Depleted Hoyas playing special basketball

In the face of adversity, teams have two options. The first is to crack under pressure and fall apart, becoming a shell of their former selves. The second option is to come together and actually elevate their level of play. Rest assured, the first option is much easier than the second one.

In Porter and their defense, the scrappy Hoyas trust. (AP Photo)

The Georgetown Hoyas were faced with this issue. John Thompson III’s squad had to deal with the loss of Greg Whittington (academically ineligible), the team’s second best player. This came right after back-to-back losses to open the Hoyas’ Big East schedule at 0-2. Georgetown, not a preseason Big East favorite, very easily could have just rolled over and blamed a disappointing season on the loss of Whittington.

However, the Hoyas had another plan in mind. They turned their play up a notch, winning 11 of 12 Big East games and moving into sole possession of first place in the conference. And this all came when things looked bleaker than ever.

This amazing run was capped off this Saturday with a defining road win against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The game was sluggish throughout with neither team able to pull away, but the Hoyas used a late surge and a career performance by sophomore Otto Porter to bury the Orange.

Georgetown is certainly not high on talent. Porter is one of the best in the nation, but because they’re lacking in that area otherwise, many have been waiting for the team’s inevitable collapse.

It hasn’t come yet. And it may not come at all.

It’s a bit hard to explain a phenomenon like this. How does a team all of a sudden play its best ball missing one of its best players?

Analyzing Georgetown is a good way to try to make sense of everything. First, we’ll start with Porter. The dude is a straight stud. Porter is a lottery pick and potential POY candidate, but the way he has led this team shows he’s even more special than that. Porter has been completely dominant, carrying the team on his back for stretches and doing it all. Sometimes, when you have a player like Porter, you’re simply unstoppable. Syracuse found that out the hard way after Porter dropped 33 points on them, while collecting eight rebounds and five steals.

Here are Porter’s season averages: 15.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.6 turnovers, 51 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from behind the arc. Those numbers alone tell you that he’s truly something else.

Another explanation for the Hoyas’ success can be attributed to their tough defense. Playing defense is not necessarily something you need talent for. If a team commits to playing hard on the defensive end, they can do so without superior basketball talent.

Georgetown comes in at No. 5 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense efficiency rankings, showing the tenacity they have on that end of the floor. They haven’t let a team score more than 66 points on them since the loss of Whittington, and have routinely held teams under the 60-point mark, most notably against Syracuse, muzzling the Jim Boeheim’s squad to a mere 46 points. The Hoyas’ desire to defend is a huge reason they keep winning.

Aside from having a star player and stifling defense, there’s one other area to give credit to for the Hoyas’ dominance. In the wake of Whittington, other players have been able to step up and take their game to another level.

Markel Starks has taken over Whittington’s role as Porter’s right-hand man, and has thrived in it. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a freshman off the bench, has been averaging double figures in the last dozen games, including a 33-point outburst against DePaul. Finally, Nate Lubick has given the team solid production on the offensive end and on the glass, something he hasn’t always done in his career at Georgetown.

All of these factors make the Hoyas so intriguing. Come tournament time, is it safe to pick them despite them possibly being outmatched by an opponent, or do you trust this team and the roll it’s on right now?

With the way they’ve been able to win under the circumstances they’ve been under, the Hoyas have gained my trust. Come March, they may gain more than just that.