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December 28, 2010
Poll Position
Hoyas Shooting the Lights Out

by John Gasaway

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If you're a traditionalist who believes that all it takes to understand any college basketball team is simply to watch them play, have I got a team for you. In the case of Georgetown, your eyes are exactly correct. At 11-1 and ranked in the top 10 nationally in both major polls, John Thompson III's team is winning for one very basic yet very powerful reason. The Hoyas' shots just go in. Over and over and over again.

Maybe I shouldn't be happy about such obvious excellence. After all, I'm more accustomed to uncovering the surprising facts that your eyes may have missed while watching the games in real-time. But, hey, I'm always ready to hop on a bandwagon when the facts merit. And in the case of this year's Hoyas, there's no arguing with the facts. Any team that makes 58 percent of its twos and 43 percent of its threes is going to score some points. Sure enough, Thompson's men have scored a remarkably efficient 1.18 points per possession over their first 12 games.

Give a lot of the credit here to John Thompson III and Austin Freeman, in that order. Georgetown's accuracy this season may be extreme but it's not exactly out of character. Last year Syracuse garnered a lot of notice for leading the nation in field goal percentage, but in Big East play the Hoyas were actually the most accurate team in the conference. Throughout the Thompson era, Georgetown has excelled at getting open looks very close to the basket -- which, not coincidentally, is exactly what a Princeton offense is designed to do.

I like to think of Thompson as every athletic director's dream. Every time a major-conference program hires a hot mid-major coach who's coming off a good NCAA tournament run, they're basically trying to replicate what Thompson has done at Georgetown. The vision behind those hires is often that the mid-major coach will be able to marry his proven X's and O's to the blue-chip talent available to the top programs. Kind of like Thompson's married his variant of the Princeton offense to the McDonald's All-Americans and future lottery picks he's been able to bring to the nation's capitol.

And as for Freeman, the best description I can apply to the year he's having is that if it continues at anywhere near its current level of efficiency there needs to be some serious national POY conversation. Not that I expect Freeman to continue to make 48 percent of his threes and 60 percent of his twos all season long. But his numbers last year weren't so very far off those levels (44 and 57, respectively) and, anyway, he's now producing similar results as the featured scorer in an offense that no longer has Greg Monroe in the post. Freeman even has a feel-good true story to go along with the glittering stats. In March he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a condition that hasn't prevented him from being the best performer on one of the nation's best offenses.

One of Freeman's most valuable qualities is that he commits so few turnovers. If you've been reading along here at Poll Position for a while, you know that I like to refer to a possession that ends with a shot attempt of some kind (as opposed to a turnover) as an "effective" possession. On average a major-conference team will score 1.28 points per effective possession in league play. But there's nothing average about Georgetown's offense at the moment. So far on the young season the Hoyas have scored an absolutely absurd 1.48 points per effective trip. Basically as long as this team doesn't commit a turnover, they're going to score.

Now for more from the "your eyes are correct" file. Hoya fans certainly don't need me to tell them that their team does in fact commit turnovers. This season Thompson's team has given the ball away on 21 percent of their possessions. That's not drop-dead awful, but it's certainly not very good either. If Georgetown ever lowered their turnover rate down to merely "average," it's scary to think how good this offense could be.

Alas, recent history tells us that's not going to happen. In each of the past five seasons the Hoyas have committed a turnover on between 20 and 24 percent of their possessions in Big East play. A little like Michigan State in the Big Ten, Georgetown has been reliably turnover-prone for years now -- and successfully so.

In this year's College Basketball Prospectus book, I said that "Thompson's nucleus of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark combines efficiency with experience about as well as any trio in the nation." So far the Hoyas' trio is more than living up to that statement. In addition to Freeman's aforementioned heroics, Wright and Clark have combined to make 57 percent of their twos. And Julian Vaughn has had a simply sensational year on the offensive glass, personally pulling down 20 percent of Georgetown's misses when he's on the floor.

In short, this is a fun team to watch. The cliche about the slow-paced Georgetown offense has been at least a little at odds with reality for a while now, but if averaging 81 points per game and 68 possessions per 40 minutes doesn't kill the cliche for good nothing will. The Hoyas will open Big East play with three games in six days (at Notre Dame, vs. DePaul, and at St. John's), but if Thompson's team survives that hectic start, they figure to be in the thick of the conference race. If nothing else their shooting will give them a shot.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider. John displays Hoya-like accuracy in his predictions on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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