Don’t overlook the importance of Georgetown’s Julian Vaughn

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Georgetown’s season has been a roller coaster ride, to say the least.

At the start of Big East play, I was ready to crown the Hoyas the best team in the Big East. A month ago, after the Hoyas had lost four of their first five Big East games, I was ready to write them off.

Since that ugly, 72-57 loss to Pitt at the Verizon Center, the Hoyas have reeled off seven straight wins. Impressive wins, at that. Four of them came on the road. Two of those roads wins came at Villanova and at Syracuse. Georgetown also knocked off Louisville during that stretch.

Its an impressive turn around, to say the least.

After Wednesday night’s 64-56 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, you’ll see plenty of words written about the Hoyas. Some will be about how Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark have gotten back on track. Others will be about how Hollis Thompson’s change in roles from starter to hired gun off the bench has helped the Hoyas.


I want to talk about Georgetown’s big man.

Coming into the season, Julian Vaughn was the x-factor for this team. Its no secret that the Hoyas were lacking their typical front court star. There is no Jeff Green on this team. There’s no Roy Hibbert or Greg Monroe. There isn’t that versatile big man with a deft passing touch for Georgetown to run their offense through.

And while Vaughn will never be confused with any of those talents, he has become something of a pressure release for the Georgetown back court. Vaughn has always been a capable shot blocker and rebounder and an excellent screener, but during this seven game winning streak, its his low-post game that has stood out.

Vaughn isn’t Jared Sullinger by any stretch of the imagination. But his low post game has developed enough that he is now a fairly reliable scoring option when he gets the ball on the block, especially when he is being defended one-on-one. And when there are shooters like Freeman, Wright, Clark, and Thompson on the floor with him, Vaughn is going to get plenty of one-on-one scoring opportunities.

And that is all the Hoyas need him to be.

Look at tonight as an example. Vaughn scored eight of his 12 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half against Syracuse, keeping the game close as the Orange stretch their defense to counteract the Hoya’s hot first half from three. The 17-5 run to close the game was what made the difference against Syracuse, but without Vaughn’s production inside Georgetown would not have been in position to make that run.

Against Providence, Georgetown needed each one of his 14 points (and 11 rebounds) as they barely hung on against a Providence team that got 43 points from Marshon Brooks. In the win over Louisville, Vaughn scored eight points off of low post touches in the second half.

Georgetown’s back court is terrific, as good as any in the country.

Their play is going to determine how far Georgetown can go this season.

But knowing that they have a double-digit scoring threat on the block makes the Hoya’s offense just that much more versatile and difficult to defend.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.