Assertive Monroe steals the show
NEW YORK -- Greg Monroe had the hype. He always had the talent. He easily could have had the NBA draft lottery spot after his freshman season.
But what Monroe didn't have a year ago was a dominant presence on the court.
He has it now.
If Monroe can keep that going throughout the season, No. 13 Georgetown has a real shot to be in the headlines among the Big East's elite.
On Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, Monroe scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and, maybe more importantly, took a career-high 20 shots in the Hoyas' 72-65 victory over 20th-ranked Butler in the Jimmy V Classic.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III made a point to say this was a team win, and it was, with Austin Freeman (18 points) making four of five 3s and Jason Clark (9 points, 6 rebounds) and others providing quality role play. But Monroe was clearly the difference. He was much more interested in hunting for his shot than usual, and that created more shots for the rest of his teammates.
"Teams are going to have to make a decision to double him or not because he passes so well,'' Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Monroe was also one of the main reasons Butler's big man, Matt Howard, was once again in foul trouble and ultimately fouled out for the fifth time this season. With a Monroe hand often in his face, the reigning Horizon League Player of the Year missed his first eight shots and finished just 1-of-9 from the field.
There was a reason always-unselfish Monroe was more aggressive Tuesday night. Thompson said the sophomore missed a few "chippies" inside, but it was all in the context of what the team was trying to accomplish: establishing Monroe early and often.
"Our guys realize it,'' Thompson said. "Chris [Wright] said, 'Let's get it in to Greg.''
That might be a rallying cry from his teammates throughout the season, if it hasn't been already. It's not as if Monroe wasn't already the focus. He has been, leading the Hoyas with 13.8 points and 10 rebounds a game heading into Tuesday. But there was just something special about Monroe against the Bulldogs. He seemed to be around the ball more often. The big lights of MSG were on him, and he shined.
Monroe, who was 9-of-20 from the field, admitted he might have taken a few forced shots. "I had to make sure that I had a presence down low," he said. "We definitely had a height and size advantage. I was trying to make things happen in the paint, stop the dribble penetration and be more aggressive.''
But what has changed for Monroe? What led him to be more demonstrative? Whatever it is, it's what likely is going to be best for the Hoyas against Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova and the rest of the Big East elite throughout the season. He also will need to be this assertive Saturday against Washington's Quincy Pondexter at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif.
"I mean, I guess I grew up,'' Monroe said. "You learn a lot of things in life and things change, and I knew that I had to do more for this team. I've taken pride in what I have to do with this team. I would say that I would do whatever my team needs to do to win the game.''
Butler couldn't handle Monroe on the perimeter, in the paint, on the break or on the defensive end as he altered and blocked shots. Monroe said he understands that his presence opens up shots on the perimeter. In Georgetown's offense, he plays at the top of the key, where his passing can enhance this offense. If he is in the post, he can make the Hoyas even stronger.
Georgetown heads west now to play the No. 16 Huskies. Beating Butler and UW isn't going to launch the Hoyas into the top 10 or to the top of the Big East. But what a 2-0 week would do is prove the Hoyas are relevant again after a disappointing finish last season that ended in the NIT after a pre-conference win over Maryland and a Big East-opening win at Connecticut.
The pace will be quicker against Washington. That shouldn't matter. Monroe can run on both ends of the court. How he handles the grind of the Big East and how the big men such as Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims and Jerrelle Benimon develop behind him will be key.
The Hoyas are deep in the post. But what matters most is whether Monroe is the man in the middle on a game-by-game basis.
He certainly was Tuesday night.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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