- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reality bent Georgetown over its knee Sunday night in the form of unranked Old Dominion. And in the wake of that humbling 75-62 loss to the plucky Monarchs of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Hoyas (2-1), still perhaps overrated at No. 14, must address the slew of problems apparent through the first three games of the season.

“We have questions that need to be answered,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after his charges lost at McDonough Gym for the first time since 1982, snapping a string of 23 consecutive on-campus victories. “I think our group has a long way to go in spite of what people write about you, people say about you. I think our group is an honest group. And [we] know we’ve got some stuff we need to work out.”

As the Hoyas head to Bridgeport, Conn., tonight hoping to apply some salve to their egos against a pedestrian bunch from Fairfield (1-5), one primary weakness has been exposed by the squad’s opening trio of opponents: zone offense.

As can be expected from a Thompson team schooled to execute the Princeton offense, Georgetown has been far more proficient against man-to-man defenses (see Vanderbilt, 86-70) than against the two opponents who primarily defended them with sagging zones (Hartford and Old Dominion).

Three things are critical to attacking a zone defense: 3-point shooting, dribble penetration and high-post entry. Thus far, the Hoyas have proved inept at all three.

The first of those three, deep shooting, always looked to be the team’s weakness, given the departures of two of last season’s top gunners (Ashanti Cook and Darrel Owens). Junior point guard Jon Wallace was the only proven commodity heading into the season. The preseason hope was that Jessie Sapp, Marc Egerson, DaJuan Summers, Patrick Ewing Jr. and Tyler Crawford would fill the Cook/Owens void by committee.

So far, that hasn’t happened. Aside from Wallace (8-for-16 from 3-point range), the Hoyas have been poor from behind the arc (8-for-38, 21.1 percent). Crawford was 1-for-8 from deep in the opener and missed the last two games because of illness. Ewing has been more hack than help through three games, recording more fouls (10) than points (seven). Summers has a sweet stroke, but plays even less defense than most freshmen. And Sapp (3-for-10) has shown little prowess while Egerson (1-for-5) has shown too much hesitancy shooting the 3-pointers.

Long-range shooting is likely to be a season-long Achilles’ heel for the Hoyas. But the other two methods of attacking the zone need not be.

In terms of dribble penetration, the Hoyas have been sorely lacking since Cook left campus. Though Wallace is invaluable for his composure, passing, spot-up shooting and leadership, quickness is not among his many strengths. Unlike Cook, who had a surprisingly strong fallaway jumper and nice first step, Wallace always has struggled to create shots for himself.

Among the team’s current perimeter cast, Sapp is the obvious dribble-drive first option. The sophomore from New York has both the requisite handle and quickness to shoulder the squad’s enormous need in that department. But he probably needs to be both more assertive and more aware of his dominant big men (Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert) when he elects to attack off the dribble. Sapp’s maturation in this regard, and it already has begun, is perhaps the primary key to Georgetown reaching its potential this season.

As for the high-post entry, there’s no excuse for Georgetown’s failure, which falls almost entirely on Green’s shoulders. Trumpeted as an All-American by many preseason publications and a consensus All-Big East selection by the league’s coaches, Green has lived up to his billing only once this season. The 6-foot-9 forward from Hyattsville shredded Vanderbilt’s man defense to the tune of 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in only 23 minutes, but he has looked completely uncomfortable against the zone in the Hoyas’ other two contests.

That’s odd given the number of times Georgetown faced zone defenses last season. The elbow entry against the zone is Hoops 101. And given his triple-threat game (shoot, pass and drive), Green is the prototype zone-buster. Green’s most successful play this season should be a catch at the elbow and a quick turn to the basket for either a short jumper, lob to Hibbert or bounce pass to a cutting teammate. Yet he has flashed to the high post only a handful of times in two games against the defense.

“This is no secret that [Green]’s such a key part and an integral part to what we do,” Thompson said after Green fouled out with just two points, two assists and two shots against Old Dominion. “If he is off, then more than likely we’ll also be off. That doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.”



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