In an interesting non-conference game, the Texas Longhorns take on the Georgetown Hoyas. The game is part of the Jimmy V Classic, and is the opener at Madison Square Garden (followed by NC State vs. UConn). In anticipation of the matchup, I interviewed Bryan Toporek, a long-time NBA writer as well as a Georgetown alum. In his spare time, Bryan covers sports and all that it implies for Education Week. He can be found on Twitter @btoporek.
1) Georgetown has been one of the biggest surprises in the early part of the college basketball season, with a win over UCLA and an OT loss to No. 1 Indiana. What are expectations like right now -- is this team a legitimate contender for a Big East title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament?
First of all: Let's just agree not to talk about the Georgetown-Tennessee game from Friday at all. (The Hoyas won, 37-36. That's not a typo.) I'm trying to black it out from memory ASAP, so... moving on.
Expectations for Georgetown were definitely lower before the start of the season than they are now. No one could definitively predict how GU would replace the leadership of Henry Sims and Jason Clark, who both graduated in the spring of 2012, and Hollis Thompson's decision to declare for the NBA draft after his junior season only added more questions for the 2012-13 Hoyas.
That said, we're all back aboard the delusion train now, as the folks at Casual Hoya would say. The beatdown of UCLA doesn't look quite as impressive, considering Cal Poly beat them less than a week later, but taking No. 1 Indiana to overtime was huge for the team, especially given how easily the Hoosiers just thrashed the No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels last Tuesday.
I'd still put my money on Louisville for the Big East title, especially if Gorgui Dieng can heal up quickly from that broken hand of his, but the Hoyas definitely have a shot at ending up as one of the top four teams in the Big East. The NCAA Tournament is another question entirely, given how the Hoyas haven't advanced past the first weekend since their Final Four run in 2007. They should make the tourney with ease and land a relatively high seed, but if another Davidson or VCU is lurking... well, I'll be making plenty of D.C. liquor stores happy come March.
2) Hoyas star Otto Porter has an interesting back-story in terms of not playing AAU basketball. Talk a little about his game and how good a player you think he can become.
In 2011-12, you couldn't watch a Georgetown game without some announcer mentioning how Otto Porter never played a game of AAU ball. ESPN's Dave Telep wrote a huge profile back in Jan. 2011 explaining why Porter abstained from AAU, but long story short, his dad (Otto Porter Sr.) thought some AAU players were selfish and picked up bad habits, and didn't want his son exposed to that.
Hoyas fans should love that decision for two reasons. Not only did Porter not pick up the me-first style of play that's predominant in AAU circuits, but his lack of AAU exposure limited his national hype in high school, allowing Georgetown to swoop in and swipe a potential (albeit unheralded) star.
What makes Porter special is his ability to do everything on the court. I recently slobbered all over him for his 18-point, 11-rebound, five-assist, five-block, three-steal performance against UCLA, and the very next night against Indiana, he dropped 15 points, five boards, four assists, two blocks, and two steals.
His mid-range game also sets him apart from his peers, as it's rare to find a 6' 8" player who's willing and able to consistently knock down foul-line jumpers. When that shot is falling, it gives the Hoyas a dangerous weapon against the zone, which Porter put on display against Indiana in the second half of that game. (He's hit six of his 11 attempts from three-point range on the year, too.)
If Porter can get his jumper to start consistently falling from 20 feet and beyond, I honestly believe the sky is the limit for this kid. What can't he do?
3) Besides Porter, does anyone else on this team have a chance of making the NBA?
In 2013? No chance. Porter's all but a lock to declare for the draft after the 2012-13 season, and I'd be floored if he's not a lottery pick, but I can't see any other Hoyas leaving with him for the NBA.
Out of any of the remaining Hoyas, I'd say Greg Whittington likely has the best shot at eventually making it into the league, as 6' 8" shooting guards don't exactly grow on trees. Whitt will almost assuredly end up playing the 3 in the NBA, once he adds some muscle to that 210-pound frame of his, but he's got a beautiful three-point stroke and a nose for rebounds, too.
Besides Whittington, don't sleep on Jabril Trawick, even though he's not in the Hoyas' starting lineup. He's a physical, 6' 5" shooting guard who loves nothing more than driving to the rim and drawing contact, and he's becoming quite a defensive pest, too.
It's too early to predict whether D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera or Stephen Domingo, the Hoyas' two freshman snipers, will end up being NBA-worthy, but both entered college with a decent amount of hype.
4) The Princeton offense had a brief moment in the sun when the Lakers tried to run it at the start of this season. As someone whose watched it for a while now in college, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the offense?
When run correctly, the Princeton offense is nothing short than a work of art. I'll never forget the way Georgetown picked apart the then-undefeated-and-No. 1 Duke Blue Devils in January 2006 with their precision and patience, despite a 40-point night from Duke's J.J. Redick.
In essence, while some coaches encourage their players to take the first open shot they get, the Princeton offense encourages players to pass, pass, pass until they find a better shot. Theoretically, forcing opponents to defend a full 35-second shot clock on most possessions will wear them down and cause them to start making more mistakes as each game progresses. (See the recent 37-36 debacle against Tennessee.)
Critics of the Princeton offense call it "boring," as it's the antithesis of the fast-paced, dribble-drive offense that John Calipari uses at Kentucky. Georgetown teams in recent years have fallen into the trap of having four players standing on the perimeter, aimlessly passing the ball back-and-forth, which has often been their demise.
Because it's so predicated on all players being able to make reads, it's a difficult offense to learn, and often takes players a year or more before they truly begin feeling comfortable.
5) John Thompson III has been able to create an elite program despite operating under the considerable shadow of his legendary father. How has he been able to succeed where so many other sons of great coaches (Pat Knight, Derek Dooley) have not? And how much of a role does Big John still have in the program?
John Thompson Jr. built the Hoya Paranoia teams of the 80s on the foundations of defense, physicality, and intimidation, while JTIII's Hoyas are much more concerned with precision on the offensive end.
That's not to say Thompson III neglects defense like the Mike D'Antoni-era Phoenix Suns; in fact, the 2007 Final Four squad was one of the most elite defensive teams in the country that year. It's just that many Hoyas in recent years have tended to be more of the string-bean-skinny variety, making it difficult for Georgetown to out-tough many other squads.
Essentially, Thompson III didn't allow himself to get bogged down in his father's reputation of being a defense-first coach. Instead, he decided to carve his own niche in the coaching world based on his experience at Princeton both as a player and coach.
Big John still looms large over Georgetown, though. You'll often find him sitting in a folding chair by the bleachers at practices or during the summer Kenner League scrimmages, and he's never been one who's shy about voicing his opinions, even to this day.
6) What happens to the Big East now? Can it survive this latest round of defections?
I honestly don't know, but my gut instinct says no. With Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame and West Virginia all leaving, more than half of the Hoyas' marquee in-conference games just disappeared in the blink of an eye. (Suffice it to say, I'm not quite as concerned about the loss of Rutgers.)
At this point, the Big East seems like some sort of bastardized mish-mash of desperate teams who weren't desirable enough to make it into one of the major football conferences. On one end, you've got the basketball schools like Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, and Marquette; on the other, you've got schools like the newly-added Boise State, East Carolina, and Tulane, who bring more to the table in terms of football than basketball.
Would it surprise me if the Big East basketball schools eventually decide to break off and form their own conference? Not entirely. But as long as the major television money rests with football, Georgetown and the rest of the Big East basketball schools are pretty much screwed when it comes to realignment.
I'm just praying Georgetown keeps a series going with Syracuse, no matter where both teams end up. There's nothing like making a 'Cuse fan vomit all over himself after watching the Hoyas put a whooping on his team.