The Hoyas haven't taken an easy path through their first five games. With trips to South Korea and Puerto Rico, they certainly haven't traveled locally. That's all about to change. Perhaps all will receive a better sense of this team's identity in the process.
Starting on Saturday against Lipscomb, Georgetown (3-2) has four straight home games over the next three weeks before playing at Kansas on December 21. Head coach John Thompson wants all to know - especially his players - that there are potential land mines in this homestand; Lipscomb (3-3) defeated Florida Gulf Coast twice last season and Elon (Dec. 17) entered the season projected to win the Southern conference.
Still, for a team with Big East championship and NCAA Tournament aspirations, this stretch should be more about fine-tuning than scratching out wins. It should also provide Thompson a chance to gauge which lineup combinations and schemes work best with this roster. The coach may disagree - we'll find out for sure later on Friday during the team's media session - but the team's identity remains unclear. Getting a better read on these four areas over the next four games - including versus High Point (Dec. 5) and Colgate (Dec. 7) will help.
1) Steady Smith - Offensively, Joshua Smith has been better than advertised. The junior big man is averaging 14 points and shooting a staggering 65 percent from the field. With his 350-pound frame and low post moves, Smith is drawing 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, which ranks seventh nationally according to KenPom.com. He has attempted 36 free throws, two less than all other listed frontcourt players combined.
Now imagine the impact if he could stay on the court. Georgetown's third-leading scorer ranks fifth in minutes (20.4) and has only played over 20 minutes twice in five games. Though hasn't fouled out since the season opener, he's been in moderate to severe foul trouble each game. Combined with conditioning concerns - and game situations - coach John Thompson III often has to sit his biggest asset for stretches. With him, they have an overpowering force. Without Smith, the Hoyas struggle to find any consistent interior offense.
2) Fourth scorer - D'Vauntes Smith, Georgetown leader with 19.0 points per game, poured in perimeter buckets in wins over Kansas State and VCU. Though misfiring himself from beyond the 3--point arc, Markel Starks (16.4) is a proven point-producer. As mentioned, Smith can get his. The question coming into the season has been who else steps up, especially when one or two of names mentioned suffers through an off night. In the loss to Northeastern, Smith-Rivera was the only double-digit scorer and neither he nor Starks could make outside shots. Nobody else stepped up. Jabril Trawick scored 16 points against Kansas State, but took only shot combined against Northeastern and VCU. Freshman Reggie Cameron has long-range credentials, but he's either been hesitant or called off from taking many. This upcoming stretch should serve as a good test for those two, senior forward Nate Lubick, sophomore Stephen Domingo or anyone interested in applying for the fourth (or fifth or sixth) scorer role. The job certainly remains open.
3) Free throws, for and against - Let's start with the good news. Georgetown is receiving 27.7 percent of its points from the FT line (47th nationally). Most of that is Smith, though the top three guards have racked up shots from the foul line as well. For comparison, last season the Hoyas scored 19.7 percent of their points on free throws, ranking 216th overall.
Now comes the bad part. Opponents are scoring 36.9 percent of their points from the free throw line. From the Hoyas end, that's the second-worst mark in the country. Granted, VCU's full-court approach leads to the type of helter-skelter game that can lead to tons of fouls. The refs certainly thought so. The NCAA mandate to enforce hand checking has certainly led to more whistles blowing for all teams. Regardless, that frequency cannot continue.
We're obviously talking a small sample size. Since there is nothing small about Smith, we can probably assume he'll continue drawing fouls when he can stay on the court. As for the opposition's frequent FT attempts, we won't be able to make the small sample size claim if this doesn't change over the next four games in which the Hoyas will have superior athletes, size and talent.
4) Big or small, speed or slow: The Hoyas typically start three guards, yet Starks, Smith-Rivera and Trawick are the only proven backcourt options. Georgetown's lineup has a traditional look when Cameron, Aaron Bowen or Domingo replaces one of the guards, but traditional doesn't mean effective. Thompson has credible depth up front in terms of lengthy and bulky options, but the look of the team is vastly different when Smith is at center compared to say the lithe Mikael Hopkins. Georgetown has units that can power past opponents or run right by them not to mention defend. Overall in Puerto Rico, Georgetown held opponents to under 39 percent from the field, though Northeastern shot 52 percent during its rallying second half.
The point is the roster provides many lineup possibilities. We know Thompson's desire is for five skilled and unselfish players. Stating which grouping is best regardless of opponent, we're not there yet. Finding a steady rotation and worthwhile combinations against the Lipscomb's and Elon's will help the coach know where to turn when needed against the Kansas' and Marquette's.