By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 10:40 PM
Georgetown's 1-3 start in Big East play has underscored a pair of deficiencies plaguing the Hoyas: rebounding and turnovers. They aren't getting enough of the former, committing far too many of the latter and, without marked improvement in both departments, figure to remain stuck in a season-threatening funk.
Rebounding will be of particular concern Wednesday with No. 5 Pittsburgh (15-1, 3-0) visiting Verizon Center and the No. 22 Hoyas (12-4) desperate to end a two-game losing streak. The experienced Panthers lead the conference in rebounding margin (plus-13.8 per game) and boast four players who average at least as many boards as Georgetown's second-leading rebounder, forward Hollis Thompson (4.9 per game).
"A large part of [Pittsburgh's] success comes from second shots and limiting you to one shot," Coach John Thompson III said. "So if anyone is going to beat them, you've got to get second shots for yourself and limit them to one shot."
Accomplishing that will be Georgetown's biggest challenge. Through Monday's games, the Hoyas ranked ninth in the conference in rebounding margin (plus-4.7 per game) and 12th in offensive rebound percentage (.344), an issue impossible to ignore during a critical stretch late in Saturday's 65-59 loss to West Virginia.
Georgetown missed shots on five of six possessions; the Mountaineers came down with the rebound on four of them, helping to turn a tie game into a four-point West Virginia lead. The Hoyas had a 32-23 rebound deficit, including just four offensive rebounds to West Virginia's 17 defensive rebounds, and it marked the fifth time in six games they were outrebounded. It's a reversal from early in the season, when Georgetown won the rebounding battle in nine of its first 10 games.
On Monday, Thompson used video to emphasize the need for the guards to do a better job tracking down missed shots.
"When you talk about rebounding, the stereotype is that it's [the responsibility] of your post players," he said. "But I think our perimeter guys have to do a much better job of getting in there and helping out the post players [by] running down long rebounds. We can't have three people getting on the boards and two watching. The five guys that are out there have to put a body on their man and pursue the ball."
Jason Clark, who is the only Georgetown guard averaging more than three rebounds, said crashing the boards is a mentality. The junior also addressed a common criticism of Thompson's recent teams without any prompting.
"I don't think we're a soft team," Clark said. "I don't think teams are tougher than us. It's got to be a mind-set. It comes down to the guys wanting it more, and right now, teams are playing tougher than us on the boards and that's something that has to change for us to be successful."
Asked to respond to Clark's blunt assessment, Thompson said: "Rebounding is, without a doubt, a mentality. Is it an overall group mind-set? Possibly. Is it the people you have out there? Possibly. Is it a function of who you have? I don't know. But it's something we need to take care of."
With Ashton Gibbs (16.4 points) and Gary McGhee (7.2 rebounds) and their workmanlike Pittsburgh teammates in town, rebounding could make all the difference. In the Panthers' only loss, an 83-76 setback against Tennessee on Dec. 11, they were outrebounded 34-32. One of the other two games in which they had a rebound deficit was their closest win, a 68-66 decision over Texas on Nov. 19.
Another point of emphasis for Georgetown will be taking better care of the ball. The Hoyas are averaging 14.4 turnovers per game, which ranks 15th in the conference. Only South Florida, 6-11 overall and winless in four Big East contests, is averaging more.
Almost as troubling: The Hoyas' turnover margin is minus-1.9 per game, which through Sunday's games ranked 267 out of 336 Division I programs and is on pace for the worst in Thompson's tenure.
Clark said the turnovers are mostly "unforced" and sometimes are caused by bad reads, while other turnovers are the result of attempting to thread a ball on a backdoor cut through a passing lane that isn't open. The turnovers are also coming at exactly the wrong time. Against West Virginia, the Hoyas committed four to the Mountaineers' zero in the final 1 minute 51 seconds; in a 61-58 loss to St. John's on Jan. 3, they committed two to the Red Storm's zero in the last 7:34; and in a 69-55 loss at Notre Dame on Dec. 29, they committed eight in the second half to the Fighting Irish's four.
"I don't think anybody is nervous," Clark said. "We're just antsy. A lot of times, it's a close game at the end and we're looking not to make the mistake instead of just playing."
Thompson sidestepped a question about potential changes to the starting lineup, though he didn't dismiss the possibility. He was far less elusive, however, when asked about team morale as the Hoyas attempt to bounce back from their worst start in conference play since 2003-04.
"When you go through a stretch like this, no one feels good," he said. "Losing is horrible. We just have to approach it with a mind-set of: 'What are we going to do about it? How are we going to get better?'"