Georgetown’s Big Three has transformed into the Dynamic Duo and Company, following the departure of Greg Monroe to the draft, and speculation about next season can finally begin.
No, the Hoyas will not be one of the preseason favorites for the national title, and they will probably be projected as a middle-of-the-road Big East team. Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn has the Hoyas as 16th in the nation even with Monroe going pro, but others haven’t been so kind. Obviously with Monroe back, the Hoyas would have been one of the best teams in the country, but they have the parts in place to avoid falling off the map. Don’t be surprised if they make a nice run.
Fortunately for the Hoya faithful, the team still has a nice backcourt trio for next season. Call them the Little Three.
First and foremost, the DeMatha Miracle Man, Austin Freeman, and his team-leading 16.5 points per game will be back. Despite battling diabetes, Freeman shot an efficient 52.5 percent from the field, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him improve his scoring next season. He’ll also have a full offseason to become fully accustomed to playing with diabetes and he should better understand how his body responds to the rigors of the season.
The X-factor has been and will still be Chris Wright. As this season went on, Wright evolved as a point guard. On off-nights he felt increasingly comfortable facilitating for his teammates, but when it was clear the Hoyas needed someone to break down a defense and spark the offense, he showed he could do it. A shell-shocked first half at West Virginia was followed up by a 19-point second half in a valiant but failed comeback attempt. He came on strong at the end of the year, scoring 20 points or more in three of his last four games and the one of the only things keeping Georgetown in the game against Ohio.
Jason Clark averaged a respectable 10.5 points per game, and how he plays is going to have a lot to do with how Wright plays. If Clark can hit some shots and ease the scoring load, it will help Wright avoid the ill-advised drives into traffic that he is sometimes prone to. Clark shot 42.4 percent from three-point range, but he was streaky. Mainly though, the Hoyas need his defense. They can’t afford to be on the receiving ends of breakout performances by the Armond Bassetts of the world next year, and much of that will fall on him.
Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson are two players who will see their roles increase next year. Thompson established himself as a regular piece of the Hoyas’ rotation by the end of the season, often taking the place of Vaughn against longer, more athletic defenses because of his shooting ability.
“You have to have an offensive group out there that all five guys can hit shots and make decisions and make plays,” Head Coach John Thompson III said after the Hoyas, with Hollis Thompson playing heavy minutes, dismantled Syracuse’s zone in the Big East tournament.
Now with Monroe gone, Thompson will most likely get the starting nod and the Hoyas will go with a smaller, quicker lineup.
For Vaughn, the loss of Monroe could be a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that he now can control the paint, and the coaches won’t need to take him out for a more perimeter-oriented attack. It’s a curse in that Monroe, one of the best bigs in the nation, is gone, meaning Vaughn will now get much of the attention in the paint, that had previously been directed at Monroe.
Monroe is the prototype of what Thompson III wants in a center – an athletic big with the ability to run the offense from the top of the key. Vaughn is not that, but neither was Roy Hibbert, and Vaughn can certainly do some good things for the Hoyas in the paint on both ends next season.
The much maligned bench will be relatively strong next year. Jerelle Benimon and Vee Sanford, both of whom saw increased minutes as the season went on, will be a year older and Henry Sims might get more minutes with Monroe gone, and will have a better chance to get into a rhythm on the court.
Adding to that bench is a group of recruits, three of whom showed their potential in the annual Capital Classic All-Star game yesterday. Markel Starks, the Little Hoya joining the big guys, was named the MVP with an 18-point, three-rebound performance to lead the Capital All-Stars to victory. Late-signee Moses Abraham didn’t do much offensively, but the athletic 6-foot-9 forward grabbed six rebounds and added two blocks in 13 minutes for the Capital squad. Nate Lubick, the outsider on the U.S. team, had eight points and four rebounds in a losing effort.
Starks will have the benefit of playing behind a veteran backcourt, and he shouldn’t have to be thrown into the fires too early next year and should have a relatively smooth adjustment to the college game. Lubick could see action as the more skilled of the two frontcourt recruits, but for a team that struggled defensively last season, Abraham could see time off the bench as an impact player on the defensive end.
Monroe is gone. It’s a big loss, but the Hoyas return four starters, including three seniors. Unlike previous years, there is no indication that key components will be transferring out. Their freshmen won’t need to carry as large of a load as others have, and while the frontcourt certainly will be lacking compared to this season, the Hoyas have a talented, veteran backcourt with two legitimate game changers in Wright and Freeman and the hot-shooting Thompson and Clark to give an added boost.
Preseason polls might not be overly kind to Georgetown, but when the dust settles, don’t be surprised to see the Hoyas in the mix in the Big East and maybe even the national title race.