- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2008

Asked about his noticeable weight loss on the eve of last week’s tussle with Memphis, Georgetown coach John Thompson III chuckled.

“It’s stress,” he said. “When you’re playing a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, that happens.”

It also happens when you’re preparing to begin play in what some have called the most stacked conference in the history of college basketball with virtually no bench.

As No. 15 Georgetown (7-1) winds up what Thompson calls “the preseason” against Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday and Florida International on Tuesday, all the coach wants for Christmas is a modicum of consistency from his reserves.

Through eight games, first-year starters Greg Monroe (13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks) and Chris Wright (12.4 points, 3.8 assists) have seamlessly slid into spots vacated by stars Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace, giving the Hoyas one of the nation’s best first fives.

But the drop-off after the first unit has been precipitous. Georgetown’s starters are shooting 55.2 percent, second in the nation to Utah State (57.0). Georgetown’s reserves are shooting 37.9 percent. Among the 25 teams ranked by the Associated Press, only No. 20 Arizona State receives fewer points a game from its bench than Georgetown (13.1) and a lower percentage of its scoring from its bench than the Hoyas (17.1 percent).

Factor in that Arizona State’s Herb Sendek plays his bench far less than Thompson does, and the Hoyas’ reserves actually are the least efficient in the nation among ranked teams (.230 points per minute).

“They’ve got to get up to snuff,” said Thompson, whose squad’s lone loss - to Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic - was a case study in comparative depth. “Everyone else has to figure out how to help that second group, from coaches to other players to managers. It’s an inexperienced group that is bumbling along like a colt. Colts don’t survive in the Big East.”

The lone bright spot among the Hoyas’ bench corps has been freshman guard Jason Clark, who leads the reserves in scoring (4.8), rebounding (3.0) and minutes (18.0). But what the Hoyas need most is frontcourt help, particularly rebounding, to assist Monroe and junior forward DaJuan Summers.

Frontcourt reserves Julian Vaughn (6-foot-9, 246 pounds) and Henry Sims (6-10, 225) have failed to make an impact, forcing Thompson to lean on the undersized Omar Wattad for help in the paint. The sophomore swingman has displayed laudable intensity and effort, but Wattad lacks the size and athleticism to adequately fill that role in the rugged Big East.

The upshot is that Thompson and his charges are just over a week from entering a brutal three-game sequence to open league play - at No. 2 Connecticut, vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh, at No. 12 Notre Dame. The Hoyas will face the Big East’s top three post players - UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet, Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair and Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody - with no proven frontcourt support for Monroe and Summers.

“They are a willing group, and they are working hard,” Thompson said. “As I’ve said to a lot of them collectively and individually, one day soon - soon - the skies are going to open up and things are going to clear up.”

Given the colossal conference clouds on the horizon, that’s certainly a sunny forecast.

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