In anticipation of tonight's rematch with the Georgetown Hoyas, and for the pregame preview, it's time for a 5 questions post!
As regular readers know, I love to do a 5 questions post with a blogger who reps the other team. This year, instead of doing the same questions for multiple bloggers who I like - which is great but time-consuming - I'm trying something new. I'm only asking one blogger for each game. So for the Hoyas, I did questions with Casual Hoya first (and have answered questions for them this time around). This time, Hoya Prospectus gives us the smart answers and the inside skinny on the Hoya hopes.
(I should note that this will probably fall apart when St. John's plays Villanova; I really love the different perspectives their bloggers give on the Wildcats. Maybe one will help out with the Johnny Jungle preview and the others I will post here at the Rumble.)
But the game at hand is a return matchup against the Georgetown Hoyas, who lost to the red Storm back in January in Madison Square Garden. St. John's hopes to knock them off - but that will be discussed in the upcoming pregame post. For now, everything you need to know about the Hoyas this time around will be from Brian at the Prospectus; I answered questions for him on their site.
A deeper look at the Hoya's from their fans' perspective, after the jump.
1. Explain what has been going on with the Hoyas after their hot start - they looked like such a good team and now they seem like they're really struggling. How come the Hoyas' perimeter shooting has gone into the tank? Who are the culprits? And what's with the high turnover rate? All of which is to say, the Hoyas confuse me.
I thought you said five questions. I see three in the first question already.
How much time have you got?
The first thing to realize is that Georgetown's incredibly tough OOC schedule was perhaps not quite as tough as we thought. It turns out that ODU and Memphis aren't as good as expected coming into the season, and the Hoyas caught a mediocre NC State without their best player (Tracy Smith).
But there have been a couple of big changes once conference play got underway - the impressive outside shooting [43% 3FG OOC] went into the tank, and the defense has become amazingly sieve-like.
Georgetown is a small team this year, and starts four outside shooting threats: Chris Wright, Jason Clark, Austin Freeman, and Hollis Thompson. Those four combined to make 19/80 attempts in the first five games of conference play - that's 24% if you're scoring at home. The quartet has begun to shoot better of late [16/33 against Rutgers and SHU], but the question has become which is the real deal: 43% or 24%?
The answer, of course, is somewhere in the middle.
Because of the Hoyas' lack of an inside threat - and no disrespect to starting center Julian Vaughn, as he plays his heart out - Big East teams are simply not doubling down when the ball goes into the low post. This is leaving the shooters covered, and they've had a difficult time adjusting. Freeman has handled it best [16/35 on 3FG in BE play], and Thompson is coming around [7/21], but Wright and Clark are still hapless [10/60 combined]. Wright has never been a very good shooter and is taking more outside shots than he should, but Jason Clark made 43% of his team-leading 104 attempts last season in conference. His missing shot has been killing the offense.
The high turnover rate [22.4% in Big East, BE avg = 21.4%] is a bit of a red herring, as the team has historically committed more turnovers than you'd like - in the previous six conference seasons, the team has averaged a 22.2% TO Rate. In fact, the worst turnover rate by any Hoya team since Coach Thompson arrived was in 2007 (i.e. the final four squad). The theory is simply to trade the occasional extra turnover on a forced pass for the high-percentage shot, either a layup or an open 3FG. The strategy has always kept Georgetown's shooting accuracy very high [avg. eFG% ˜ 53%] and if they can get enough offensive rebounds, they'll put up enough points.
Again, if Jason Clark can start making outside shots as he is capable, the offense will be fine this year.
The other problem is the defense.
Coming into the season, I expected the Hoyas to struggle defensively and Alan correctly kept pointing out to anyone that would listen that a small line-up in the Big East was going to have a tough time. Right now, Georgetown is the second-worst defensive rebounding [61%] team in conference play. They're just giving up too many second-chance points.
But there's something much weirder going on, and I don't understand it. You asked about turnovers, and they actually are a huge problem for the Hoyas, but it's on defense. Georgetown is a guard-oriented team that simply can't turn over their opponents. Fewer turnovers mean fewer fast-break opportunities for easy points. But the low turnover rate on defense [14.5] also means that, at their 63-possession pace, the Hoyas have ended up with 4.4 more defensive possessions ending with a scoring attempt than the average Big East team.
And those two things are leading to more points surrendered. A lot more.
2. What do you predict for the rest of the season for the Hoyas? Are the team's problems solvable with changes in rotation or playing time (in your best estimation, obviously)?
I think the offense can improve. Right now, the team is scoring 1.06 ppp in conference, but in the three games they've made better than 30% of their 3FGs [DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall], they've put up 1.14 ppp. Now Rutgers and especially DePaul are terrible defensive teams, but Seton Hall has played solid defense so far [1.01 ppp], and that was the Hoyas' best offensive game so far. I think, so long as Georgetown can continue to make more than 30% of their 3FGs each game, they can score at about a 1.1 ppp clip.
The defense is another matter. It's important to say that I don't think there's any evidence that the Hoyas aren't *trying* to play good defense. I just think that at least two of the starters (Freeman and Thompson) tend to be shorter or smaller than their defensive assignment, and several of the starters are just not good at playing defense (slow to rotate, poor lateral quickness, etc.).
There are options on the bench - Henry Sims can replace Julian Vaughn and provide better defense, Nate Lubick can replace one of the starting guards to go to a big line-up - but the result is giving up offensive efficiency for defensive efficiency.
The other option is for the team to play more aggressively, for instance using a 3/4-court trapping press. This has worked for a few possessions at a time (e.g. vs. Utah State), but again the Hoyas don't have elite speed and once the opponent adjusts this seems to lead to more layups and defensive fouls than stops.
So, in the end, I think the best the Hoyas can hope for is to score just enough to keep ahead of their defense. If they can do that the rest of the way, I expect they can get back to a 9-9 record in the conference (+/- 1 game).
3. Has anything changed with the Hoya rotation since St. John's last played them?
Coach Thompson always tightens the rotation when Big East play starts, so you've already seen the result in the first game: Nate Lubick gets about 20 minutes as the first player off the bench, with Henry Sims subbing in for Julian Vaughn as fouls and performance dictate. Markel Starks, the backup point guard, didn't play in the first meeting - I don't know why - but expect to see him for a few minutes on Wednesday. Jerrelle Benimon, who is having a miserable season, will play if the bigs have foul trouble, and fan favorite Vee Sanford might get a cameo at the 2 or 3 spot.
4. How will the Hoyas go about winning Wednesday's game? What mistakes would they have to make to lose?
The reality of the first meeting is that, in spite of Austin Freeman's worst game of the season, only making 4/17 3FGs, and allowing a -10 turnover margin, the Hoyas had the ball down one point in the final seconds (and didn't convert).
Georgetown needs to figure out why Freeman struggled (one of those nights, or a particular defensive strategy by Lavin) and make sure it doesn't happen again. They need to make a few more outside shots to loosen up the interior and help Julian Vaughn. And they need to make sure they don't fall into another huge turnover hole.
But I don't think - outside of the turnovers forced - that they can do much more on defense. They will give up points to the Johnnies, and someone will probably have a career night.
They'll just have to outscore 'em.
5. How have the freshmen and sophomores been? Will the team be better next year or do the Hoyas need an infusion of talent?
The sophomores are Hollis Thompson, Jerrelle Benimon and Vee Sanford. I've already mentioned that Benimon is struggling, but it's not unexpected as he was the prototype Suhm Randihm Dood when he signed: he probably plays harder than anyone on the team, but the results aren't there yet. Thompson is playing as well as one could hope, woefully undersized as a power forward and generally the fourth or fifth option on offense. He looks to be a natural shooter and will benefit greatly if he can be moved to the 3 next year. Vee Sanford had an amazing early-season as the fifth guard on a team that only plays four. The saying is that "when Vee is in, good things happen." It's a bit of wishful-thinking with a small sample size, but he looks capable of backing up the 2 and 3 next year.
The freshmen are Nate Lubick, Markel Starks, Moses Ayegba and Aaron Bowen. Lubick is slowly developing into a starter-quality power forward, although I don't know if he'll ever be a star. Starks is next year's starting point guard, but he's struggled on offense in limited action - he's a tough read, but may turn out to be the best of the class. Ayegba and Bowen haven't played enough to make an impression.
The Hoyas are bringing in a pair of bigs in Tyler Adams and Mikael Hopkins, and a guard named Jabril Trawick. All are in the 75-125 range for rankings. The team's previous lead recruiting assistant (Dave Cox) struggled in that role at Georgetown and has moved on to Rutgers. I don't pay much attention to recruiting, so I can't add much more.
The team is losing two McD recruits (Freeman and Wright) and their starting center (Vaughn), and not bringing in any star recruits, so I think it's expected that there will be some struggles next year. What is coming in is size, so that at least the team can play a bigger lineup and improve defensively.
Beyond that, I can't say, at least until summer league is under way.