Hoyas Notebook: Don't sleep on the Panthers

Hoyas Notebook: Don't sleep on the Panthers
January 27, 2012, 3:23 am
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When the Hoyas mens basketball team reached the top 10 for the fifth straightcampaign earlier this season, Georgetowns Sports Information Director Mex Carey played a round of trivia with the local beat writers, asking everyone to guess the only other programs to have achieved the same result. Quickly the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky were correctly answered. Moments later the code was cracked, revealing Pittsburgh as the final mystery team.Considering what transpired in the subsequent weeks, it seems inexplicable the Panthers could have been thought of so highly this season. The No. 9 ranked Hoyas (16-3, 6-2, Big East) return to action for the first time in a week Saturday at Pittsburgh. Preseason ranked No. 10 in the country, the Panthers (12-9, 1-7)opened the season winning 11 of 12 games, including five straight without injured point guard Travon Woodall. Then a stunning home loss against Northeast Conference program Wagner. Suddenly, the defending Big East champions found it impossible to find a winning formula, beginning Big East play with seven straight losses.Finally on Wednesday, after five weeks of setbacks and in Woodalls second game back from groin and abdominal injuries, the Panthers cruised into victory lane with an 86-74 win over Providence. Behind 22 points from Big East Preseason Player of the Year Ashton Gibbs and 17 from Woodall, the intact Panthers look more like the team voters imagined and not the one tied with the Friars in the conference cellar.Pittsburgh is significantly better than if you look at the Big East standings, said Georgetown coach John Thompson III before Thursdays practice. They are a different team with Woodall back and it showed on Wednesday.Like the entire Pittsburgh offense, which has been among the lowest scoring, worst shooting teams in the conference, Gibbs struggled trying to fill the playmaking void without Woodall. The 6-foot-2 guards shooting percentages from inside and outside the 3-point arc are off substantially, but Gibbs found his range against the Friars. He sank five 3-pointers and the Panthers, a 30 percent shooting team from beyond the arc, made 11-of-20 from distance.With Woodall dishing out nine assists and committing only one turnover while scoring 17 points, not surprisingly the Panthers scored their most points since a 97-70 win over VMI on Dec. 4.Woodall allows everyone else to be more of themselves, said the Hoyas coach said. Now all of a sudden Ashton is at the end of the transition as opposed to initiating it. Now all of a sudden people are getting the ball where they are more accustomed too.Gibbs also scored 22 points and made five 3-pointers in last seasons 72-57 win over the Hoyas, the Panthers fourth victory in five games against Georgetown. Just in case the Panthers are indeed finding their groove from 3-point range, the Hoyas can unleash their perimeter defenders on Gibbs and company. Over the entire season Georgetown is allowing opponents to shoot 29 percent from beyond the arc, best among the Big East teams, and 32.1 percent in conference play.Hobbling ThompsonHollis Thompson missed two practices this week due to the groin injury that limited the junior to only 21 minutes in Saturdays thrilling win over Rutgers, but waspreparedfor Thursdays practice. Ive been working with the training staff and Im good now, Thompson said.The Hoyas second-leading scorer (14.0) leads the Big East in 3-point shooting (50.6 percent) and ranks 14th nationally, making the 6-foot-8 forward a must watch situationfor opposing defenses.Hefinished with just four points after sitting out much of the second half and missed all three of his 3-point attempts against Rutgers. Still, the junior gamely served the role as a gimpy decoy during the final tense minutes as coach John Thompson III looked for ways to counter the Scarlett Knights effective zone defense. The Southern California native is nearly automatic when able to catch and shoot in rhythm. Following the game, Rutgers coach Mike Rice emphasized the importance of tracking the Hoyas top perimeter threat. If Hollis doesnt get off, they have trouble. And he has such tremendous skill for that size especially, but he has some weaknesses also, hes not the strongest going off the bounce, Rice said. So we really just put pressure on the perimeter and did a good job of the switching out and really being there on the catch.The Panthers have struggled stopping shots from distance, allowing opponents to knock 34.1 percent from beyond the arc, ranking 15th in the 16-team conference. Last season as the No 5 team in the country, Pittsburgh held Georgetown to 20 percent from 3-point range (5-of-20) and Hollis Thompson missed all five of his shots.Notes...Freshman center Tyler Adams, sidelined since December with heart issues, remains out with no additional update according to the Hoyas coach. Asked previously about a deadline for Adams return versus redshirting the burly 6-foot-9 center, Thompson III has offered no specifics other than to say an extra year of eligibility can be petitioned for in the coming years.