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Georgetown is missing an intangible

January 11, 2014 Columns No Comments

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Don’t let the nice record fool you. The good wins, don’t let them fool you, either. This is not last year’s Georgetown team. While that’s obvious since it’s a new season with new personnel, this team hasn’t taken that personality with it. That was one thing evident in the Hoyas’ 70-52 loss at Providence on Wednesday night, and it could be a big thing down the road.

Make no mistake: Georgetown has some things going for it. Depth is one thing this team has, and it gave the Hoyas a decided edge on Wednesday night. They had already played nine players just over halfway through the first half, and they were well on their way to rallying from being down ten early. Providence doesn’t have that depth with all the personnel issues they have had. But that wasn’t enough. Something was missing.

“They just beat us tonight,” said head coach John Thompson III. “You have to give them credit. When we started to chip away, they always made a play. You have to give credit to them for how they responded when we tried to make a run at them.”

Georgetown turns the ball over more than every team except DePaul in the Big East, and that showed up early Wednesday night. The Hoyas had three turnovers as Providence scored the first six points and ran out to an 11-2 lead. The offense was seemingly asleep for the first ten minutes before finally showing some life, but they turned the ball over eight times in the half and 15 for the game.

The Hoyas have talent; that’s not in question. Making up for Otto Porter’s departure hasn’t been an issue from a production standpoint. He did a lot of things, but others have filled in the void there. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera began to come alive in the latter part of last year and now leads the team in scoring, while players like Josh Smith and Markel Starks can score as well.

But no one on this team has his Porter’s personality. He wouldn’t let his team lose. He showed it with his big game at Syracuse. He showed it with big plays in a double overtime win at Connecticut. He showed it many more times, especially later in the season, en route to being Big East Player of the Year.

There isn’t a Hoya right now that has that. They don’t lack for tough guys, like Nate Lubick (also one of the best glue guys in the country) or Mikael Hopkins, or even Starks. But none has the mentality Porter had last year, and that includes Smith, who didn’t travel to Providence with the team.

Georgetown has been prone to stretches where they don’t compete as hard as they should, and that has hurt them. The Hoyas didn’t compete for a lot of the first half and found themselves never leading and getting out-rebounded. They barely got any breaks, as Providence got just about every loose ball and every 50-50 ball. Providence played them even on the glass on Wednesday night. In all four games the Hoyas have lost, they were either out-rebounded or even on the glass. They have won when being out-rebounded, but have yet to lose when they control the glass.

“A lot of the rebounds and 50-50 balls were going their way,” said Smith-Rivera. “It was just effort.”

When the Hoyas take care of the ball, they are good offensively. They shoot over 49 percent from the field, making them a very efficient offensive team as they usually are. But on Wednesday night, that efficiency wasn’t there simply because they didn’t compete as hard as Providence, who scouted them well and solved their defense enough.

Perhaps symbolic of how this night went was coming out of a timeout with less than five minutes to go. The Hoyas allowed Providence’s Tyler Harris, who isn’t exactly the smoothest ball handler, to take the ball the length of the floor for a layup. If you’ve done your homework, you put some pressure on him with the ball at some point, and perhaps he coughs it up if he doesn’t pass it off to someone else.

And on top of everything else, late in the game Jabril Trawick picked up a flagrant-1, surely a frustration foul. That’s not something a tough team does.

The Hoyas are capable of playing better, with or without Smith, and that was something Thompson talked about. Smith did not travel with the team as he tried to resolve an academic issue back on campus, but he would not have been a difference-maker. For this team, the difference-maker will be someone taking on the personality of Porter last season. They don’t need someone to be the conference Player of the Year, but someone who won’t let this team lose and gets teammates to play the same way.

Georgetown has enough good wins (Kansas State and VCU) thus far, and if they put forth a good record in the Big East, should have enough additional wins to reach the NCAA Tournament. Lots of teams would love to have some of their talent. But this team right now doesn’t have the look of one ready to make a run. There is time to correct that, as someone can grow into the kind of leader this team needs.

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