This is the time of year that usually has Hoya fans praying for wins. In the recent past, the turn of the new year usually coincides with a slip from a non-conference hot streak for the Georgetown men’s basketball team (16-4, 6-3 Big East). While this is not unreasonable given the strength of the Big East, the slaughter at the hands of Pittsburgh after a tough loss at Marquette, in addition to the loss of sophomore forward Greg Whittington left the Hoya faithful with a familiar feeling of worry.
Since the Pitt loss, the Hoyas have rebounded to go 6-1, the lone blemish being an unfortunate three point loss to the University of South Florida. Along the way, the Blue and Gray have knocked off two ranked opponents—an impressive win over then-No. 24 Notre Dame led to a hard fought victory against then-No. 5 Louisville in front of a raucous crowd at the Phonebooth.
“Earlier in the season we would play well at times. We defended as a team at times. Now, we defend as a team for the entire game. We are a much more consistent team and we just keep getting more and more consistent,” junior forward Nate Lubick said of their efforts.
Play has elevated across the lineup, starting with sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr., who has averaged 18.1 points per game in the seven-game stretch. Junior guard Markel Starks has also stepped up his scoring, putting up double digits in five of the last seven games, as well as hitting shots at key, momentum-shifting moments.
“They have to be there every night…because everyone else could possibly, probably will be up and down. I think for the most part during this stretch they have been here every night doing their job,” said Head Coach John Thompson III.
Freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been a key factor, recovering from a scoring slump that stretched through most of non-conference play. Smith-Rivera has had a rough time shooting the ball recently, shooting only 36 percent from the field, but has been a factor on the offensive boards by running down his shots and has stepped up significantly on defense. His most notable accomplishment came in the Louisville game when he and Starks nullified guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who make up debatably the most formidable backcourt in the country. Lubick had a career day in the Hoyas’ most recent victory against St. Johns with 16 points and 10 boards, leading the squad in both categories for the day.
“He’s been playing at a very high level for a long time now, to tell you the truth. I said a couple of games ago, he wasn’t up here, but I said Nate gave us quality stats, not quantity stats,” said Thompson of Lubick.
The bench has also been making a push for the Hoyas. Junior guard John Caprio saw first-half minutes against Seton Hall and St. John’s. In the earlier matchup, Caprio had a career best 4 points and 3 boards. Caprio, who has mostly seen garbage time in the past few seasons, could yet prove himself to be a legitimate in-game option for the Hoyas, who were already playing a shallow lineup before Whittington’s departure. (RS) Sophomore forward Aaron Bowen, of SportsCenter Top 10 play fame, has also contributed solid minutes recently.
In the final season for the Big East as we know it, seven of its 15 teams are now ranked in the AP Top 25. This strength is reflected in the remaining schedule for the No. 20 Hoyas, who sit only a game out of the Big East lead. After a trip to Rutgers, the Hoyas return to D.C. to play No. 24 Marquette on Feb. 11, immediately followed by a road battle with the No. 17 Cincinnati Bearcats on Feb. 15. Then, the Hoyas have a matchup with UConn, looming just out of the rankings, giant-killer Villanova, and two matchups with arch-rival Syracuse, in what may be the last meetings between the historic programs for the next few years.
The Hoyas have stepped up and held their composure in a series of tough games, but will seldom have a break in the coming month. With Porter Jr.’s draft stock rising, the window for a big run in the coming seasons seems to be closing, but this season holds a great amount of promise with one of the most resilient Hoya squads in recent years. With Whittington’s future unclear, the Hoyas look to continue to optimize production from their current lineup, which has exceeded expectations in the last month. The Blue and Gray travel to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on Rutgers on Saturday.