Tactical ideas for Georgetown's struggling offense

Tactical ideas for Georgetown's struggling offense
January 11, 2013, 3:00 am
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The normal plan before a Georgetown game like the one on Saturday at St. John's is to write a preview focusing on a specific angle or profile a key player who has proved worthy of mention. The normal plan went out the window when the Hoyas suffered their worst home loss in 41 years and worst Big East loss ever on Tuesday night against Pittsburgh.

Even more than 48 hours after the final buzzer, the lopsided 73-45 final score remains implausible. Still, forget about the 28-point margin; it could be another four decades before the Hoyas endure a similar romp. Besides, Georgetown's stingy defense will keep them in games. Before facing Pittsburgh, this is what coach John Thompson III said about the Hoyas' 49-48 Big East opening game loss at Marquette.

"It took us a while to get into rhythm offensively. That cannot happen. Fortunately, while all of that is going on we have been defending. That's kept us in many games this year."

Until it didn't against the Panthers. Again, for now we're giving the defense a pass. The offense is a different story.

Four times in the previous four seasons, Georgetown scored less than 50 points. Already that's happened four times in 13 games this campaign.

Twice this season the Hoyas have gone without a double-digit scorer including the loss to Pittsburgh. The first time came in the 37-36 win over Tennessee. The time before that took place in 1955. Now it's happened twice in eight games.

Before we go any further, let's be clear that nobody is talking lost cause with this season, hardly. With a solid though not spectacular non-conference resume, the 10-3 Hoyas likely need to finish no worse than with a .500 record in Big East play for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The Big East overall is not as ferocious from top to bottom as in years past. Granted, starting conference play 0-2 for the first time under the current Thompson adds a hurdle to the upcoming challenge.

Otto Porter remains a legitimate All-American candidate. Markel Starks is proving a worthy successor to the recent lineage of Georgetown backcourt scorers. Greg Whittington's arsenal offers crazy upside once the two-way player with go-go gadget arms learns to harness his physical gifts. Nate Lubick provides interior toughness, Jabril Trawick perimeter swagger.

The way things are going offensively, that might not be enough. The No. 19 Hoyas are shooting a middle of the Big East pack 45 percent from the floor, but rank last in scoring (63.5) and shots attempted. Same goes for rebounding (tied with Connecticut) and they are 12th in free throws attempted per game.

The best part about college basketball is watching young athletes take gigantic leaps with their play like an eight-year-old sprouting up several inches seemingly overnight. This is a senior-less team and more than half of the regular season remains. Just in case rapid individual growth does not occur naturally, here are three tactical suggestions with a running theme...

* Run specific offense for Porter, Whittington and Starks - As it stands, these three are the Hoyas best offensive options by miles. Thompson has said over the years that his offensive designs are such that constant ball movement creates the best shot. That is ideal, no doubt, just not always practical if the ball lands in the hands of a player unable to finish. Too often right know on offense Georgetown is playing 4 on 5 or 3 on 5. When the aforementioned full court game is not available, consider creating plays specifically for those three. Let the others on the court serve as blocking backs and true secondary scorers. Lubick often works in this capacity already. Center Moses Ayegba is both powerful and a willing rebounder, meaning this scenario could make good use of his skills.

Porter's poise and unassuming ways are tremendous assets, but now would be a good time for the all-purpose forward to show off his assertive side whether as a shooter or distributor. Green light for him, Starks and Whittington, though for the latter only insider the 3-point arc. Whittington has that range, but he often falls in love with the deep ball (taking over four per game but shooting 30 percent) and Georgetown needs his length inside. The rangy sophomore has zero offensive rebounds in two Big East games and 11 total over the last 12.

*Run, run, run - The Georgetown version of the Princeton offense has proven it can work, but unlike like recent editions and as far as we know, this roster lacks desired pieces like a low post scorer, or an offensive trigger man like Henry Sims or Chris Wright or a bevy of knockdown shooters. Porter, Whittington and Starks can score in any scenario, but the others, not so much, not yet.

Ask Thompson and his players if they want to get out on the fast break. The answer is of course. Push the ball whenever possible. The response is sincere, but the overwhelming commitment is lacking. With this particular team, what about going up-tempo all the time -- and not simply because the other team desires an open court game. Dictate the action. Play the full 94-feet. For those familiar with the show "Breaking Bad," be the one that knocks.

Yes, in order to run you must have possession and rebounding ranks high on Georgetown's list of concerns. For the moment, we are talking about a no equivocation mentality more than practicality. Should the Hoyas make the postseason and play a notoriously slow team like Wisconsin or Virginia, make the pundits deem the matchup a battle of speeds with Georgetown the fast one.

The players already say Jabril Trawick's defensive ferocity inspires them. Imagine the impact if Thompson sics the imposing 6-foot-5 guard on ball handlers baseline to baseline. Reserves like Aaron Bowen and the non D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera members of the freshman class could prove more valuable playing instinctive basketball rather than thinking intricately. Not saying they cannot run Georgetown's offense. There is simply not enough data for such an assessment as minutes outside the top-7 in the rotation are tight and the media does not witness practices. Running requires more players anyway and realistically going forward, the Hoyas need a deeper rotation than essentially the seven they are currently using.

Of course, there will be stretches or large chunks of games where executing in the basic half court sets is the only option. Other teams have their own plans. Georgetown has won many games over the years and defeated all kinds of styles. Still, it cannot be a coincidence the foes that desire a slower pace like Pittsburgh and ex-Big East program West Virginia typically cause the most problems. On the flip side, Georgetown has been typically turned in sharper performances against those opponents willing to or desiring a fast pace. Forget read and react this year. Let's consider fast and furious, even if just for a game or two.

*Give Domingo more run- We can only imagine what this team would like if Hollis Thompson stuck around for his senior season. Nobody is suggesting the 17-year-old will or can fill the void left by the departure of the best percentage 3-point shooter in the program's history. Heck, if we knew nothing else about Domingo other than what we have witnessed, it would be understandable if the freshman wing remained planted on the bench. Right now, he's a clanking 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. Maybe its concerns about defense that makes his appearances sporadic.

However, we do know that Domingo was a highly recruited player coveted for his deep range who starred this past summer on the gold medal winning Team USA U-17 squad. All players thrive on consistency, shooters perhaps most of all, but Domingo's minutes are anything but. Well, other than they are consistently limited; he has not played more than five minutes in any competitive game. Even if one considers Georgetown's two primary reserves - Trawick and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera - viable outside threats, more are required.

St. John's (9-6, 1-2) is coming off a 58-56 home loss to Rutgers, but also defeated No. 14 Cincinnati on the road. Guard De'Angelo Harrison (21.5 ppg) is the Big East's second-leading scorer and collectively the Red Storm lead the conference with 8.6 blocks per game. Not sure how much any that matters in Saturday's oddly timed 11 a.m game. Fine, obviously it does, but if the Hoyas are to avoid an 0-3 Big East start for the first time since the 1999-2000 season --not to mention find sustained success going forward --they must get the own offensive house in order.

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