It's that time of year when Santa Claus checks his list to see who has been naughty or nice - or in the case of college basketball teams, who needs a little extra heading into conference play and the new year. Georgetown (7-3) enters Big East action in the title-contending mix and yet remains something of a mystery after a decisive loss at Kansas ended its six-game winning streak. Perhaps these "gifts" can help...
* "Merit badge" for D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera: Through 10 games, the stat-stuffing sophomore guard is averaging 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals. Since the 2001-02 season, no other player in the program has put up such across-the-board numbers (Otto Porter last season came up just shy in the assists category). Smith-Rivera also leads the Hoyas in 3-point shooting (45.1 percent) and ranks second from the free throw line (83.0). True recognition could come in the form of All Big East honors if DSR keeps this up.
* "Minutes" for Reggie Cameron: We all recognize the issue. Georgetown currently has three players that can score with regularity in halfcourt sets/against zone defenses: Smith-Rivera, Markel Starks and Joshua Smith. Others can contribute in spots, but don't have the requisite skill set for consistent point producing. Cameron entered Georgetown with a "shooters" reputation. Since making three 3-pointers against High Point, the freshman forward played only 13 minutes over the next three games. Earlier this season, coach John Thompson III sited defensive struggles as reason for Cameron's inconsistent minutes. Obviously, stopping opponents from scoring many points ranks high on any basketball checklist. So does scoring more than them. Georgetown has a roster full of players that proved last season that they could defend. At some point this season, minutes might have to go toward those who can help outscore the opponent.
* "More notable non-conference wins" from the other teams in the Big East: With 20 regular season games remaining, it's admittedly too early in the season to focus on Georgetown's on NCAA Tournament résumé, much of which will come against Big East foes. We can note is the Big East ranks fourth among all conferences in RPI. However, there are not many "significant" victories to date. Heading into this week, the Big East is 5-18 against RPI top 50 teams (Georgetown is 1-2). By comparison, A-10 programs UMass and George Washington are a combined 5-1. There are opportunities for help this week before Big East plays tips: Villanova at Syracuse (RPI 4), Providence at UMass (2). Four Big East teams are currently among the top 50 with Georgetown (53) on the cusp.
* "A spot on the bench" for Joshua Smith: Famed Texas Longhorns coach Abe Lemons dropped one-liners with the best of them during his day. Perhaps his most famous and often repeated quip came after he scolded his team's center for only grabbing one rebound in the first half of a game.
"That's one more than a dead guy," Lemons said.
Smith didn't even do that well against Kansas. The 6-foot-10 junior had zero rebounds in 19 minutes against the Jayhawks. Returning to Lemons joke, the Hoyas are dead if Smith's board work doesn't improve. On the season, he has 10 less than the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera.
So what does any of this has to do putting Smith on the bench even for a game or two? The notion of who starts is often overblown. Obviously, there is logic to putting out top talent or setting tone right from the start, but ultimately it comes down to minutes and who plays the final minutes. In many ways, the starting lineup is about ego, about reward. Zero rebounds should not be rewarded, not when every coach alive says board work is all about desire. Smith is a low-post offensive force (13.2 ppg, 70 FG percentage), but rebounding and defense also matter.
Surely Thompson is seeking a way to get this message across. Maybe Santa can help.