Having spent Saturday night with Georgetown at Verizon Center before catching Atlantic 10 rivals George Washington and George Mason battle in Fairfax, here are some thoughts on those and other local men's college basketball teams with the madness of March just one month away...
* Georgetown coach John Thompson provided an important reminder amid the pain following the 73-69 Big East loss to No. 10 Providence.
"We’re at the halfway point," he said in reference to the conference schedule. "There’s a whole lot of basketball left to be played."
The Hoyas (13-9, 6-3), now tied with the Friars for third in the Big East standings, have nine games remaining. Plenty of chapters remain, as do enough games against RPI and strength of schedule helpful opponents to help with the NCAA Tournament at-large scenario. Previous wins over Syracuse and Xavier help the big picture cause. Even some of the surprising losses aren't true killers (no losses against teams outside the RPI top 175).
But there's another way to look at that halfway point comment. That is, overall, the Hoyas are actually 23 games into the season and it's still hard figuring out this team's identity. Are they about feeding big men inside or firing away from beyond the 3-point arc? Are they about speeding up the pace by putting a bevy of wing threats on the court or grinding out wins? The answer to all depending on the game, half or possession is yes.
Forget tactics for a moment. Let's talk personnel. Imagine this goal: simply put out the best Hoyas lineup for five minutes of loosely defined good basketball. Other than that unit including senior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, it's not clear who else is out there or which players work best together.
Isaac Copeland's scoring punch disappeared throughout January. The offense in theory functions best with freshman center Jessie Govan's perimeter game in the lineup, but his interior skills are lacking. 7-footer Bradley Hayes provides low-post scoring and rebounding, but he's not exactly mobile, which becomes problematic defensively when guards allow consistent penetration. That's where L.J. Peak helps with his ferocious energy, but the swingman can't always control his own pace and decision-making in halfcourt sets. Tre Campbell scored 21 points against Xavier, but just 10 over the next three games.
This uncertainty contributes to the identity problem, as does a stated willingness to, when on offense, take what the opponent gives you. The ability to adjust is valuable, but dictating terms isn't a bad thing. For this season, the question is which players can help get that done. We're way more than halfway through the season as coach John Thompson still searches for the right combinations.
Next up: Winnable road games Tuesday at Butler and Saturday night at Seton Hall.
* Sunday's matchup between George Mason and George Washington was striking because of specific similarities. The Patriots (7-14, 1-7 Atlantic 10) start three freshmen. While that probably wasn't coach Dave Paulsen's plan for his first-year with the program, roster issues dictated such tactics.
Based on where the Colonials are these days, that's a good thing.
Mike Lonergan knew he would take some hits with wins and losses when he started four freshman for chunks of the 2012-13 season. He also knew that early exposure would help mature those players. Since then, the Colonials reached the NCAA Tournament and NIT in consecutive seasons and are poised for another postseason berth in 2016. Three of those freshmen -- Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen, Joe McDonald -- remain starters.
Otis Livingston, the most impressive of Paulsen's kids, nearly led George Mason to an upset Sunday before GW held on for a 76-70 win. The freshman point guard had 18 points and seven assists without committing a turnover. His shot needs work, but the 5-foot-11 sparkplug knows how and when to find teammates with the pass.
Wing threat Jaire Grayer, the son of former NBA player Jeff Grayer, leads the Patriots with 33 3-pointers. Lengthy 6-foot-7 guard DeAndre Abram looks like a future matchup nightmare. Another freshman, Danny Dixon, played 10 minutes off the bench against GW.
"I said all week, we didn't practice like a 1-6 and now a 1-7 team," Paulsen said. "This group really embraced it, fought, competed, worked on getting better, so it's disappointing not to see our guys rewarded."
Lonergan was once on the building end of that scenario.
"They're going to get better," Lonergan said of Mason, "so we wanted to beat them now."
Next up: Mason plays at Richmond Wednesday before hosting Dayton Saturday.
* As for the Colonials (16-5, 5-3 Atlantic 10), it's fair to believe their next four games - Davidson (Wednesday), at VCU, St. Joseph's, at St. Bonaventure - will dictate which direction their season unfolds. Three of those four opponents are, along with GW, among the top five in the A-10 standings. Davidson is one game behind the Colonials. This stretch will boost GW's RPI and SOS, but too many losses can end its at-large chances, which is Lonergan implored his players to take their level up a notch.
* American (5-15, 3-6) escaped the basement of the Patriot League with three straight wins. Holy Cross (9-12, 4-6) visits Bender Arena Monday night.
* Howard guard James Daniel still leads the country in scoring, averaging 27.7 points, outpacing Oklahoma star Buddy Hield (26.2). Daniel and the Bison (10-11, 4-2 MEAC) play at UMES Monday.