In the role of beat writer, coming across as an authority on a particular team one covers is key. Therefore admitting to having no idea what to make of the Georgetown Hoyas might not be wise.
I hope that honesty counts for something because nine games into the season and with Kansas coming up on Saturday, that's the deal.
The Hoyas are 7-2, winners of six straight including victories over VCU and Kansas State at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The team's defensive numbers are impressive. Sophomore guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera fills up the stat sheet each game. Joshua Smith is a low post force.
Yet, in terms of ceiling and floor, in terms of game-by-game expectations, the Hoyas remain a mystery.
Following Tuesday night's 85-76 win over Elon, I asked John Thompson III what if anything he's learned about his team following the 4-0 homestand.
"I think we’re figuring it out, as a group, how to skin the cat," the coach said. "We’re figuring out what to look for, what not to look for, what we do and what we don’t do well."
Thompson is a master at the incredibly vague quote, this much we know. Perhaps the decision for an nebulous response stems from the coach still searching for his own take of this squad. Either way, the reply did not offer any insight. For the most part, neither did the homestand.
Each of the four games had a similar pattern. First half struggles, primarily on offense, led to tighter than expected halftime scores. Immediate bursts of energy opening the second-half and defensive prowess provided breathing room if not ended any doubt.
Trailing Elon by one point at halftime, Georgetown played a near flawless second half. The Hoyas shot 65 percent from the field, used their zone defense to slow Elon's offense, finished the game with only five turnovers and made 14 more free throws overall.
Yet the Phoenix, preseason favorites to win the Southern Conference, were down four with just over one minute remaining. This followed Georgetown's tight game versus Colgate, a one-point halftime lead on Lipscomb and a scuffling first half stretch versus High Point.
While not the sole reason, bouts of inconsistency center on Smith. The biggest of big man is nearly unstoppable inside - he shot 79 percent from the field over the four games. However, the 6-foot-10 presence struggles with defensive closeouts and rebounding. Fouls and conditioning concerns have limited Smith's minutes. When he sits, the Hoyas are a massively different team. Not always better or worse, but different.
With no other interior threats, Georgetown becomes perimeter oriented, relying largely on Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks for offense. Both can strike in bunches, but both small-ish guards cannot always generate shots for themselves. When those two are missing, the offense dries up.
Reggie Cameron and Stephen Domingo might eventually add outside pop. They rarely did during the homestand. Mikael Hopkins has made positive strides early in his junior season, but his offensive instincts need additional refining. Senior Nate Lubick does the rebounding dirty work, but he's never developed an offensive niche.
My spidey sense tells me the Hoyas will look sharper against the Jayhawks. Expect Kansas to stick with its usual man-to-man schemes even though Georgetown's primary struggles have come against zone. That benefits the overall offense and especially starting guard Jabril Trawick and swingman Aaron Bowen, two players who offer far more help in open court games.
Whether looking sharper for 40 minutes or actually winning translates into lasting gains is the wonder. Big East play starts Decemeber 31.
Seeing as Thompson's team swept its four-game homestand, we can't say Georgetown took a step back after the Puerto Rico trip. Then again, we can't say the Hoyas really built on those wins either.