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One And One

With Josh Smith sidelined, Georgetown should reassess future of the program

Josh Smith Center Josh Smith the Hoyas' third-leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points per game. (Mithcell Layton/Getty)

Josh Smith will not play another game for Georgetown this season, and who knows when he will play another college basketball game again. He came to Georgetown after issues far and wide upended his time at UCLA, and now academic failings have subverted his first season with the Hoyas.

The numbers and calendar suggest this is a colossal problem for the Hoyas, with a 6-foot-10, 350-pound Moai statue of a center forcibly removed from active duty just when the schedule offers little reprieve.

Only reprieve may be exactly what the program gets out of this.

Smith was the Hoyas' third-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game and his offensive rating of 115.1 was second-best on the team. He has missed the last five games; Georgetown lost four of them and needed overtime to beat struggling Butler in the other. That suggests Smith was giving the Hoyas something, but beyond scoring, it's difficult to discern what that was.

He averaged 3.4 rebounds per game. His 1.7 offensive boards per game put him at 591st in the country, and his offensive rebound percentage (10.9) ranked 295th. His block percentage (3.6) ranked 461st. Smith's numbers, most notably on the glass, have been in steady decline since his freshman year at UCLA. He was arguably worse with the Hoyas than he's ever been. Still, the results are the results, and Georgetown has struggled without Smith in the lineup. But beyond being a big dude who could get his shot off, nothing suggests the Hoyas have lost an indispensable cog.

Other than the team-wide bad streak, anyway.

And that bad streak should continue. Here are Georgetown's next three games: At Creighton, home against Villanova, then against Michigan State in New York on Feb. 1. Which brings us to the idea of reprieve, at the moment when there seems to be none.

Georgetown, simply, can write off its season. This is not to suggest John Thompson III and his players will. Nor does it suggest that the Hoyas cannot adjust to a new reality and outperform expectations. Nor does it suggest fans ought to shrug at any of it. But decision-makers who must assess the direction of a program that has won one NCAA tournament game in the last five years can view the Smith debacle as a sinkhole suddenly opening up underfoot. An unpredictable act of nature. An excuse, really, in which they cocoon themselves and their basketball program and their coach and look to start fresh next fall. If they're looking for a rationalization, they have it.

Of course, it's Thompson who at some point had to go to the mat for Smith in the first place, knowing and assuming all risk and convincing himself and others that the program could swaddle a problem child and nurture him into productivity. That barely lasted into 2014. It would be no shock if various Georgetown constituents were more than a bit irked at the outcome.

"It's disappointing," Thompson told reporters in Washington on Friday. "So much was geared toward [Smith's] presence. Now here in the middle of the season, between him and Jabril (Trawick), you lose two starters. You have to reshuffle everything. But this is Georgetown. We have a set of standards here. He let his teammates down, but the rest of the group will try to regroup here and figure it out."

The frustrations in the Hoyas' first season in the new Big East are piling up, and Smith's failings and departure just about double the size of the pile. There should be no hand-wringing over a player who squanders the massive breaks and second and third chances he's given. There can be plenty of consternation over how the Hoyas got here and what the immediate future holds, but there's now one big reason to turn a blind eye and wait for next year.
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