- Ky McKeon
Georgetown & Illinois
On Tuesday night, the Hoyas and Illini gave us one of the most exciting basketball games of the young college basketball season. In this belated write-up, I take my highlighter out of my pocket protector and look back at some of the key takeaways.
The Freshman Guards
Georgetown’s James Akinjo & Mac McClung
Neither Akinjo nor McClung is shooting the ball well this season, but Illinois could not stay in front of either guard on the perimeter. Illini defenders appeared firmly rooted in the ground as constant Hoya blow-bys led to easy layups, dump-offs, or open threes:
Akinjo shined as a poised playmaker; he played 36 minutes, dished out 7 assists for the 3rd straight game, and poured in 19 points. Key also was Akinjo’s 7/7 performance from the FT line – he’s currently sitting at a perfect 17/17 for the year. Here’s one of many of Akinjo’s slice-and-dice moments:
McClung proved to be more than just a dunker. Sure, his outside shot is hot garbage, but he was one of the quickest players on the floor last night and changes direction at an elite level. On this play, McClung shimmies past his defender and takes advantage of a helpside big man:
On top of that – he hustles his ass off (note my HS coach would have BERATED Kipper Nichols for his laziness in the clip below):
Illinois’s Ayo Dosunmu
Ayo Dosunmu was once again terrific. He kept the Illini afloat despite Trent Frazier’s absence and is quickly becoming the alpha of the squad. Through two games, Dosumnu is averaging 21.5ppg and 2.5spg and is 5/7 from deep. He thrived in transition on Tuesday and G’Town struggled just as much as Illinois at stopping dribble penetration:
The Oft-Ignored Big Men
Georgetown’s Jessie Govan & Co.
The electric freshman guards overshadowed what was yet another solid performance by both teams’ frontcourts. Georgetown’s rock in the middle, Jessie Govan, had a quiet 11 points and 6 rebounds but was (and has been) crucial on the defensive end. Through two games, Govan is allowing just 0.30ppp on post-ups, essentially the best rate in the country per Synergy, and his ball screen defense late against Illinois helped seal the game, as Illini ball handlers could not get around the wall Govan created on his aggressive hedge:
The Hoyas were also boosted by the play of freshman Josh LeBlanc (14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks), sophomore Jamorko Pickett (3 blocks), and Alonzo’s kid, Trey Mourning.
Illinois’s Giorgi Bezhanishvili
A major knock on Illinois coming into the year was its apparent lack of production in the frontcourt. Underwood appears to have found a solution in Georgian freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who has been stellar through two contests, averaging 9.5ppg, 7.5rpg, and 3.5apg.
Plus, his demeanor on the floor has been nothing short of lovable. Kent State transfer Adonis De La Rosa was ineffective in six minutes coming off an injury, but his massive 7’0” 260 lb. frame will be useful down the road as his health improves.
The Back and Forth & Looking Ahead
This game was fun as hell to watch. It was big play after big play – points were scored in transition, neither team could shut down the other’s perimeter, and bodies were flying all over the court. It’s encouraging to see an NBA big man like Patrick Ewing embracing the run-and-gun style of play in the college ranks; he’s proving to be a godsend to a Georgetown program coming out of a major rut. On the other side, Brad Underwood has always played his four-guard uptempo style, but the predictability makes it no less fun to watch.
Georgetown clearly has a lot to celebrate after this one, earning its first victory over a non-con Power 6 opponent since 2016. Illinois, too, has plenty to look forward to. Frazier’s absence made this game tougher on the Illini (though you wouldn’t know that pre-game by the ridiculous 9-point spread), but Underwood’s scrappy guards showed how capable they were of wreaking havoc on the other team when applying full court pressure. Andres Feliz, in particular, was brilliant:
Both teams are sure to exceed my expectations this season and both have legitimate opportunities to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A bid to the Dance would be Georgetown’s first since 2015 and Illinois’s first since 2013.