To stop being up and down, Georgetown is getting up and down.
Few teams have been more maddeningly inconsistent this season than the Hoyas, who have mixed strong performances against highly ranked teams with games that have been almost too painful to watch.
“It might be just one of those inconsistent years,” co-captain Markel Starks said Tuesday. “And you never know — it could come out for the better, it could come out for the worse. But hopefully sometime soon we figure out where we are as a team, and we just stay there.”
The recent arc has been a positive one. After starting 0-2 in Big East play for the first time in 11 years and losing forward Greg Whittington for academic reasons, Georgetown (14-4, 4-3) has won four of five, including back-to-back wins over then-No. 24 Notre Dame and then-No. 5 Louisville as it heads into Wednesday’s home game against Seton Hall.
“We know we can play with anybody,” said Otto Porter, the team’s leading scorer, “but we’ve got to remain consistent.”
The key, if the last few victories are any indication, is that the Hoyas play better when they play faster. With Porter and Starks the only reliable scorers in a half-court setting, Georgetown has been creating more up-tempo chances through better defense and rebounding.
“We have guys that can run,” Starks said. “And at any given time, we want to run.”
Whittington was Georgetown’s second leading scorer. He’s still practicing with the team and his return hasn’t been ruled out, but the Hoyas have to carry on as if he won’t come back. His absence has forced coach John Thompson III to rely more on a bench that was already thin, and to play smaller more often.
Whereas sometimes the Hoyas would have four forwards and one guard on the floor earlier this season, it’s now just as likely to see four guards complementing the versatile 6-foot-8 Porter.
“I thought we had five guards,” quipped Thompson, who doesn’t like to apply guard-forward labels to his Princeton-style offense. “Because I consider Otto a guard.”
But defense and rebounding can only take a team so far. The Hoyas could use a third scorer to replace Whittington’s points. A promising candidate is freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is averaging nearly 12 points over the last three games.
Thompson said it’s not unusual to have to adjust on the fly during a season, especially with a team that starts three sophomores and two juniors, but any dispassionate look at Georgetown’s results shows extremes that would try any coach’s patience. The same Hoyas who beat UCLA and took Indiana to overtime in November later scored 37 points in a win over Tennessee and 48 and 45 in losses to Marquette and Pittsburgh.
“We’ve had bad days where we’ve had losses and bad days where we’ve had victories,” Thompson said. “We’ve had good days where we’ve had losses, and good days where we’ve had victories.
“A lot of that happens when you don’t have seniors. In many ways our sophomore class is like the core of a lot of things that we’re doing. And you forget that they’re sophomores. They’re still learning, they’re still growing, and all of a sudden all those roles are different than what they were last year.”