When the Hoyas (8-1) began the season, there was widespread speculation that the primary difference between this squad and others of the John Thompson III era would be its ability to play at a faster pace. While that notion has been validated to some extent, a more remarkable contrast between the current Hoyas and their predecessors has emerged: These Hoyas have a penchant for getting to the free throw line.
When sophomore point guard Chris Wright (13.1 points) and freshman center Greg Monroe (12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) replaced graduated starters Jon Wallace and Roy Hibbert in the lineup, the Hoyas not only received a fullcourt boost in tempo, speed and athleticism, they also added another dimension to their halfcourt offense. Wright's explosion off the bounce and Monroe's size-belying ballhandling and agility have made the Hoyas a far more dangerous dribble-drive bunch.
Mix in the maturation of junior forward DaJuan Summers (14.4 points), the upper-body brawn of sophomore swingman Austin Freeman and the improvisational stylings of senior guard Jessie Sapp, and Thompson puts five players on the floor who are constant dribble-drive threats. The result: Last season, Georgetown's far more passive lineup averaged 17.4 free throw attempts a game, last in the Big East. This season, the Hoyas average 27.7 trips to the line, fourth in the Big East and among the best in the country.
"We've put an emphasis on getting into the paint, be it off of feeding the post through our center, which we always have done, or posting different guys or penetration," Thompson said. "We want to get multiple paint touches."
Unlike notoriously inaccurate teams in the program's past, this Georgetown group usually capitalizes from the stripe. Georgetown's starters shoot 73.8 percent from the line; the team ranks 32nd in the nation in free throw percentage (74.3).
The team's newfound penetration prowess is a nice complement to its Princeton-based motion offense, particularly when it struggles with its perimeter shot. In recent victories against Memphis and Mount St. Mary's, the Hoyas weren't doomed by poor shooting performances; instead, they recognized their shots weren't falling and began manufacturing points off dribble penetration and trips to the line. They effectively won both games by scoring far more points from the line (52) than the Tigers and Mountaineers earned free throw attempts (28).
That ability to manufacture points could prove critical in a daunting three-game Big East opening set that sees the Hoyas face No. 2 Connecticut, No. 3 Pittsburgh and No. 8 Notre Dame in the span of eight days.
"That start is extremely difficult. It's scary," said Thompson, whose Hoyas begin the gantlet Monday against the Huskies in Hartford, Conn.
If the Hoyas steal a couple of those games, they will enter the far softer remainder of their league slate with an upper hand on the rest of the Big East elite.
"I think we're going to be ready," Summers said. "I feel like we've played some good competition in the preseason, so guys kind of know what to expect. It's going to be a different experience for the young guys, but I think that we'll be fine."