Georgetown’s versatility best way to counteract youth

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Since John Thompson III took over the Georgetown program back in 2004, his most successful teams have had two things in common: a steady, veteran presence in the back court to lead the team and versatile, playmaking big men who can dissect a defense by throwing that backdoor bounce-pass that has become a staple of the Hoya offense under JT III.

Think about it. When Georgetown made the Final Four in 2007 and won their second straight Big East title in 2008, their back court was made up of Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp. When those two graduated, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman took the reins. That paved the way for Jason Clark last season. In the front court, Jeff Green made way for Roy Hibbert, who graduated just in time for Greg Monroe to step in and take over. Last season, Henry Sims finally lived up to his potential, becoming one of the better big men in the Big East and finding his way onto the roster for the New York Knicks this season.

Heading into the 2012-2013 season, those roles are two of the biggest question marks for the Hoyas.

After starting 25 games as a sophomore last season, Starks is the obvious choice to take on a bigger role in the back court. As the elder statesmen in the back court — Georgetown has no seniors, making Starks, a junior, the longest-tenured guard on the roster — it is a role that Starks knows he needs to fulfill, although he does understand the difficulties involved.

“It’s a challenge,” he told reporters at Georgetown’s Media Day. “You’re surrounded by a lot of alpha males, so you have to set an example. It’s not so much who can talk the best or who can bench the most, it’s about who can show the best. I think on gameday, I’ll have to bring that. I have had leaders like Jason Clark and Chris Wright to kind of show me the ropes. It’s just like the torch has been passed.”

Not only is Starks is lone upperclassmen in Georgetown’s perimeter attack, he also happens to be the only point guard on the roster that’s not a walk-on. In other words, he’s going to have the ball in his hands quite a bit, which would normally be a concern considering that he was fourth on the team in assists last year.

The beauty of the Georgetown attack, however, is that having a point guard that struggles to create off the dribble isn’t a concern. The Hoyas rarely run isolation plays. In a half-court setting, when the offense is functioning efficiently, Georgetown gets the majority of their open looks off of crisp passing, pick-and-rolls disguised as handoffs, and correctly taking advantage of the way the defense is playing. In other words, it’s all about reading and understanding where the next cut needs to be made and who has to get the ball at a certain time.

That’s where Thompson’s biggest concern with the youth on his roster lies heading into the new season.

“I’m not going into it thinking that we’re going to need Markel to go from X points-per-game to X-plus-six points-per-game. I think it will happen. I think we’ve got guys that can score,” he said. “We lost a lot of understanding with the group that left last year. We lost a lot of passing with the group that left last year. I think it’s easy, because we’re all programmed to look at stats, to think scoring. But a lot of the intangibles that I’m more concerned with losing in Henry, Hollis [Thompson] and Jason, that we’re going to miss.”

“I’m worried about understanding, stuff that comes along with being a senior, with being around and being with the program for a while.”

It wouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if the Hoya offense took a step back this season. Not only will they have a new look back court, but they’ll be dealing with a different presence in the middle. One of the things that makes Georgetown unique and difficult to prepare for is that their offense runs through their big men, who are quite often the team’s best play-makers. Nate Lubick changed his body during the offseason and is mentally prepared for an expanded role offensively, but nothing about his first two seasons on the Hilltop provide reason to believe he’s the next in the pipeline of future pros under JT III.

That title belongs to sophomore forward Otto Porter, who is a perfect example of the versatility of this year’s Georgetown team. He averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 boards in his first season with the Hoyas, numbers that Thompson — and just about every college hoops pundit across the country — believe will spike this year.

“Otto Porter is a worker. He is one of the guys that understands, as good as he is, that he can get better,” Thompson said of the guy currently projected as the 24th pick in the 2013 draft by DraftExpress.com (http://www.draftexpress.com/). “Otto takes pride in every aspect of the game. Then there’s the realization that, ‘Hey, I can get better at every aspect of the game’. It’s not just, ‘Can I get my shot off? Let me work on my midrange game.’ He really worked on all aspects of the game.”

Offensively, Porter appears to be improved. A natural small forward, Porter went to both the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Nike camps over the summer, where he worked on things like his three-point stroke (he shot just 22.6% from distance last year), his mid-range game and his ability to dribble and pass the ball. The early returns are positive, as he looks much smoother and more confident shooting the ball. During media day, Georgetown ran through some shooting drills while Thompson spoke, and at one point Porter his 12 out of 13 threes. Hard-workers with the skills and physical tools to be elite defenders are almost always going to be considered high-level prospects.

“Otto knows what’s out there. We won’t try to hide from him what’s out there. I think he’s dealing with it fine. Otto’s as grounded as they come,” Thompson said. “He just shows up, he brings his lunch pail and he works. Whatever happens, happens. I think the reason that a lot of good things have happened and will continue to happen to him is that he doesn’t get engrossed in all of that.”

Where Porter will make the biggest impact next season is on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, Georgetown’s strength next season will be on the defensive end. According to Kenpom’s rankings, the Hoyas were the nation’s seventh-most efficient defense a season ago. The reason for that was the number of players they have that can defend multiple positions, and the Hoyas return many of those guys. Porter can defend anyone on the floor, from point guards to centers. Another 6-foot-8 sophomore, Greg Whittington, can do the same. Sophomores Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen and freshman Stephen Domingo are big wings with long wingspans, and Trawick and Bowen have as much raw athleticism as anyone in the country. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the prize of Thompson’s 2012 recruiting class, is a physical, 6-foot-3 combo-guard who is lauded as one of the more intelligent and well-rounded players at his position.

Last season, what made Georgetown so effective defensively was that Thompson was able to mix up defenses from game-to-game and from possession-to-possession. The length available allowed him to play a 2-3 zone, while the ability of his forwards to defend out on the perimeter made a switching man-to-man and a matchup zone options, as well.

That’s great news for Hoya fans.

The easiest way for a program to deal with youth and expanded roles offensively is to excel on the defensive end of the floor.

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

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.