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September 11, 2007

Andrew's Mailbag: Balance and defense

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He is working to get you ready for the season and answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
September 4: The Post-Durant Era
August 28: Preview time
August 21: The tougher job
August 14: The sleeper picks
July 29: Talent isn't everything

Jeff Green did a little bit of everything for Georgetown on its drive to the Final Four last season. Actually, Green did a lot of everything.

The versatile forward was the team's leading scorer (14.3 ppg) and ranked second in rebounding (6.4 rpg), assists (3.2 apg) and blocks (1.2 bpg). He also was the team's best defender, guarding a number of different positions.

So with Green leaving early for the NBA he was the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft can we really expect the Hoyas to remain among college basketball's elite?

That's a question even a Hoyas fan is asking. We address it in this week's mailbag, along with inquiries about Maryland's youth, Arizona's defense and whether Providence is poised to reach the NCAA Tournament.


I know everyone considers Georgetown a top 10 team but as a huge fan I just don't see it. Roy Hibbert was good because Jeff Green handled the pressure well. I don't see another player like him on our team. The guards are loaded, but I'm hoping Vernon Macklin, Patrick Ewing Jr. and DaJuan Summers can help him out. Do you really see Georgetown as a top-10 team?

-- Robert from Newark, N.J.

I found myself asking that same question after covering Georgetown's 86-70 win over Vanderbilt in mid-November last season. The Hoyas, ranked No. 8 at the time, never trailed, but they didn't dominate against what I thought was an NIT team at best. Vandy was supposed to have a weak frontcourt. Plus, the Hoyas had struggled to get past lowly Hartford (69-59) in the season opener.

Of course, the Hoyas ended up beating Vandy in the Sweet 16 and eventually reaching the Final Four. My point is the Hoyas will wind up being a lot better than they look right now.

Green undoubtedly was a major part of their success, but it's not as if he single-handedly carried them. Green never averaged more than 15 points or seven rebounds a game.

The Hoyas are built around balance thanks to the Princeton-style offense that coach John Thompson III employs and that's why they'll be in the top 10 again.

Jonathan Wallace is one of the nation's most underrated point guards. Wallace has good patience and excellent shot selection, a key for the Hoyas' offense. He hit 50.7 percent of his field-goal attempts (140-of-276) and 49.0 percent (73-of-149) of his 3-point attempts.

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert may have been more valuable than Green. Hibbert had five double-doubles in the Hoyas' last six games, four of which came in the NCAA Tournament. His senior season should be his best yet. Known as a hard worker, Hibbert has improved steadily every year.

I expect a breakthrough season from Summers, who has a similar skill set to Green. Strong and versatile, he can help in nearly every phase of the game. A Big East coach told me last year that Summers would enter the NBA Draft before his senior season.

The Hoyas are going to have experience, depth and talent. Throw in the benefit of last season's deep postseason run and there are plenty of reasons to believe they deserve to be in the top 10.


Is Maryland a team that can ride James Gist and its backcourt even with its lack of depth to the NCAA Tournament?

-- James from Charlotte

Absolutely. The main reason the Terps ended a two-year NCAA Tournament drought last season were the additions of freshmen Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. The unselfish duo gave the Terps exactly what they had been missing -- true point guards who could create scoring opportunities for others. Expect improvement out of each, especially Vasquez, who played for Venezuela in the FIBA Americas Championship in August.

Expect Gist to emerge as one of the ACC's top players. The ultra-athletic senior has raised his scoring and rebounding averages every year, and he earned one of the 12 spots on the U.S. Pan Am team this summer.

The Terps certainly will miss D.J. Strawberry. Nobody on the roster is as good a perimeter defender. But with Hayes, Vasquez and Gist, they have the nucleus needed to get back to the Big Dance.


How much do you think the hiring of (assistant) Kevin O'Neill will improve Arizona's defense?

-- Ben Macias from Tucson, Ariz.

The Wildcats aren't going to transform into a defensive juggernaut anytime soon, but O'Neill certainly will make them better.

The former college coach and NBA assistant holds a reputation for being tough on players. That's exactly what the Wildcats need. Their problems on defense, which have led to falling short of their vast potential the past three seasons, can largely be traced back to poor effort, not personnel.

The fiery O'Neill will infuse the Wildcats with some much-needed grit and tenacity. That should be enough to at least make them adequate on defense. Coupled with an offense that always seems to rank among the best in the Pac-10, look for the Wildcats to get back to contending for league titles again.


Is Providence's junior class ready to take them back to the NCAA Tournament?

-- Danny Allen from Providence, R.I.

The junior class probably is ready. The problem is the rest of the team isn't.

The Friars have a solid trio to build around with juniors Sharaud Curry, Weyinmi Efejuku and Geoff McDermott. The 5-10 Curry, who was seriously recruited by a number of ACC and SEC schools, is quicker than many of the point guards in both of those conferences. Efejuku nearly doubled his scoring average last season, going from 7.8 to 14.1 ppg. The versatile McDermott may be the best of the bunch. Midway through last season, McDermott had a realistic shot at leading the Big East in rebounding and assists. He finished fourth in rebounding (9.1 rpg) and third in assists (5.1 apg).

But those three could only get the Friars to an 18-13 record and an 8-8 record in the Big East last season. That was with center Herbert Hill, who led the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). Now Hill is gone and the talent level surrounding the trio is a step down. Plus, Big East has gotten better (nine of their teams are in Rivals.com's Top 64 Countdown).

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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