- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

ROSTER

No.) Player (Ht., Wt.) Year Pos. — Skinny

21) Jason Clark (6-2,170) sophomore guard — Unanimous pick by fellow Hoyas as most improved; Clark is poised to blossom.

20) Jerrelle Benimon (6-7, 242) freshman forward — Blue-collar banger is fairly skilled and athletic despite his off-radar recruiting ranking.

12) Ryan Dougherty (6-0, 192) junior guard — Transfer from Rochester is a walk-on who will push Georgetown guards in practice.

15) Austin Freeman (6-4, 227) junior guard/forward — Two-year starter dropped a dozen pounds in the offseason in hopes of adding quickness.

5) Nikita Mescheriakov (6-8, 215) junior forward — Nine-time starter last season; strong practice player struggled with transition to prime time.

10) Greg Monroe (6-11. 247) sophomore center — Big East rookie of the year returns as the centerpiece of Georgetown’s offense.

11) Vee Sanford (6-3, 180) freshman guard — Floor general from Lexington, Ky., has drawn raves as program’s next Jon Wallace.

30) Henry Sims (6-10, 230) sophomore forward/center — There’s big-time upside for the Baltimore forward with freakish wingspan and athleticism.

25) Stephen Stepka (6-6, 190) freshman guard — Walk-on joins Dougherty to give Georgetown best practice pairing of John Thompson III era.

1) Hollis Thompson (6-7, 205) freshman forward — Los Angeles blue-chipper was a midterm enrollee in last year; could see major minutes.

22) Julian Vaughn (6-9, 247) junior forward — Florida State transfer is auditioning with Sims for starting frontcourt role opposite Monroe.

4) Chris Wright (6-1, 208) junior guard — Starting point man could wreak havoc for opponents if he stabilizes his oft-erratic play.

REASONS TO HOPE

Addition by subtraction - Poor chemistry was a primary culprit in Georgetown’s 4-12 stagger to the finish line last season. Though the team’s best player was clearly freshman center Greg Monroe, junior forward DaJuan Summers led the team in scoring as he pursued his own agenda of making the leap to the NBA. And though the squad seemingly belonged to its sole senior (guard Jessie Sapp), precocious sophomore point man Chris Wright was asked to direct the team, effectively displacing Sapp. With Summers and Sapp gone, there should be no confusion surrounding the roles or identity of this season’s squad. Monroe is the star. Wright is the floor general. And Austin Freeman and the rest of Georgetown supporting cast are prepared to follow where Monroe and Wright lead them.

Anomaly - Before last season, all four of coach John Thompson III’s previous teams at Georgetown had exceeded expectations. In 2004-05, the Hoyas were picked to finish 11th in the Big East by the league’s coaches and finished tied for seventh. In 2005-06, they were picked to finish sixth and finished tied for fourth. In 2006-07, they were picked to finish second, and they finished tied for first. Two seasons ago, they were co-favorites and won the league outright. Last season’s backslide was the exception, not the rule, under Thompson. History says Thompson’s sixth group will outstrip projections and finish higher in the Big East standings than expected (picked fifth by coaches).

Flip-flop - Last season, the Hoyas featured one of the younger rosters in a league loaded like never before with seasoned superstars. As a result, the youthful Hoyas (eight of 10 primary players were freshmen or sophomores) struggled to close games, blowing second-half or overtime leads in nine of the team’s last 10 losses. Even after the departure of the two most experienced players in the roster (Sapp and Summers), only two of the 10 teams who finished ahead of them in the standings last season lost less productivity (West Virginia and Cincinnati).

Second-year leap - Coaches have long claimed that players typically make their biggest leap of improvement between their first and second seasons in a program. Perhaps that theory holds even more validity for a program that runs the Princeton offense. Given that Chris Wright missed almost his entire freshman season with an injury, Julian Vaughn transferred from Florida State and blue-chip freshman Hollis Thompson enrolled early during second semester, it could be argued that six of the seven players at the top of the squad’s rotation are entering that promising second season (Wright, Monroe, Clark, Sims, Vaughn and Thompson).

REASONS TO WORRY

Recent history - If things don’t go well for this squad early, there isn’t a well of positive history from which it can draw. This group fell into a tailspin last season and never emerged. Only junior Austin Freeman has been an integral part of a successful season on the Hilltop (2007-08). The wounds from last season are still fresh, so it’s crucial for the Hoyas to get off to a good start to keep doubt, finger-pointing and bad memories from returning to the locker room.

Interior defense - The Hoyas finished 13th in the Big East last season in rebounding margin (minus-0.3) and routinely were eviscerated by opposing big men. Greg Monroe needs to add some nastiness and grit on the defensive end to his finesse-oriented skill set, and the frontcourt tandem of Julian Vaughn and Henry Sims must stand and deliver on the defensive end. Outside of raw freshman Jerrelle Benimon, the roster wouldn’t seem to include the kind of blue-collar warrior who could make the Hoyas a dominant interior defense. But there are many shades of competence between dominant and dreadful. A repeat of last season’s indifferent defensive performance on the interior is the ultimate threat to a return to the NCAA tournament.

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