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Hoyas look for top option

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

As Georgetown heads into the meat of its Big East schedule, the Hoyas (13-5, 3-2 Big East) still don't have a confirmed closer.

Their season has been defined by an odd, boom-bust quality. The Hoyas thus far either have demolished their opponents ... or succumbed to single-digit defeats.

Quite simply, there has been little gray area for the blue and gray.

All 13 of the team's victories have been by double digits, a staggering statistic this late in the season. Even the most prized pelts on the team's belt (at Vanderbilt, at Michigan, Notre Dame) were the product of dominating performances. The Hoyas crushed the Commodores (13-6, 3-2 SEC), Wolverines (16-4, 4-1 Big Ten) and Irish (16-3, 4-2 Big East) by 16, 16 and 18 points, respectively.

In single-digit games, however, the Hoyas are an equally remarkable 0-4. And of those four losses, only one (a 56-52 loss to Villanova) qualified as a legitimate final-minute stressfest.

The upshot: The Hoyas have played just one close game all season. That's legitimate cause for concern because none of their players has distinguished himself as the go-to guy in a one- or two-possession situation.

Who gets the ball tonight, for instance, if the Hoyas trail DePaul (12-8, 3-3) by one point with 20 seconds left? Georgetown's balance creates the ultimate good news-bad news conundrum. No team in the Big East comes close to matching its balance; all five starters average between 9.8 and 11.8 points in conference play. But with so many solid options but no spectacular one, where is the ball going with the game on the line?

"At the end of the day, Jeff [Green] is still our focal point," coach John Thompson III said after the Hoyas routed Seton Hall on Friday. "We're putting the ball in his hands."

Green would be the logical first choice given his combination of size and dynamic skills. At his best, the 6-foot-9 junior forward from Hyattsville represents the Big East's ultimate quadruple threat (shoot, pass, drive or post). Unfortunately, Green has a maddening passive streak and plays every third game or so like he's dipped his hands in Crisco.

Through the first third of the Big East season, Green actually ranks last among the starters in scoring (9.8 points) and has committed a team-high 17 turnovers.

That's a fairly dubious combination for a supposed closer.

Surging freshman DaJuan Summers has a similar skill set and a nose for the free throw line. But only players like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant receive the last-possession reins as a freshman.

Massive center Roy Hibbert is the team's only player with any positive experience in such circumstances. The 7-2 pivot man made game-winning shots against Notre Dame in 2004-05 and last season. But it's unlikely any team would let the Hoyas beat them in the post in such a situation unless another Georgetown player could take his man, draw Hibbert's defender and then deliver a pass to the center.

Practically speaking, Thompson is likely to initiate a last-possession sequence with a superior ball-handler, meaning the ball is almost certain to start in the hands of either junior point guard Jon Wallace or sophomore guard Jessie Sapp.

Wallace is the team's best 3-point shooter (47.2 percent). But at 6-1 without blow-by quickness, he has trouble making shots for himself. And he's not nearly as gifted a passer as either Green or Sapp.

That leaves Sapp, a 6-3 slasher from Harlem, as perhaps the team's most capable closer. Sapp's accuracy from beyond the 3-point arc, midrange game and ball security seem to improve with each game.

"Sapp, that's my man," Thompson said after the sophomore had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and just two turnovers against Seton Hall. "I like Jessie Sapp. He's got a fire about him and a competitiveness about him. As long as he doesn't spin himself into the ground because of his intensity, he's going to do well. He has a knack for making basketball plays. You look at that guy and say, 'He's a little of this and a little of that.' You can start picking out flaws, but he just makes plays. He's made some big ones for us, and we're going to need him to continue to do that."

Eventually, the Hoyas are going to need somebody to make plays for them in big moments. Correctly identifying that somebody is one of the team's primary pre-March missions.