Five thoughts following Georgetown's fifth straight win. Saturday's 87-82 victory over North Carolina-Wilmington nearly turned into an epic collapse, but the Hoyas (6-3) survived despite blowing most of a 25-point lead.
Big men defined the Georgetown era under former coach John Thompson Jr., yet waves of guards and swingmen providing relentless and pulsating pressure all over the court helped fuel the many triumphs. Under John Thompson III, the Hoyas often start games with backcourt traps and then...no more such concepts under normal circumstances.
That changed against the Seahawks. Georgetown stayed with the three-quarter and half court pressure for much of the game. UNCW committed seven of its 11 turnovers in the first half included three on three straight possessions as the Hoyas went up by 17 points.
Thompson said the pressure looks were simply part of the "game plan." Now, that seems slightly odd considering how infrequent he has deployed that defense over the years. Other teams are surely susceptible to ball pressure. The current Hoyas roster has the needed depth and personnel for such use with L.J. Peak, Kaleb Johnson, Tre Campbell and Isaac Copeland.
Perhaps Saturday marks the start of something different, the younger Thompson channeling his father's plan from yesteryear. Don't hold your breath, though.
Georgetown lost to Maryland earlier this season despite the Terps not using traps defensively when the Hoyas were without guards D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Campbell for most of the second half. It's true teams always don't change their base tactics for a one-off game, especially so early in the season. However, not going with heavy pressure during a tight game when trailing and the opponent is light on ball handlers seemed odd at the very least.
This trip down recent memory lane comes about because the Hoyas haven't been lights out against pressure defense even with their full complement of guards. They committed 10 of their 16 turnovers during the second half against UNCW. Of those 10 turnovers, half came during a span of 2:27 when the lead went from 14 to 81-78 with 50 seconds remaining.
The Seahawks under coach Kevin Keatts, a former assistant at Louisville under, use pressure as part of their normal approach. "We knew it was coming," Thompson said. UNCW only shot 24.1 percent from the field, which limited its opportunities to use pressure. No such issues over the second half as UNCW scored 54 points.
"Offensively, we’re never trying to hold the ball, but at a certain point you’re playing the clock as much as you’re playing the opponent," Thompson explained. 'We had too many poor decisions, one pass, shot, two pass, shot. We beat the press and try to just go running in there and it ends up in a turnover."
Seems weird to say or even think this, but Marcus Derrickson is well on his way to having a better 3-point shooting season as a freshman than Smith-Rivera. After hitting 5 of 7 attempts Saturday, the Bowie native improved to 13 of 29 (44.8%). Smith-Rivera, one of the top perimeter threats in program history, went 39 of 116 (33.6%) during his first season. This isn't a real apples to apples comparison, especially since the 6-foot-7 Derrickson often benefits from kick out passes. Just noting that the Hoyas have a legitimate stretch-4 who is only just beginning his college career.
"That was good, " Thompson said of Derrickson. "Marcus can shoot. If you leave him open, it’s going to go in. We need him to continue doing some of the other things, which he also can do, but 5-for-7, I’ll take that."
Peak only played seven minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls. These things happen, but it's been happening to the aggressive sophomore wing guard plenty of late. Thompson said he and his staff plan on taking a closer look at Peak's foul troubles.
"We really have to go back and look to see if we can help him tactically. I’m biased, I may be wrong, but I think he’s gotten the short end of the stick a lot. He plays so hard. L.J. is a very good defender. ...He keeps his body right in front of his man. We have to figure it out, because he has been in foul trouble a lot and it’s not necessarily little touch fouls, it’s all over the board. I don’t want to take away his aggression, I don’t want to away his energy, I don’t want to take away his fire on defense, but we have to figure out a way to keep him on the court a little bit."
The penultimate game of the seven-game homestand comes against arguably the most dangerous opponent that doesn't wear Orange. The Hawks' 5-3 record doesn't scream upset. Wins at UCLA and over Notre Dame and USC does. The basic formula: Few turnovers and get to the free throw line a bunch. More on this matchup before Tuesday's game at Verizon Center, but don't overlook the MAAC program just because they're not a power conference program. They clearly know how to beat them.