Continuity through Change: Experience and depth guide Hoyas into the new Big East

November 7, 2013

It’s inexplicable, really. There’s nothing anybody can point to when trying to explain the suffering of the cornerstone of Hilltop athletics. For each of the past six years, the Hoyas’ seasons have been a torturous series of up and downs, each ending in postseason disappointment. So, this season begins with the same question: Will the Hoyas snap out of it?

“I’ll give you my expectation,” senior guard and co-captain Markel Starks said. ”I’m sick of looking up at those banners and not having, you know, any letters up under it.  So finally trying to get over that hump, I think that’s the main objective this year.”

The Hoyas begin the season unranked in both polls, and not unreasonably so. After losing first team All American forward and former Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr. to the Washington Wizards, Georgetown will have a major hole to fill on both ends of the floor.

“Yeah, you know obviously we lost Otto, who carried the load for a large part of the season scoring-wise,” senior forward and co-captain Nate Lubick said. “Everyone needs to step up,  it’s a group effort not just myself.”

Porter’s presumed replacement, junior forward Greg Whittington, is also absent. He tore his ACL in the offseason and likely won’t return this season. Despite his inconsistent shooting, Whittington’s defensive and rebounding prowess made him a formidable presence last year when he wasn’t suspended. Who will fill the small forward position remains uncertain, leaving junior Jabril Trawick, sophomore Stephen Domingo, and freshman Reggie Cameron to vie for the spot.

Though the small forward position remains in doubt, there is no question about who will be starting in the backcourt. With Starks and sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the Hoyas sport one of the strongest backcourt duos in the country. Last year, Starks was the team’s second leading scorer and Smith-Rivera had a strong freshman season, reaching double figures in scoring 12 times.  This season, the sharpshooting pair will be expected to provide even more scoring punch for the Hoyas.

“He’s a scorer, he can pick his spots. There’s not a place on the floor that he cannot shoot, and I think he and I will work well together,” Starks said of Smith-Rivera.

In the frontcourt, Lubick and junior Mikael Hopkins will return this season from the starting lineup last year but will be joined by junior center Josh Smith, a transfer from UCLA. Though Lubick, Hopkins, and senior center Moses Ayegba were effective on the defensive end, helping the Hoyas hold opponents to 37 percent shooting last year, they proved less potent on offense. Smith, an imposing figure at 6-10 and 350 pounds, is primed to serve as a much-needed scoring threat.

“He’s a very good basketball player, which quite honestly I didn’t realize until he got here last year, the feel for the game he had,” Head Coach John Thompson III said of Smith. “You couple that in, he’s going to demand attention or he’s going to score. That’s going to open things up for our offense.”

The Hoyas need to be effective on offense early, considering their usual strong slate of non-conference games to start the year. The season opener against No. 19 Oregon in South Korea will serve as a preview for a tournament in Puerto Rico that could lead to matchups against No 9. Michigan, No. 15 VCU, and Kansas State. Later in the season, the Hoyas will face title contenders No. 5 Kansas and No. 2 Michigan State.

“Our out-of-conference schedule is the hardest that we’ve had since I’ve been coaching here and that’s for a lot of different reasons. [In the past] when putting the out-of-conference schedule together, we weren’t really sure what the conference schedule was going to look like. We didn’t know how many games we were going to play,” Thompson said. “I would think it’s easy for the layperson or casual fan to look at the Kansas game or the Oregon game or the potential matchups in Puerto Rico. They’ll look at Michigan State. That’s a lot right there.”

Though the Hoyas’ new conference still bears the Big East name, former rivals Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Connecticut will be absent from the schedule after the conference shakeup last year. Filling their place will be newcomers Creighton, Butler, and Xavier. Losing Head Coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics will blunt Butler’s edge. But Creighton, which sports Big East Preseason Player of the Year Doug McDermott, should compete with Georgetown and Marquette for the top spot in the conference. Also contending for the Big East title will be old foes Villanova and St. John’s, teams both overflowing with potential going into the 2013-2014 season.

This year will provide a new start, but the Hoyas have not forgotten last season, the good or the bad. In the 2012-2013 campaign, the Hoyas began the season unranked, like this year, before witnessing the emergence of Porter and rising as high as No. 5 in the country. But all the hope generated by an outstanding regular season disappeared when the Blue and Gray fell to tournament first-timers Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the Big Dance.

“There absolutely is carryover. You have to step back, go through the process of introspection in everything. And we do that every year. The way it ended, people forget that we had a very very good year last year,” Thompson said. “We did win the Big East. Most of the people in this gym and most of our fans were happy many more nights than they were unhappy. I think that gets lost when it ended as it did. But that being said, we have to continue to analyze and figure out how we can not end like we did. And that’s something that’s going on.”

Though many commentators are skeptical of the Hoyas’ odds this year, they have quietly assembled many of the pieces necessary for a strong season. Starks and Smith-Rivera’s offensive strength will be supplemented by not only Smith’s scoring, but also by his passing and imposing presence, which will open up lanes to the basket that have been closed to Georgetown guards with the absence of a reliable center in recent years.

What’s more, the Hoyas will be significantly deeper than last season, with nine or ten players vying for minutes, as opposed to the six-deep roster seen at the end of the last year’s campaign. Though success is far from guaranteed, the Hoyas have a knack for exceeding expectations. Many forget that Georgetown has cracked the top ten in each of the last seven seasons.

Many onlookers see Porter’s departure and assume a large drop-off is in order, but it is important to note that this year’s Hoyas are deeper, more complete, and more experienced than recent Georgetown teams. Nothing is assured, but if all the pieces fall into place, the Hoyas  could fulfill Coach Thompson’s expectations for the year: “To be good.”


Chris Almeida
Chris Almeida was an editor for The Georgetown Voice and graduated in 2016.


Read More

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments