In November, ESPN broadcasters Bill Raftery, Sean McDonough and I were sitting courtside at the Lahaina Civic Center waiting for Georgetown to begin its first practice in Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. The Hoyas were young, not much was expected of this group, and the only real publicity the team had was (through no fault of their own) for a fight in China over the summer. Coach John Thompson III walked over to us and said, "We're going to be good. I don't know when, but we are going to be good." And, it turns out, JTIII undersold his team's prospects.
Georgetown (21-6, 11-5 Big East) has become a little sensitive about its employ of the Princeton offense. In its game notes, Georgetown refers to its offense as "the system" and seems to recoil when Princeton is mentioned with regard to its offense. The notes mention Northwestern and the Sacramento Kings and suggest notable differences in the ways each team operates its offense.
Honestly, I don't know why they worry about it. It is the Princeton offense, not some slow-down, burn-the-clock offense. Georgetown makes hard cuts and has really skilled players at every single position, and the Hoyas read and react to the defense as well as any other offense in college basketball. Plus, the Hoyas' Princeton offense can score in the 80s and win, or score in the 50s and win. Georgetown can run with you, or the Hoyas can slug it out with you. The truth is, these skilled players can play any way it takes to win.
The best passers on this team are its big men. Henry Sims leads the Hoyas in assists, and Nate Lubick (a true team player who seems to have taken the Hippocratic oath of "do no harm") doesn't score much, but if you make a good cut and get open, he will find you. The top rebounder is freshman Otto Porter; few of us had ever heard of Porter before Georgetown signed him out of Missouri, and he is just one of 10 freshmen and sophomores on this roster. The elder statesmen of Jason Clark, Sims and Hollis Thompson have been very good leaders and are taking up the scoring load.
The truly impressive thing about this group is that the players really work and guard you on the defensive end. Long, athletic and versatile, the young Hoyas are leading the Big East (in league play) in field goal percentage defense and are second in rebound margin. For such a young team, in a cerebral system that takes such skill and togetherness to play the right way, that is remarkable.
The Hoyas can get better offensively and can certainly improve with age. But, given where this team started and the expectations, Georgetown is having a wonderful season by any objective measure. The trip to China, and the way the team stayed together in tough conditions, may prove to be the galvanizing effect the Hoyas needed. After a run through the Big East regular season and tournament, this team will be ready to play in the NCAA tournament.
Instead of getting to work, which Georgetown has done from Day 1, the Hoyas need to be smart and make sure they're efficient with practice time, while getting proper rest, so they're at their best when March Madness rolls around. For such a young team, a free mind and fresh legs are worth much more than some extra practice time and additional work.