Hoyas more guard-ed without Whittington

Hoyas more guard-ed without Whittington
January 18, 2013, 8:00 pm
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We now know the nature of Georgetown forward Greg Whittington's on-court absence. What we don't know is whether the Hoyas' second-leading scorer and rebounder will play again this season. That means recent changes during back-to-back wins over St. John's and Providence could become the new normal.

So far so good, though the head Hoya is not blind to the challenge of not having one of his most versatile players.

"[Greg's] probably our best defender, who can guard multiple positions," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "It's a loss in many different ways. We just have to go about it without any one person trying to overcompensate."

Complicating the transition, Georgetown (12-3, 2-2 Big East) now plays twice on the road within 48 hours. Following Saturday's 6 p.m. contest at South Florida (9-7, 0-4), the Hoyas head north for a showdown Monday night at Notre Dame. Georgetown has won three straight over the Bulls and the last two meetings in Tampa, but lost two in a row at South Bend.

The most obvious change without Whittington involves Georgetown's length. Over the last two seasons, coach John Thompson III has taken advantage of the versatile and long-limbed athletes on his roster by typically throwing four 6-foot-8 or taller players on the court at the same time. Most NBA teams rarely use such tall lineup.

The treetop look without Whittington, who like Otto Porter can defend the 3-point line and shoot from behind it, is no more. That kind of versatility allowed Thompson to forgo a traditional two-guard lineup, which is exactly what the Hoyas deploy with 6-foot-5 Jabril Trawick replacing Whittington in the starting lineup. 6-foot-3 freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera stands now as the de-facto sixth-man while 6-foot-5 swingman Aaron Bowen has entered the tight rotation over the last two games.

Powerful 6-foot-9 center Moses Ayegba is the primary (and often only) frontcourt reserve, but like starters Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins primarily operates inside. Even with the direst foul trouble it's hard to fathom seeing this trio on the court at the same time.

In the final minutes against Providence, the Hoyas used a three-guard lineup with Smith-Rivera joining Trawick and 6-foot-2 Markel Starks on the court (the trio played together over 16 minutes against the Friars). Thompson chalked up the late-game decision as being matchup based. Considering his other options and Hopkins' ongoing offensive struggles, that decision going forward might be reality based.

Seeing as South Florida starts and frequently uses three guards, Thompson could easily make the same call on Saturday, especially if the sturdy Smith-Rivera continues grabbing rebounds (14 over last two games).

The coach also believes he still has the pieces for a longer lineup when needed.

"We can be versatile still," Thompson said. "I think we still have the ability between Otto [Porter] and Nate [Lubick] and Mikael [Hopkins] -- and even Aaron [Bowen] to a lesser degree -- to be long and still play with the length that we've grown accustomed to the last two years."

Small-ball potentially offers rebounding and defensive challenges. However it dovetails nicely into the quickened pace in which the Hoyas have played at - if not dictated - over the past two games.

Thompson credited a strong rebounding and defensive effort against St. John's as the up-tempo catalyst, but the Hoyas lost the battle on the boards against the Providence. Whether it's those factors or a tactical reaction to scoring less than 50 points four times in the opening 13 games or playing with more traditional ball handlers on the court, the change is evident.

"I think it's obvious that we're playing at a much faster pace than we have earlier in the season," said Starks, who is averaging 16.5 points and shooting 54.5 percent (12 of 22) during the winning streak. "I think that's just us as a unit playing more together, being more cohesive."

Without Whittington, Porter has been more aggressive, averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds.

As for Bowen, he is simply playing more.

The junior has played 27 minutes over the last two games, including a career-high 16 against St. John's. During the opening 13 games, a combined 38 while not playing at all in five games. Nobody was surprised when Providence coach Ed Cooley, in attempt to credit Bowen for making two 3-pointers on Wednesday, referred to him as "number 23 or whatever his name was."

Bowen has taken advantage of the newfound opportunity, averaging 6.5 points and draining 3 of 4 attempts from beyond the arc. His skill set also fits nicely with the new change of pace.

"He's super athletic," Starks recently said of Bowen. "He understands the offense. Sometimes he plays a little erratic, but that's just game jitters, not being on the floor as much. But through time he'll be fine."

To paraphrase that Starks quote, the Hoyas have played a little erratic offensively this season though better lately. They are now using lineup combinations not often used on the floor this season. Having played on and won two games without Whittington should have eliminated any jitters, if any existed at all.  Through two games, Georgetown has been just fine. Over time, well, that's why they play the games.