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Postcard from Georgetown

Hoyas will use smarts to overcome youth on perimeter

Posted: Monday November 13, 2006 2:37PM; Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2006 1:41PM
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Jeff Green will team up with Roy Hibbert to give the Hoyas a formidable frontcourt.
Jeff Green will team up with Roy Hibbert to give the Hoyas a formidable frontcourt.
Mitchell Layton/SI
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I was sitting courtside in an empty Verizon Center last Thursday night in Washington, D.C., and discussing with Georgetown coach John Thompson III the three-hour workout the Hoyas had just completed. As we talked, a lone figure in a black tank top and shorts dribbled onto the floor and started hoisting jump shots at one of the baskets. It was Gilbert Arenas, the Washington Wizards' workaholic point guard, ready to begin another night at the office. "He's here all the time, working out hard by himself," Thompson said with admiration. "I like that our guys get to see that."

Unfortunately, his guys don't get to see it very often. Even though the Hoyas will play all but two of their home games at the Verizon Center this season, Thursday's session was just their second on that floor since practice began last month. This year's roster includes Patrick Ewing and will be coached by John Thompson, but that moment late Thursday night underscores why these are not your father's Georgetown Hoyas anymore.

In many ways, playing at the Verizon Center just a couple of miles from campus is a step up from the days when Georgetown used to play at the Capital Centre way out in Landover, Md. But that was before the great "arms race" that led many elite programs to erect mammoth arenas and state-of-the-art practice facilities. Georgetown has neither. Because of its location in the city, it is doubtful there will ever be enough space (not to mention money) to construct a new arena on campus. There has been some muttering around town about a new practice facility, but so far that is little more than a gleam in coach Thompson's eye.

So you have to give the 40-year-old Thompson credit for assembling a team worthy of being ranked No. 8 in the nation, even though the Hoyas lost two starters (guard Ashanti Cook and forward Brandon Bowman) and its sixth man (forward Darrel Owens) from last year's 23-10 squad. I must say, there are some early signs the ranking is a tad too high. Georgetown does have two preseason All-Big East players in 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-9 forward Jeff Green (both juniors), but outside of 6-1 junior guard Jonathan Wallace, the Hoyas have no perimeter players with significant experience. Thompson did recruit a very good freshman class, but the two players who have a chance to make an immediate impact are also frontcourt guys -- 6-8 DaJuan Summers and 6-9 Vernon Macklin. Next year's class will include one of the nation's top point guards (6-foot local product Chris Wright), but by then Hibbert will most likely be wearing an NBA uniform.

Since we all know you win in college hoops with good guard play, this is no small concern. Thompson is the first to recognize his perimeter stable is filled with lots more questions than answers right now. "We lost our pure shooting [from last year]," he told me Thursday. "More important, we lost all our perimeter passing. We also lost our best perimeter defenders. Our frontcourt is very good, no two ways about it. Once our guards get some more experience, we'll be fine."

Still, while there are very few programs that can win with that kind of personnel, Georgetown is one of them. The Hoyas are far less reliant on three-point shooting than a lot of teams -- last year they were ranked eighth in the Big East in both three-point percentage and threes made per game. They don't win by running and gunning you. (Of all the practices I've visited this preseason, Thursday's was the least amount of fast break work I've seen.) Rather, they win by limiting the number of possessions in a game and grinding out opponents by running their Princeton-style offense for 25-30 seconds each possession. It gets very tiresome trying to defend that over 40 minutes of game time.

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