*Johnson missed the Hoyas first game of the season due to a minor injury, though it was announced he will play on Saturday. Trey Mourning (6’9” senior and Alonzo’s son) started in his place on Tuesday.
The Hoyas enter their 2nd season under Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing picked 7th in the Big East, a year after finishing 8th at 5-13. The 2017-18 season was almost a tale of two seasons; they started out 10-1 in the non-league portion of their schedule. However, that was primarily due to a weak slate; seven of those wins came against teams ranked outside the top 300 in Kenpom, and they didn’t beat a top 100 team until January 2nd (#99 DePaul). The Hoyas easily dispatched Maryland-Eastern Shore (#336 in Kenpom) 68-53 on opening night.
Georgetown returns the majority of its rotation from a season ago, and is led by senior big Jessie Govan (17.9 ppg and 10.0 rpg), who was named to the pre-season All-Big East 1st team and flirted with the NBA Draft before ultimately coming back. Jamorko Pickett (9.6 ppg, 36% from three), Jahvon Blair (9 ppg, 32% from three), and Kaleb Johnson (7.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg) are all back, as is last year’s starting PG Jonathan Mulmore (5.4 ppg, 3.4 apg).
Ewing was able to bring more talent to this year’s squad, led by guards James Akinjo and Mac McClung. McClung became a YouTube sensation due to his ridiculous dunking ability, while Akinjo will hopefully be able to help the Hoyas in the turnover department; their 20.7% TO% ranked 309 out of 351 D1 teams. Freshman Josh LeBlanc (6’7” 230 lbs.) provided the Hoyas a lift off the bench on opening night, tallying 11 points (on 4 of 4 shooting) and 11 boards in his collegiate debut.
Due to Govan’s size and ability, as well as 6’8” Marcus Derrickson (went pro), Georgetown generally dominated the boards last season; they ranked 4th in OR% and 3rd in DR% in the Big East. Where they struggled was shooting the ball; while their 37.2% 3P% was 3rd in the Big East, they didn’t take enough (35% of attempts, 7th in the BE), and really struggled inside the arc (46.7%, last in the league). That all resulted in a 49.8% eFG% (8th) and a 102.2 points/100 possessions, also 8th in the league.
Defensively, outside of controlling the boards, they really did little to inspire hope; their 111.9 points/100 possessions allowed in Big East play was 9th, and they had equal difficulties covering the three point line (38.6%, 9th), as well as inside the arc (52.7%, 8th).
Player to Watch: Jessie Govan
Govan is the latest in the long line of good Georgetown big men. He was named to the All Big East pre-season first team after averaging 17.9 ppg and 10 rpg last season given his dominance in the paint last season. He shot 77% at the rim, and also has the ability to step out and shoot it (41% career, and 2 for 3 in the team’s first game).
Govan was a dominant rebounder last season, finishing 2nd in the Big East in DR% (24.8%) and 15th in OR% (6.4%). He’s also a very good passer for a big man; he had a positive assist/TO rate last year (1.13/1), which is why the Hoyas often opt to run their offense through him in both the low block and the high post.
The key for the Blue Devils’ frontline will be to keep him out of the paint; Govan took a lot of two-point jumpers last season (54% of his field goal attempts), making just 42.5%.
Things to Watch:
Reliance on two-pointers
In CCSU’s win over Hartford on Tuesday night, the Blue Devils took advantage of their strong frontcourt by attempting 42 field goals “at the rim” (69% of their field goal attempts), making 58% of those shots. What’s more, they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds (40%).
I do not have the time to research (or frankly, the ability) to see how much of an anomaly that is, but to put that into context; 72% of CCSU’s points were derived from two-pointers on Tuesday night. Last season, no team in the nation averaged more than 62% of points on two-pointers (Northwestern St. led the nation). So it’s obvious that was the game plan, specifically in the second half when John Carroll was on the bench for the Hawks. But it’s also obvious that this is something that is likely not sustainable.
On Saturday, the Hoyas will feature a frontcourt with significant size; Govan is 6’10” 255 lbs., Trey Mourning is 6’9” 220 lbs., Jamarco Pickett is 6’8” 205 lbs., and freshman Josh LeBlanc is 6’7” 230 lbs. Last season Govan was 8th in the Big East with a 2.7% block rate, and against UMES on Tuesday night the Hoyas had 7 blocks as a team (led by Govan and LeBlanc with two each).
The Blue Devils will have to take (and make) more three-pointers than they did against Hartford on Tuesday night if they want to keep this game close.
In “Tier A+B” games last season (per Kenpom), Tyler Kohl struggled quite a bit, putting up a 75.7 O-Rating and 32% TO rate (compared to his 105.2 O-Rating and 19.3% TO rate in NEC play). The primary reason is due to Kohl’s size and quickness; at the low-major level, Kohl is generally either stronger or quicker (sometimes both) than the guy trying to guard him. On Tuesday night, he kept blowing by the Hawks’ bigs, and when they put guards on him, he backed them down into the paint.
Georgetown will have no such issue; I would expect Kaleb Johnson to open up on him (assuming he’s healthy), while Pickett will probably see time guarding him as well. Both players have plenty of length (Johnson is 6’6”, Picket 6’8”) and the kind of quickness to stay in front of Kohl. If Kohl turns into a jump shooter (he shot 34% on two-point jumpers and 30% on three-pointers last season), it could be a long night.
The Turnover Battle
Usually we are concerned about CCSU’s turnovers, given the results of the last two seasons. However, Tuesday night gave me some hope; the Blue Devils turned the ball over 14 times, which is still a bit high (19%), though it wasn’t due to careless plays like in years past. Nor were the point guards to blame; Tyson Batiste had just two turnovers in 23 minutes, while Thai Segwai had one turnover in 15 minutes. If you include the exhibition game against Arcadia, the two CCSU PGs have just four turnovers in 77 combined minutes, which is ~2 per 40 minutes. Eric Bowles averaged 2.5 turnovers per 40 minutes last season, and 3.2 TO/40 in 2016-17.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; Georgetown is a lot better than Hartford and Arcadia. True! But the Hoyas only forced 16 UMES turnovers on Tuesday night (21.6%), which is a bit high but not what you’d expect when a Big East team takes on MEAC team in its season opener. And on the flip side, Georgetown turned it over 19 times (26%). Now, part of that may be due to first game jitters, as the Hoyas have a backcourt comprised entirely of freshmen. But freshmen do make mistakes, and James Akinjo coughed it over four times while Mac McClung had three.
The CCSU perimeter defense is much improved from a year ago, especially when Segwai replaces Batiste at point guard. I wouldn’t expect Donyell Marshall to suddenly apply pressure defense in the backcourt, but if they can force some mistakes and beat the Hoya bigs down the court, good things will happen.
After coming off the high of the Hartford win on Tuesday night, it’s difficult to turn around and see the Blue Devils as an 18/19 point underdog, but that’s what you get when you go on the road against a Big East foe. Both computer projections that I utilize give the Blue Devils with ~5% chance to win this game, and even if you think CCSU is underrated and Georgetown is overrated, it’s still long odds.
With that being said, the Blue Devils have nothing to lose here, and should go into this game as loose as possible. Meanwhile, the pressure is on Patrick Ewing; after a rough first season, Hoya fans are expecting this team to get back to the NCAA Tournament. And they very well might, especially given the recruiting class Ewing has brought in.
Finally, for fans of the old Big East; this is a fun matchup featuring two former Big East Players of the Year (and NBA lottery picks). Despite the age difference, I’m sure these two know each other pretty well.
I think CCSU can keep this one close for a while, and you never know what can happen. But I’d be thrilled if the Blue Devils stayed within 15 points or so.