Something in the Middle
Friday, January 5, 2007
A year ago, when the Georgetown men's basketball team found itself locked in a close game, the Hoyas had several players they could turn to when they needed a basket, namely three experienced perimeter players: seniors Ashanti Cook, Darrel Owens and Brandon Bowman. All three could shoot from the outside or create their own shots off the dribble.
Georgetown, which opens its Big East schedule tomorrow when it hosts No. 17 Notre Dame at Verizon Center, doesn't have that this season. Instead, the Hoyas' experience and strength rests inside, with junior forward Jeff Green and junior center Roy Hibbert.
Experienced, talented big men are a rare breed in college basketball -- indeed, Green and Hibbert were the main reasons Georgetown was ranked among the nation's top 10 teams entering the season -- but because most inside players do not generate offensive opportunities on their own, maximizing such luxuries requires finding ways to get them the ball. That's something the Hoyas are slowly figuring out.
"Obviously, when you have a talented big man, and when the big man is the main weapon, people will focus on that person," Coach John Thompson III said. "There has to be a heightened effort to get them the ball. It's more difficult than coming down and throwing it in, and then once they get it, they're going to get a lot more attention once they have the ball."
Hibbert and Green were unanimous picks for the preseason all-Big East team, and they are the focal point of every opposing scouting report. So, not surprisingly, they have spent a lot of time working against double- and triple-teams in practice. They are facing pressures that they haven't had before in their college careers.
"That is a process, moreso for them probably than for everyone else. Definitely Roy has never been double-teamed in his life, and the same might be true for Jeff," Thompson said. "Understanding the comfort level of being able to function and being effective when there are two or three people guarding you. Understanding that what the opposition perceives as a positive can turn into a positive for us."
When junior guard Jonathan Wallace brings the ball up the court and sets the offense, he says he first looks to see where the big men are. Hibbert likes to get the ball within two feet of the basket, and Wallace said that the best way to get the ball into Hibbert is to make a high entry pass to where only the 7-foot-2 center can get it. But Hibbert will move around to different spots to try to give the defense different looks.
"Coach wants me to feel comfortable in the paint, and outside on the perimeter as well," Hibbert said. "So I'm going to try to make plays for the team. That means if I get doubled and pass it out to the cutter, or if I'm at the top of the key. We call it 'drive drill' with my teammates, whether they come around and I set the screen or if they go backdoor and I make the pass."
Both Hibbert (15 assists) and the 6-9 Green (team-high 45 assists) are good passers and unselfish players, and they are quick to rattle off and praise the different skills of their teammates.
"It makes it easier for us as a team to have two guys who not only can make plays, but are smart enough to see how defenses are playing and what we need to do as a team," Wallace said. "It helps you out in many areas."
However, while the Hoyas have several players who are capable of making three-pointers -- freshman forward DaJuan Summers, junior swingman Tyler Crawford and sophomore guard Jessie Sapp -- only Wallace (26 of 54, 48.1 percent from beyond the arc) has proven to be a reliable shooter.
This season, the Hoyas have not played in many close games -- when the value of each possession is more pronounced -- but in one of them, a 61-52 loss at Duke on Dec. 2, they made a concerted effort in the second half to get the ball to Hibbert and Green. But Hibbert often got the ball near the foul line, not on the block where he is most comfortable. Green also got the ball away from the basket and tried to drive past his defender.
Neither one was particularly effective. Hibbert misfired on a pair of interior shots (including one that completely missed the rim), Green missed a layup, and both players committed turnovers as they tried to dribble to the basket.
Georgetown is playing much more smoothly on offense now. The Hoyas are playing more instinctively.
"We're coming together. We're a different team than we were at the beginning of the year," said Hibbert, who is shooting 65.9 percent from the field. "We're more cohesive now on offense and defense. I don't feel I have any pressure on me. If I'm being doubled, I know that Jeff or Jon or Tyler or DaJuan is going to be there to help me out, whether that's cutting or getting to an open spot to relieve the pressure."
"Going into league play, we're more comfortable with what we're doing, and we trust each other more," he said. "If teams are going to double-team us, then they have to be aware of what DaJuan, Tyler and Jessie can do. I feel like more and more they realize the potential they have."
But when the game is on the line, the Hoyas want their best players with the ball.
"I have confidence in both of those guys," Wallace said of Hibbert and Green, who both average nearly 12 points per game. "They're not your traditional post players -- they may be thought of that way because of their height and size, but they're able to move and they're more versatile. There are lots of areas on the floor where they can score."