A new start in a new conference means that the familiar names on the schedule come January and February are no longer there. Instead, Xavier faces a new slate of conference foes, some good, some bad, in their quest to continue building on the groundwork laid over the last 20 years.
There has never been a Big East basketball season without the Georgetown Hoyas. Other teams have come and gone, but the grey of the Hoyas has been a constant. Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Allen Iverson, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, and Otto Porter are just a few names from a massive list of Georgetown players that have gone on to the NBA. If there is a preeminent program in this new Big East, it is Georgetown. This year, the Hoyas return four starters from a team that had a spectacular NCAA tournament loss to the rather memorable Dunk City of Florida Gulf Coast.
If at first the sight of John Thompson being listed as coach of Georgetown startles you, rest assured that this isn't a Hot Tub Time Machine situation and it is actually John Thompson III, not John Thompson Jr. Thompson has been massively, massively successful by most measures at Georgetown, though his teams have the carry the tag of struggling in the postseason. His worst team, by KenPom rating, was his first year (2005), when the Hoyas still finished a very respectable 45th. That team and the 2009 squad are the only ones who have failed to reach the NCAAs under Thompson.
Thompson's teams run a variant of the Princeton offense to great success. Georgetown's offensive efficiency rating under Thompson has never dipped below 105 and has risen over 115 on several occasions. This is based mostly on their bloodless shooting from two point range, where a Thompson team has never shot below 50%. The Hoyas tend not to be as effective from deep, but still shoot in the top half of all teams nation wide (indeed, they are frequently in the top 100). Georgetown enhances their interior efficiency by taking 31% of their shots at the rim, and another 35% from inside the arc.
Defensively the Hoyas were fifth in the nation last year with an efficiency of 86.3. That is just unbelievably good. The strength of that comes from allowing an effective field goal percentage of 43%, a two point percentage of 41.4% (!) and a three point percentage that barely cracks 30. That is simply so stifling a shooting defense that the 47th in the nation of 22.4% almost pales in comparison. If you are struggling to think of a Xavier defense that has been that good, it's because none has come within four points of being that efficient.
Good news for Georgetown fans: the Hoyas only lost one player from last year. Bad news for Georgetown fans: that player was Otto Porter Jr, who could play a bit of ball. Porter averaged 16.2/7.5/2.7 last year, and threw in a block and two steals per game for good measure. Porter did all that in his sophomore year and then headed to the NBA. It was partially Porter's 50.4% from inside the arc and 42% from deep that powered the Hoyas excellent shooting last year.
Greg Whittington was supposed to fill in for Porter this year, but tore the ACL in his left knee in the offseason. Whittington averaged 12.1/7.0/2.0 on a shooting line of .451/.309/.606 last year as a sophomore and would have filled Porter's to some extent after starting 12 games last season. Whittington may return this year, but Coach Thompson said he is reluctant to use his forward until doctors have cleared him 100%. So, while Whittington hasn't actually left, his role this season is greatly diminished.
Markel Starks got plenty of love on Big East media day, and it's not hard to see why. Starks ran the offense last year with an assist rate of over 20% and an effective FG% of 55%. Starks also played 84% of the available while compiling a line of 12.8/3.0/1.8 on .457/.417/.731 shooting. Starks took 46% of his shots from deep due to the vagaries of Thompson's offense. When he gets hot from deep, he's a killer.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is a name that Xavier fans will be familiar with, if only because of the Musketeers ultimately unsuccessful recruitment of him. DSR didn't start a game all year, but played over 25 minutes per game anyway. In that time the 6-3, 218 pound guard went for 8.9/3.0/1.4 on .404/.336/.711 shooting. While the shot selection was questionable, DSR took 49% of his shots from deep and only 20% at the rim, the guard proved worthy of the recruiting hype.
Nate Lubick, a 6-8, 219 pound forward, will also return. A starter last year, Lubick averaged 7.1/5.4/2.8 and shot .590/.000/.645. As you may have noticed, everyone on Georgetown assisted their teammates a great deal. Without a set that emphasizes a true post, Lubick and Co. are all expected to move the ball well and be unselfish.
Mikael Hopkins, another 6-9 forward, continues that trend with a 5.9/2.9/1.3 line on .409/.000/.621 shooting. If someone on Georgetown blocks a shot, it's most likely to be Hopkins, who had a 6.3% block rate in 20 minutes per game last year. Jabril Trawick rounds out the returnees that pulled over 20% of Georgetown's minutes with his 5.8/2.9/1.9 and .407/.299/.721 shooting. Trawick started 20 games last year and averaged 26 minutes per contest.
Unless you've been paying no attention to college basketball news, you're probably aware that Josh Smith has joined Georgetown after getting a waiver from the NCAA after playing only six games for UCLA last year. Smith is immediately eligible to play because the NCAA is apparently ok with players quitting on their teams mid season and pouting their way out of town. In their neverending pursuit of academic and athletic excellence, this is yet another decision that the NCAA should be extremely proud of.
That idiocy aside, Smith should add a lot to Georgetown inside. Supposedly down 40 pounds from when he lumbered his way off the court at the Pauley Pavilion, Smith average 5.2/4.2/0.3 last year but his numbers aren't really a reflection of his ability, but rather the general apathy and somnolence with which he approached the game. Smith is talented and capable of great things on the court, if he applies himself.
Unless I'm missing something, which isn't outside the realm of possibility, the only other new player joining Georgetown is Reggie Cameron. That's not saying that the Hoyas had a bad class though, because Cameron is a player. In the same tall and lanky mold as a lot of the current Hoyas (6-7, 210), Cameron is a great pick and pop shooter who has all kinds of range. Not terribly quick, ESPN said he had "heavy feet," Cameron will fit the Georgetown offense well.
The Big East, at least in the preseason, is tough to call between Georgetown and Marquette. The Hoyas would look better with Whittington immediately available, but they aren't a bad team without him. Smith adds some beef inside that the team was lacking before his arrival and Cameron plays the kind of game that should help him fit in immediately. With Starks, DSR, Lubick, Hopkins, and Trawick all returning, the nucleus of a very good team remains. Whether that is enough to break the Hoyas first round duck remains to be seen.
Closest A10 comp:
According to KenPom, Georgetown's 12th would have made them the best team in the Atlantic 10 last year. Saint Louis would've been the next best at 16th.