Hoyas seek defensive footing in Puerto Rico

Hoyas seek defensive footing in Puerto Rico
November 20, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Georgetown Hoyas forward Nate Lubick (34) blocks Wright State Raiders forward JT Yoho (11) shot during the first half at Verizon Center.

(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

The overall challenge for Georgetown at this week's Puerto Rico Tip-Off is obvious: Three games in four days against a challenging field. Starting with Thursday's opener against Northeastern, the one constant that can carry the Hoyas into Sunday's championship game is their typically stingy defense. That is assuming that aspect shows up in San Juan after rarely doing so in South Korea or Chinatown this season.

The typically stingy label is more about the past than the present. Last season the Hoyas (1-1) held opponents to a miniscule 56.4 points per game. Only five times did the opposition score 70 or more points in a game and two of those contests involved overtime. Both of Georgetown's foes this season have scored at least 70.

"Last year we held our hats on how good we were on defense," Lubick said on Monday before the team departed for San Juan. "That's how we were winning games. In our first two games - and obviously it's very early - we haven't a game or I'd say even a stretch where I'd say, 'Wow, we just locked them down. We just played really good defense for 10 minutes or five minutes even.'"

Georgetown and Northeastern tip Thursday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The Hoyas will face either Kansas State or Charlotte in its second game on Friday followed by a third game on Sunday.

The rise in free throw attempts, a game-slowing trend that is affecting all teams is a factor, but not the only one for a team yet to find its defensive footing.

"We need to have some stretches like that," Lubick said, continuing with the lockdown theme. "We need to have a full complete game like that to get our defensive confidence, which you don't hear very often. We know that's how we're going to beat teams and we need a stretch like that"

No argument from the big picture thinking head coach on that guarding assessment especially with the Hoyas set to face a field that includes two top-20 ranked teams, VCU and Michigan. 

"Our defense has to get to a much higher level than it is right now for us to be successful on a going forward basis," Thompson said.

Even though the Hoyas return the bulk of last season's team, the personnel changes are quite apparent. Gone from the team is the lengthy Otto Porter. Gone from the starting lineup is the agile Mikael Hopkins, replaced by the massive Josh Smith. Combined with using a three-guard from the jump, Georgetown isn't as long on the perimeter or able to cover all angles compared to last season's unit. The 82-75 opening game loss to Oregon in South Korea proved that.

"With Otto, we were allowed to play kind of a different type of defense than we were have to play this season," said Lubick, who had six points and eight rebounds in Georgetown's last game, 88-70 win over Wright State at the Verizon Center on November 13. "We were so long and versatile defensively that we could make switches and we could make rotations that we can't really make right now whether it be because of Josh or the absence of Otto.

"Obviously adjusting to playing with Josh is very different defensively."

Smith's low post presence has been a major factor offensively in the first two games, starting with a career-high 25 points against Oregon. Not wanting a similar result, Wright State constantly sent double teams inside, which led to Georgetown's shooters receiving open looks and knocking down 10 3-pointers. The Hoyas held the Raiders to 30.4 percent shooting on 23 attempts from beyond the arc.

Scoring aside, the new guy has quickly learned the team's mantra.

"Defense, that's the only thing we can control," said the ex-UCLA transfer. "We know if we play good enough defense we'll be in any game with any team [in Puerto Rico]."

The non-bulky Huskies (1-2), who use various zone schemes when it's their turn to defend, are led up front by junior forwards Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer. Eatherton, Northeastern's biggest player at 6-foot-8, leads the defending CAA regular season champions in points (14.0), rebounds (10.0).

"They have a post presence that will create a unique dilemma for us because he's versatile, can play inside, can take our guys off the block," Thompson said. "They're one of these teams where you look at every position and they have guys that can make plays. We have to come ready to play."