- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2015

Watching from the bench, senior forward Mikael Hopkins thought it was kind of funny at first.

With Georgetown’s big men in foul trouble Tuesday against Seton Hall, coach John Thompson III fielded an unusually small lineup for a short period of time in the second half. Freshman Isaac Copeland, a lanky 6-foot-9 forward, was the Hoyas’ tallest player on the floor. Paul White, who is an equally-lanky 6-foot-8, was playing out of position at center.

It was a strange sight, Hopkins said, but it was effective. That smaller lineup helped turn a 10-point lead into 13 points over a span of four minutes, propelling Georgetown to an 86-67 win over Seton Hall.

“The fact that our [Princeton-style] offense allows the center to have the ball in his hands and make decisions,” Hopkins said, “you could see how it’d work in Paul’s favor, because he was able to pass the ball and he’s able to dribble the ball.”

While the Hoyas fielded a smaller lineup out of necessity, their upcoming opponent, St. John‘s, has gone small by choice in the past three games. Nobody in the Red Storm’s recent starting lineup has been taller than 6-foot-8, which might prompt Georgetown to go back to its small-ball strategy sooner rather than later.

“We’re comfortable with that group. It’s just a question of those guys just working on the defensive end,” Thompson said Monday. “To tell you the truth, it’s not like those guys are little. They’re both 6-8, 6-9. And it’s not like the pieces around them are small. … It’s something that I’m not opposed to, going that way more often.”

White has gotten more repetitions at center in practice over the past week, according to his teammates. The Hoyas had seven days off between games, allowing them to rest their bodies, catch up on schoolwork and, in Thompson’s words, “dot some Is and cross some Ts” on the court.

Georgetown has lost three of its past five, but its wins during that span have been convincing. The Hoyas beat Seton Hall by 19 points and Creighton by 27. To replicate those performances Tuesday, they will have to slow down a balanced St. John’s offense that leads the Big East in scoring during conference play.

“You watch them and you wonder how they’ve lost some games, just because of how talented they are,” Thompson said. “I’ve said this several times — they might be the most talented team in the league.”

Led by seniors D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer, who average a combined 32.1 points per game, the Red Storm likes to make the most of its individual matchups. One of the benefits of fielding a smaller lineup is that each of its starters can attack the rim or stretch the floor, putting extra stress on defenses.

“It’s a lot of pressure, because their whole team is like one-on-one,” Jabril Trawick said. “Whoever gets the ball, they can catch it off the boards and push it in transition. Then when they get in a half-court set, they’re looking to go one-on-one, get mismatches and matchups and kick it to the shooter.”

St. John’s only has one player taller than 6-foot-9 on its roster, creating an ideal matchup on paper for 6-foot-11, 350-pound center Joshua Smith. Thompson, however, said it’s not quite that simple.

“When they ‘go small,’ it hasn’t affected them at all, just because they’re so athletic,” Thompson said. “Conventional wisdom says, ‘They’re small, pound it inside.’ That’s what the coaching manual says. But when you look at how they’ve defended [in the post], they’ve done a very good job. It’s been to the opposition’s detriment to pound it inside.”

Georgetown entered Monday in a tie with Providence for third place in the Big East standings, behind Villanova and Butler. With only five games left and 2 1/2 games separating them and the Wildcats, the Hoyas still have an outside chance to win the regular-season conference title.

Thompson isn’t worrying about that, nor his team’s seeding in NCAA tournament projections. A few weeks ago, a reporter’s question prompted him to see where the Hoyas stood. Then they lost two of their next three games.

“So I haven’t taken a peek at it,” Thompson said with a smile. “It’s just, ‘Let’s get ready for St. John‘s.’”

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