CURRAN | Whittington Ban Has Upside
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 01:01
Let’s make one thing clear: Georgetown is not a better team without Greg Whittington.
Yes, the Hoyas have broken a losing streak and won two straight games without the star sophomore, and yes, the offense looks better than it has in weeks.
But lest we forget, Whittington’s suspension has coincided with an undeniable weak point in the Hoyas’ schedule. St. John’s sandwiched its altogether depressing performance against Georgetown with two high-profile upsets of Cincinnati and Notre Dame, but the Johnnies inexplicably rolled over on their home court last weekend. Providence’s resume, meanwhile, includes losses to powerhouses such as UMass and Brown. (Yes, that Brown.)
Whittington is one of Georgetown’s best scorers and rebounders, as well as its best defender. The 6-foot-8 forward’s elastic arms help make the Georgetown zone the terror that it is. Without him, the Hoyas’ perimeter defense plummets from impermeable to above average, their rebounding from below average to dismal. They’ll need him back to even hang around with teams like Syracuse and Louisville.
With that said, Whittington’s suspension is not without some silver linings.
In losing a player who usually logs close to 40 minutes a night, John Thompson III has been forced to rely much more heavily on his bench, which saw little to no action throughout November and December. And two convincing wins in Whittington’s absence have allowed Georgetown to shore up its reputation as a mentally tough team in the face of adversity, a general consensus in November that had begun to crumble with ugly losses at the beginning of conference play.
For evidence of the first point, take a quick glance at the box score of Wednesday’s game against Providence. See anything unfamiliar? Aaron Bowen, the talented but frenetic swingman who has ridden the bench for most of his three years on the Hilltop, played big minutes for the second straight game, scoring eight points on two three-pointers and a game-sealing dunk.
If Bowen’s high-arcing jumper becomes a regular feature off the Georgetown bench, Thompson III has added a new weapon to his arsenal, one that could catch at least a few teams by surprise. As Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley so bluntly put it after Wednesday’s game, “No. 23 came in, and — whatever his name is — made two big threes.”
With a hole in the starting backcourt, freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera also saw more time than usual off the bench. While he has yet to match his auspicious debut in the Hoyas’ home opener against Duquesne, the rookie played his second good game in a row while filling in Jabril Trawick’s sixth man spot — and, to the relief of the Hoya faithful, he has visibly improved on defense.
Speaking of Trawick, the trash-talking two-guard’s toughness appears to have rubbed off on the rest of the team.
At the beginning of the second half, Georgetown was riding high. The up-tempo offense was firing on all cylinders, Providence couldn’t buy a basket, and the Phonebooth was rocking with the home team up 20 points. But only a few turnovers, missed layups and timely Bryce Cotton jumpers later, the hosts found their lead slimmed down to single digits.
Missing their best defender and facing the top scorer in the Big East, the Hoyas easily could have lost their composure and fallen into a nail-biter, particularly with the Friars’ decision to “make the game ugly,” as Thompson III put it.
But that didn’t happen. Lubick dove through a Providence player’s legs to force a jump ball. Several Hoyas — including Trawick, shockingly — were involved in a scuffle under the basket while pursuing an offensive rebound. Even the mild-mannered Otto Porter Jr. got in on the action: The star forward repeatedly swiped at the hand of Friar Kadeem Batts when he attempted to hand-check him on an inbounds play, causing the referee to separate the two athletes.
This was the team that showed up to play Indiana, not the one that showed up to play Pittsburgh. This team wasn’t backing down from anyone, nor was it going to use one player’s absence as an excuse for losing to an inferior opponent.
That’s not to say there weren’t any problems. Whittington’s absence was apparent in the Friars’ 46-point second half and overall plus-12 rebounding advantage, and the Hoyas continue to struggle with bunny layups and free throws. But Georgetown played pretty when possible and ugly when necessary, ultimately grinding out a well-deserved win.
If the improved depth and toughness the Hoyas have been forced to discover due to Whittington’s suspension prove to be lasting trends, the Georgetown faithful may look back on this stretch as a blessing in disguise.
That is, as long as he’s back by Louisville’s visit on Jan. 26.
Pat Curran is a junior in the College and former senior sports editor of The Hoya.