12/14/2009 2:08 PM ET
Megdal: A very different Hoyas team
Georgetown appears to have all the pieces to make a run
By Howard Megdal / SNY.tv
Julian Vaughn has been an interior defensive force for Georgetown so far. (AP)

Although I can understand why some people question Georgetown's start in 2009-2010 -- after all, the team did start last season 10-1 en route to a 16-15 finish -- the differences between the two seasons are extreme.

The seeds of Georgetown's eventual destruction were evident even in the early victories over Memphis and Connecticut. Meanwhile, the necessary building blocks for success this year -- rebounding and depth -- are presenting the Hoyas with an opportunity that wasn't a certainty at the beginning of the year.

Georgetown looks ready to take advantage of Greg Monroe's tenure after all.

Let's begin with what we know about last season. It was puzzling to many how a team that managed to defeat Connecticut, Memphis, Syracuse and Villanova managed to lose 15 times, including games to Seton Hall, Cincinnati and St. John's -- twice in a week.

But a closer look at the victories makes the problems clear. Georgetown simply couldn't rebound last year. Against Villanova, they were out-rebounded 26-22. Against Syracuse, 32-25. Against Memphis, 46-35. Against Connecticut, 31-23.

In other words, against these four opponents, Georgetown required either exceptional three-point shooting (against the Huskies and the Orange) or a total collapse in the opposing offense (Memphis and Villanova). Absent extraordinary circumstances, Georgetown couldn't overcome this weakness.

Add to that flaw the fact that just six players received 13 minutes of playing time or more in three of the wins, and seven against Villanova, and it isn't any wonder that tired legs meant an inability to completely clamp down defensively or sink three-point shots late in games, especially as the season wore on.

So what did last week's wins over Butler and Washington tell us? For one thing, we saw that a Georgetown interior defense that last year featured a sometimes tentative Greg Monroe and little else is anything but soft this season. Monroe is more aggressive, Henry Sims is averaging a block per game, Hollis Thompson is contributing as well, and Julian Vaughn is a revelation.

Leave aside the 18 points that Vaughn scored Saturday against Washington. The fact that he is an enforcer inside, averaging nearly two blocks per game, while giving Georgetown a legitimate rebounder they've missed since the departure of Patrick Ewing Jr., makes his development this year a major difference from last year's team.

If he truly is a second scorer for Georgetown inside, of course, it also gives the team a look it hasn't had since John Thompson III took over.

Realistically, it appears Georgetown has gotten more development than it could have hoped for from many corners. Austin Freeman is playing an under-control form of basketball that allows him to maximize his gifts of physical defense and deadly outside shooting. Sims appears to be progressing toward learning how to harness his sizable physical skills on the interior, though his offense is still raw.

And it wouldn't be right not to mention Jason Clark, the best defender on the team, who is shooting 40 percent from three-point range, 50 percent overall, 83 percent from the line, and grabs 2.4 steals per game. More importantly, his minutes of consistency are what replaces last season's Jessie Sapp minutes, which were a grab-bag of highlight reel plays and blooper reel mistakes.

Only Chris Wright has appeared to stagnate so far this year -- from 3.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers last season to 3.0 assists and 2.9 turnovers so far this season -- and frankly, he is the least of Georgetown's worries other than Monroe.

As for the depth issue, it appears help is on the way. In consecutive games, Thompson dropped an untested freshman into the game for the first time late in the second half. Against Butler, it was forward Jerelle Benimon. Against Washington, it was Vee Sanford.

I asked Thompson what his motivation was for throwing Benimon into the fire against Butler.

"I wanted to see how he would respond," Thompson said following the win at Madison Square Garden. "And he came in and got a big putback, a couple other rebounds. He has not been able to practice at 100 percent yet, so as he gets healthy, as he gets minutes, he gets reps, he's going to be another option that we have."

Sanford obviously filled that "into the fire" role against Washington, with similar success-a lovely pass at the end of a fast break and strong defensive possession at the other end.

How important is it to Georgetown for Sanford and Benimon to contribute? Think about it this way: they'll be making the Hoyas nine-deep instead of seven-deep, and their minutes will likely be those filled by Omar Wattad and Nikita Mescheriakov last season. Wattad has transferred, while Mescheriakov, who played double-figures minutes in 15 games last season, including the final 12, has been buried on the bench this year.

They hardly counted as depth, of course. Both were frequently overwhelmed by Big East play, particularly on the defensive end.

The difficulty in projecting Georgetown this year came not from the top-end talent, but from the players around the nucleus of Monroe and Wright. So far, the answers appear to be coming back positively. If everything continues to develop as it has so far, this Georgetown team will be far more dangerous than last year's flameout. And the record, just like last year, won't begin to tell the reasons why.

Howard Megdal is a contributor to SNY.tv, MLBTradeRumors.com and the editor of The Perpetual Post. His book, The Baseball Talmud, is available now. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/HowardMegdal
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