Last year, the Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team entered their season as an afterthought in the Big East, let alone nationally. By most accounts, they exceeded expectations.
The Hoyas notched 19 wins overall and finished tied for third in the Big East, after most preseason polls had them in the bottom tier of the conference. The Blue & Gray remained in the hunt for a spot in March Madness up until the Big East Tournament. Despite winning nine Big East games, the highest total since 2014-15, the last time Georgetown made the NCAA Tournament, the season ended on a sour note. The Hoyas stumbled in postseason play, suffering a blowout loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals before falling to Harvard in a tight bout in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
In 2019-20, the program’s third year under head coach Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas have some unfinished business. With several integral pieces returning and a slew of new faces joining, they are more than capable of making noise in the Big East, returning to the NCAA Tournament, and returning the program to national relevance.
“We need to win more games in the Big East. We need to make the tournament,” sophomore guard James Akinjo said of the team’s goals. “I feel like if we do that, it goes a long way as far as our individual success also. It all starts with the team.”
Everything starts with the team’s sophomore trio of guards Mac McClung and Akinjo and forward Josh LeBlanc, all of whom were named to the Big East All-Freshman Team last season. Akinjo took over last year as the team’s leader on the offensive end and has established himself as an elite floor general and passer, leading the Big East in assists with 5.2 per game. These skills earned him the Big East Freshman of the Year Award by unanimous vote.
McClung came to Georgetown last year already renowned for his breathtaking dunks, but he quickly showed he was much more than just a freak athlete, impressing with his flashy ball-handling and natural scoring ability. But despite averaging 13.1 points per game as a freshman, McClung was inconsistent at times, as his scoring was often quite streaky from game-to-game.
LeBlanc excited with his athleticism, massive dunks, and rebounding abilities, leading Big East freshmen with 7.3 rebounds per game, but did not provide as much scoring away from the basket. That said, McClung and LeBlanc were key players and have had an entire offseason to work on their games, so any improvement will elevate the Hoyas that much more.
“I’m hoping they continue to improve,” Ewing said. “They made a lot of freshman mistakes last year, but we had to live with that. This year, I’m hoping that they’ll learn from the mistakes and we’re going to be much better for that.”
Among this year’s newcomers, the most impactful additions may very well be transfers, especially senior center Omer Yurtseven, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Yurtseven will effectively fill the role of Jessie Govan, who paced the Hoyas with 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last year. In 2017-18 at North Carolina State against stiff ACC competition, Yurtseven averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Like Govan, Yurtseven poses a scoring threat from inside and outside, and if he can provide solid post defense, the Hoyas should be in good shape.
“I expect a lot out of him,” Ewing said. “I’m expecting him to continue what he did at N.C. State, the same but better here. I expect him to be a leader not only on the floor but off the floor and to continue his high level of play.”
In addition to Yurtseven, transfers junior forward Galen Alexander and graduate student guard Terrell Allen will provide depth off the bench.
Rounding out the starting five alongside Akinjo, McClung, LeBlanc, and Yurtseven is likely to be either senior guard Jagan Mosely or junior forward Jamorko Pickett. Each has earned significant playing time over the last two years. While neither player’s scoring numbers jump off the page, they have become two of the best defenders on the team, and are frequently tasked with guarding the opposing team’s top scorers. Other players will be able to provide enough offensive production, so if Mosely and Pickett can be adequate secondary or tertiary ball handlers while playing strong defense, the Hoyas’ starting five could very well stack up against anyone in the Big East.
One point of criticism from fans over Ewing’s first two seasons as head coach has been a soft non-conference schedule. To date, he has scheduled just three non-conference games against teams from “Power 5” conferences, none of which were ranked. This year, however, is different. Penn State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, and either No. 4 Duke or Cal loom before Big East play begins, ensuring the Hoyas will be battle-tested by the time they travel to Providence on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s definitely going to sharpen us, because if we don’t start out fast and well, we’ll dig ourselves into a hole,” Ewing said. “But I think that all the teams that we play prior to the Big East conference games starting will definitely prepare us.”
Despite the Hoyas’ potential this year, there has not been much buzz for Ewing’s team around the Big East. In the Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Georgetown was picked to finish sixth despite tying for third in the conference a year ago. The Hoyas remain unranked, though they received 11 votes in the AP Preseason Poll, putting them at 37th in the country. Elsewhere in the conference, Villanova is ranked 10th, Seton Hall 12th, and Xavier 19th, while Marquette, Creighton, and Providence were unranked as well but received 68, 4, and 1 vote, respectively.
“I like being the underdog, and that’s fine,” Yurtseven said. “They probably didn’t have bad intentions voting us to sixth, but it is still, on our end, time to prove them wrong.”
It’s been a while since the Blue & Gray have entered a season with legitimate aspirations of an NCAA Tournament bid, so this year carries with it some added anticipation for both the team and fans. With three sophomores with seemingly limitless breakout potential, intriguing new additions to the roster, and a coach who’s seen it all, though, there’s no ceiling on what this Hoyas team might achieve.
Image Credits: John Picker / The Georgetown Voice