- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Through six games against mostly overmatched competition, the biggest difference between this season’s Georgetown team and last season’s disappointing 16-15 squad has come on the defensive end.

Whether the dramatic statistical improvements on that end of the floor are the result of a soft schedule or legitimate progress should become more evident over the next week, when the 15th-ranked Hoyas (6-0) face a pair of ranked conference favorites in No. 22 Butler (6-2) and No. 17 Washington (6-1).

“It’s way too early for me to say anything positive about our defense, inside or on the perimeter, because I think we still have so far to go,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose Hoyas face the Bulldogs on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in the opening game of the Jimmy V Classic. “We’re off to a decent start on the defensive end this season, but that’s as far as I’ll go. Teams are still getting far too many good looks against us for me to say I’m happy with our defense.”

Statistically, the Hoyas have enjoyed stark improvements in the two defensive categories that tormented them last season: field goal percentage defense and rebounding.

Following two consecutive seasons in which the Hoyas were among the national leaders in field goal percentage defense, last season’s squad plummeted to 46th in the nation by allowing opponents to shoot 40.7 percent from the field.

“We were not a good defensive team at all last season,” Thompson said earlier this year. “Part of that was intensity, but part was youth and concentration. I thought too often we allowed the frustration from an empty offensive possession to carry over at the other end of the floor.”

Aside from a handful of first-half transition buckets from Mount St. Mary’s and an indifferent first-half effort closing out on Lafayette’s 3-point shooters, the Hoyas have suffered few defensive lapses this season. Their first six opponents have combined to shoot just 35.2 percent from the field, which leads the Big East and ranks fourth nationally.

On one hand, Georgetown’s superb defensive effort against its toughest opponent to date (Temple, which shot just .321) would seem to corroborate that improvement. On the other, woeful shooting performances by the two worst teams on the schedule (Savannah State and American, who combined to shoot just .271) have skewed the statistic.

“That team that led the nation in field goal percentage defense a couple of years back [.366 in 2007-08] did it throughout the course of a whole season while winning the Big East,” Thompson said. “This team isn’t playing anywhere near that level defensively… not yet anyway.”

However, even Thompson can’t deny that the Hoyas have been far better under the boards this season. After slumping to 184th in the nation last season with a negative rebounding margin (minus-0.3), the Hoyas have outrebounded all but one opponent this season (Temple) and boast the Big East’s No. 2 rebounding margin (plus-9.5).

“We are rebounding the ball much better thus far,” Thompson said. “But that is relative to the fact that we were horrible on the boards last year. We haven’t worked on it or stressed it any more [than we did last year]. Rebounding is always a point of emphasis. But guys are going and getting the ball this year, and that’s contagious.

Though it is still early, much of the credit for the improvements on defense must be directed at first-year starters Jason Clark and Julian Vaughn. The pair replaced departed starters DaJuan Summers and Jessie Sapp in Thompson’s lineup and provided an instant outside-inside lift to the team’s defense. While Sapp was a solid defender and rebounder, Clark (12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals) is drawing comparisons to Georgetown legend Eric “Sleepy” Floyd for his tireless defensive work on the perimeter.

And unlike Summers, who often seemed to have an aversion to life in the paint, the 6-foot-9, 247-pound Vaughn (7.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) has been a hard-hat revelation in the middle.

“There’s no doubt that the presence of Julian and Jason has helped on the defensive end,” Thompson said. “But I’m not going to toss too much defensive praise at anyone until I see what happens against Butler and Washington.”

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