The emergence of Henry Sims fuels a surprising Georgetown team

Not much was expected from Georgetown this season. Ken Pomeroy had them at 50th. They didn’t get a single vote in the preseason AP or Coaches Polls. And for good reason – they lost their top-2 scorers and assist men (Austin Freeman and Chris Wright) and their leading rebounder (Julian Vaughn) to graduation, and two key bench players (Jerrelle Benimon and Vee Sanford) left the program. And of the four players on the roster taller than 6’8, two were freshmen who likely weren’t ready to make a major contribution, one was a sophomore who appeared in six games as a freshman, and one was a senior who had spent his career (mostly) on the bench. What this team was best known for was a brawl it got into with a Chinese team over the summer. This was supposed to be a building year for John Thompson III.

But college basketball has a funny way of not working out like it is supposed to. Georgetown sits at 9-1, is 16th in both the major polls, and 17th in the Pomeroys. Their leading scorers, as expected, were also their leading returning scorers: Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark. Clark is connecting on 40% of his 3s, 52% of his 2s and 90% of his FTs, and leading Georgetown at 15.5 ppg. Thompson’s numbers are lower volume but more impressive: 50% on his 3s, 56% on his 2s and 83% from the line. He’s 2nd on the team at 14.7 ppg. Next in line is Henry Sims. Who?

Sims was a consensus top-100 recruit in 2008 out of Baltimore. Right or wrong, fans develop expectations for players like Sims, and he not only failed to meet them, but he pretty much fell off the radar. He played less than 10 minutes a game as a freshman and averaged 1.9 ppg. He averaged less than 7 minutes as a sophomore and scored 1.3 ppg. In his ‘breakout’ junior season Sims played 14 minutes a game, and scored 3.5 ppg. His career was nearly over and he had yet to make himself noticed, much less make an impact. The most attention he recieved from the Georgetown fans was when he ran for student body president, and lost.

So what has he done this year? He’s 3rd on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and only trails Thompson with a 124.5 offensive rating. His 8.0 block% is 7th in the Big East. And his assist rate is twice as high as any Georgetown player (what?!). In fact he’s 46th nationally. He’s also six inches taller than anyone who’s ahead of him. And people took notice. Most of the attention focused on his offensive surge, and his quirky ability to generate assists out of the post.  But the media was ignoring other impacts. After their most recent game against American Sims was asked about scoring or assisting on 14 of the first 16 Hoyas points coming out of the break. But before he got to answer his coached stepped in to clear the air:

“Can I say something before he answers this? And this is important,” John Thompson III said, stepping between Sims and the podium.

“He was best today — and I told him this in the locker room — at his communication on defense. The whole time, you heard Henry talking. And our defense got better in the second half because our talking got better. And he was, I thought, outstanding,” the coach explained. “I heard Henry’s voice calling screens, calling ‘switch,’ ‘watch this.’ And I think that’s what he did better than anything. Better than the points. Better than the passes.”

Looking at the data, coach Thompson has a point. Georgetown’s defense is currently ranked 20th in the nation, allowing an adjusted 0.89 points per possession. Last year their defense was 58th. In fact, only one Georgetown team under Thompson has had a better defense, and that was the 2-seed team from 2008. So yes, the offensive input of Sims is important, but as a team it’s their defensive improvement that has lead to early season success.

Georgetown has just one out of conference game left to solidify their resume. Tomorrow night they play Memphis for the 2nd time this season. After that they turn to Big East play.