkins each drills at least 38 percent of his attempts – but his top two volume shooters have struggled from beyond the arc. James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono have taken a combined 140 three-pointers, but also hit just 28.5 percent of them. Overall, Bell and Arcidiacono have improved considerably from last season, but if Wright is going to continue to let those two bomb away from distance, they’ll need to at least improve their percentages to last year’s level (Bell at 36 percent; Arcidiacono at 33 percent).

Creighton

The Bluejays have become the new Gonzaga: All offense and little defense. The last time Creighton was a better defensive team than offensive one was 2008 when it ranked 70th in defensive efficiency and 106th in offensive efficiency under previous head coach, Dana Altman. This year is much of the same: Creighton ranks fourth offensively and 59th defensively. But to give the team some credit, this appears to be their best defensive team since 2007 when they ranked 37th nationally. However, that still won’t be good enough to make a deep run in March. Greg McDermott’s team doesn’t force many turnovers or block many shots. The guards need to interrupt passing lanes better, and the bigs, especially NPOY candidate Doug McDermott, who hasn’t blocked a shot the whole season, need to be a more imposing defensive force around the basket.

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Georgetown’s Big Three Replacing Otto Porter’s Offense Nicely

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 19th, 2013

Georgetown is on a six-game winning streak after defeating Elon at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. Elon gave John Thompson III’s squad all it could handle after hitting eight three-pointers in the first half, but in the second half, the Hoyas’ “Big Three” of Joshua Smith, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and Markel Starks led the team back from a possible upset by scoring 36 of their 46 second half points. In a previous post on the topic, I discussed how Thompson was using these three players in tandem to replace the loss of Otto Porter by committee. Now that a quarter of the season is complete, this strategy has become even more apparent. While Smith, Smith-Rivera and Starks provide the offensive punch, JTIII relies on his role players and bench to shore up the Hoyas’ rebounding and defense.

georgetown hoyas

Georgetown’s Otto Porter By Committee Approach

The Big Three accounts for 45.2 points of the team’s 75.5 PPG, or 60 percent of the overall scoring. When Porter left after last season, he took 16.2 PPG with him. This season, Smith has added 13.6 PPG, Smith-Rivera has improved his average by 7.7 PPG, and Starks has improved his by 2.2 PPG; the sum of these is an increase of 7.3 points more than Porter’s average. While the trio has more than replaced their former teammate’s points, they have fallen well short of replacing his rebounding and defense. Last season, Porter grabbed 7.5 RPG and had a defensive rating of 85 (which means he would allow 0.85 points per possession). This season’s rebounding contribution from the Big Three — accounting for the addition of Smith and the improvement in boards from the other two — is 3.6 RPG, which is nearly four rebounds per game short of what Porter was contributing. Additionally, all three players are lacking in defensive effectiveness — Smith is the closest to Porter with a defensive rating of 94.1. The gap in defensive rating may even understate the impact of Porter’s absence since he was used extensively against the opponent’s best player, which is not captured in the rating.

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