The Georgetown men’s basketball team’s 2015-16 season kicks into gear Saturday when the Hoyas play host to the Radford Highlanders. Last season, the Hoyas easily defeated the Highlanders, 76-49.
Excluding the lopsided loss to Georgetown, Radford had a relatively successful season. The Highlanders finished with an overall record of 22-12 and reached the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational Tournament.
Georgetown looks to pick up the pieces left behind after a second-round loss in the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas will need to find ways to fill the void left by the graduations of last season’s seniors: center Josh Smith, forward Mikael Hopkins, guard Jabril Trawick and forward Aaron Bowen.
However, with senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera coming back for his final season and sophomore guard L.J. Peak and sophomore forward Isaac Copeland looking to build on their impressive freshman seasons, this year’s team has a great deal of potential.
“As many players as we have returning and with the group we have, I think we’re better than people perceive us to be. And we just got to go and prove that,” Smith-Rivera said.
Saturday will also be the first chance to see freshman center Jessie Govan in action. Govan, a 6-foot-10-inch center from Queens, N.Y., averaged 22.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game in his senior season at Wings Academy in Bronx, N.Y. The athletic big man brings a new dimension to the Hoyas on both offense and defense that will allow the team to experiment with different styles of play.
“[Govan] has got great post moves, excellent footwork,” Smith-Rivera said.
The opening game will also be the first chance to see the other freshman recruits, forward Marcus Derrickson and guard/forward Kaleb Johnson, both of whom have impressed in practices and scrimmages.
“[Derrickson] is the best rebounder on the team. He’s aggressive,” Head Coach John Thompson III said.
As for Johnson, his teammates only had praise for his play and athleticism.
“He’s probably the best defender on our team,” Peak said.
“I didn’t know Kaleb was a guard but he’s been playing strictly guard since he’s been here. That’s kind of scary, he’s like 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 playing the guard the whole time. Seeing him being able to use ball screens, guard everybody and get to the rim like he does, it’s pretty special,” Copeland said.
The Highlanders, led by Head Coach Mike Jones, have a very unbalanced roster featuring seven seniors, six freshmen and one sophomore. The graduation of guard R.J. Price and forward Javonte Green, who were the team’s top two scorers last season, has left the Highlanders with a major offensive void.
Radford also faces multiple size mismatches. The Highlanders do not have a player taller than 6-foot-8, while the Hoyas have six players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller. Despite losing the bulk of its scoring, Radford has five freshman recruits as well as five seniors who all saw playing time last season. With this combination of experience and athleticism, the Highlanders are likely to push the ball against the Hoyas and pressure them defensively, especially with the new 30-second shot clock.
“About three-fourths of the nation has practiced their three-quarter court press. But three-fourths of the nation has also practiced their three-quarter court offense,” Thompson said.
Radford’s defense will likely focus significant energy on Georgetown’s guards, especially since the Hoyas only have two proven ball-handlers in Smith-Rivera and sophomore guard Tre Campbell. Still, Georgetown enters the weekend as the heavy favorite. Although a marquee matchup with the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins awaits the Hoyas on Tuesday, they are being careful to not look past the competent Highlanders. Thompson and the team leaders have spent the week emphasizing Radford’s strengths to the younger players who may be looking too far ahead.
“They’re a good team. We’re going to look at film, and if you talk enough about how good [Radford is], it’s going to be hard to focus on Maryland,” Thompson said.
Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. at Verizon Center.