St. John's fans are all abuzz about the 2-0 start in Big East play with the Georgetown Hoyas coming to town. In the pregame notes, I wrote a little about the Hoya's strengths and weaknesses, but it's time to go deeper.
I answered some questions about the St. John's Red Storm for Casual Hoya, and Casual Hoya answered some questions... casually. In a beach chair, sipping mai tais and watching some folks just back from Burning Man with some flaming contraptions.
Q: How are you feeling about the Hoyas? Are they the kind of team that can challenge for the top spot in the Big East?
CH: A week ago, I was feeling a lot better. Since then, we got our asses handed to us against Notre Dame and played listlessly against Depaul in a game that was way closer than it should have been. That said, we are 12-2 and have the hardest schedule in the country. Right now, I think Georgetown doesn't have enough of a defensive presence to outlast Pitt and Syracuse for Big East supremacy. Ultimately, I'd be happy with a top 4 finish, which is definitely achievable.
**More answers on the Hoya's defensive issues, the Notre Dame loss, emergent center Henry Sims, the players' professional prospects, and the newcomers to the Washington campus, below>>
Q: What were the problems last year that led to 8 Big East losses? How are those issues different this year - if they are any different? As far as I can tell, the Hoyas aren't the best at defense (assuming that's one of the problems)...
CH: Last year, the team was still young, we started three juniors and two sophomores and didn't have much depth outside of the starting five. Greg Monroe and Austin Freeman were the most talented players on the team, neither of whom were fiery leaders. The team seemed to follow their lead, only getting up for big games, but overlooking competition they didn't deem adequate. Because of that trait, we lost to teams like South Florida and Rutgers, and ultimately came undone in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Ohio.
This year, the team seems to feed off Chris Wright, who is passionate, but can go through lapses where he sulks when his shot isn't going down. There seems to be more urgency this year, but the defense leaves something to be desired. Part of it is because we start three guys 6'3" and under and our power forward, Hollis Thompson, weighs 180 pounds soaking wet. Besides the undersized nature of the offense, it seems like we take for granted playing defense, and very often give up way too many uncontested threes and layups.
Q: The Hoyas shoot so well... and then there was last Wednesday's game. How did Notre Dame stop the Hoyas' scoring?
CH: Law of averages. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce the right way. Unfortunately, both Jason Clark and Chris Wright are in shooting slumps right now, and because those two and Austin Freeman carry so much of the scoring load, we will have a hard time winning games if two are off. Notre Dame sagged on defense, limiting our backdoor cuts, and dared us to make threes. Usually, we do, but we shot 4-22 from three last Wednesday, and abandoned patience in the second half.
Q: Wait... Henry Sims plays? And the forward-by-committee thing is working? Tell us about the forwards, how they're filling the Greg Monroe void. Who is the most dangerous frontcourt player?
CH: Henry Sims has had a remarkable turnaround after an awful sophomore year. Rumors were that Sims was enjoying college a bit too much, and wasn't focused on basketball. But this year he has been a revelation, he plays sound defense, rebounds the ball, and passes very well out of the high post.
So far the forward-by-committee is working pretty well. Julian Vaughn has had a hard time staying on the floor because of foul trouble, and is only averaging 21 minutes a game. Freshman Nate Lubick continues to improve every game he plays, and should be our most dangerous forward by the end of the year. I think this team will be best suited if Lubick or Sims start in place of Hollis Thompson and complement Vaughn in the frontcourt. We've been getting chewed up on the interior on defense lately, and it won't get any easier as we get into Big East play.
Q: Can Chris Wright play professionally? Does the Hoya offense hinder his chances at an NBA look? And Austin Freeman, will he be playing for money in the NBA?
CH: I think they both will play in the NBA. The offense makes players better, whether people want to believe that or not. There hasn't been a player drafted from Georgetown in the JT3 era that hasn't vastly improved throughout college. Wright came into school as an undersized two guard that relied on quickness to score in high school. He has completely changed his game, and is now in the top 15 in assists throughout the country. He is still all sorts of athletic, which will translate well into the NBA, and is a much better point guard than he would have been had he attended another school.
Freeman will also play in the NBA because he is such a versatile scorer. There is always a place for a guy in the league that scores as efficiently as Freeman does. Depending on how deep Georgetown goes in the NCAA tournament, I could see one of them sneak into the first round, but I think ultimately both will be early second round draft picks.
Q: How are the Hoya newcomers?
CH: We have a great freshman class. Nate Lubick has been the biggest contributor thus far, because we need more from him in our thin front court. He is a banger, and is starting to understand the offense much better. Markel Starks is the point guard of the future, but hasn't been able to see a ton of time because we have a crowded backcourt with Wright, Freeman, Clark and scoring extraordinare Vee Sanford. I expect Starks to start next year at the 1 though, and Wright has taken him under his wing. Swingman Aaron Bowen and center Moses Ayegba round out the class. Both have showed signs of being major contributors, but won't see the floor besides garbage time this year. I expect all four to be major contributors next year.