Games That Matter - February 18, 2010

Games That Matter – February 18, 2010

*Below is a little newsletter that I've been writing for a number of years (typically includes a recap of the previous game and a preview of the next game).  If you want to be added to the distribution list, please let me know and I'll be happy to add you.     


ESPN / USA Today: 10

AP:  10

RPI:  8  

Most recent edition of Facts & Bracks:

Most recent edition of Projecting the Field of 65: 


"We want new gtm!" – A text message I received last night from my favorite Ukrainian reader

You wanted it, you got it.  Vacation is over.  It’s time for the homestretch.

On Valentine’s Day, against a Rutgers squad that nearly lost to the mighty Caldwell College just a few days earlier, the Hoyas arrived in Piscataway without their most important weapon: their heart.  And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse after that South Florida loss, Georgetown baffled the nation once again with a shocking defeat against an opponent that only had 12 Big East victories in the last four years (and none against top ten opponents).

As I meandered around the New Orleans airport last Sunday, receiving in-game updates alternately from ESPN’s "upset alerts", my terribly slow Blackberry, and speaker phone mumblings from friends who actually had access to a TV, I constantly found myself walking in circles, sweating and talking to myself.  For the second time in less than two weeks, I had DVR’ed a game, with the intention of watching it in the comfort of my home, only to accidentally discover the score and force myself to get updates in the last five minutes of the game.  In both instances, the Hoyas lost to an inferior opponent.  For my transgressions, I humbly accept partial responsibility for Georgetown’s inconsistent play. 

There’s really not much for me to say about the most up-and-down, mercurial team in the country.  We crush Duke, we lose to South Florida.  We crush ‘Nova, we lose to Rutgers.  Consistency is not Georgetown’s strength.  Heading into the final two weeks before tournament play, this is not exactly a welcome sign of things to come.  Whether it’s playing to the level of our opponents, playing inconsistently, or playing poorly when Chris Wright refuses to show up, it doesn’t really matter.  Inconsistent play is not conducive to deep runs in tournaments. 

But here’s a quick reality check.  This is 2010, not 2009.  Remember last season?  Yeah, that was terrible.  Every game was competitive, no matter the opponent.  We beat great teams and we lost to crappy teams.  At the end of the day, we dropped from national contender to a bubble team to a team that lost in the first rounds of the Big East Tourney and the NIT.  The 2009-10 Hoyas, for all the inconsistency, are a different group.  With two weeks to go, Georgetown is in the driver’s seat and, with a decent finish, can probably secure a #3 seed in the Tourney.  Georgetown is not on the bubble.  The loss to Rutgers was terrible, but the season isn’t over.  Plenty of games left.  Plenty of time for this team to learn how to play together.

With five (very difficult) games remaining in conference play, against a mix of title contenders and bubble teams, the Hoyas should be challenged in every contest.  The good news is that Georgetown no longer plays any so-called "inferior" opponents.  The bad news is that Georgetown could very well lose three or four of its last five games and fall to a #6 or #7 seed in the Tourney. 

Will we finally turn things around?  It all starts tonight.


Preview of Thursday's Game: Georgetown v. Syracuse, 7pm

Tonight’s game is pivotal for both teams.  After a bad home loss to Louisville, Syracuse will be fighting for a Big East regular season crown, as well as a possible #1 seed in the NCAA Tourney.  After a bad road loss to Rutgers, Georgetown will be looking to right (or is it "Wright"?) the ship and put itself in position for a top four finish in the conference and a bye in the BET.  With ‘Nova and a surging West Virginia on Syracuse’s heels, tonight’s game is very significant for the Orange.  And with Pitt, Louisville and Marquette picking up speed and challenging Georgetown, this game is also very significant for the Hoyas.

So what will happen tonight?  If the last game between these two rivals is any indication, it could potentially be a very long night for the Hoyas.  Here are a few highlights from that last game (taken directly from the GTM recap):

 ·       After lights-out shooting sparked a 14-0 Georgetown run to start the game, the   Hoyas played uninspired basketball for the last 35 minutes.

·      Georgetown had no answer for Syracuse’s zone.  Every Hoya looked perplexed by the Orange’s extended 2-3 zone and would often pass the ball around the perimeter and jack up a poor shot, if they didn’t get the ball stripped first.  Time and again, Rautins, who led the Orange with six steals, would rattle the Hoyas at the top of the zone, force a turnover and then convert that turnover into an easy transition basket (which is also why Rautins led ‘Cuse with six assists).  

·     On defense, Georgetown looked good at times and stagnant at other times.  Quick Hoya turnovers often led to fast break points.  But too often, particularly once Georgetown fell behind, Syracuse used some sharp interior passing (especially from Rautins and Jardine) which allowed Onuaku and Jackson to get solid position in front of the basket for simple dunks or layups.

·      Greg Monroe fouled out with eight points, zero assists and six turnovers.  

·      Georgetown’s bench: 38 minutes, 0 points, 5 turnovers.  

·      We had a total of 19 turnovers.  

·      Syracuse only committed one foul in the entire first half because the Hoyas simply weren’t aggressive enough   and never really took it to the basket.

·      Syracuse had more points, more rebounds, more assists, more steals, more blocks, fewer turnovers, better field goal percentage, better free throw percentage and fewer fouls.  

So yeah, we played just about as poorly as we’ve played all season.  It was the first and only time all year in which we were blown out (we trailed by 20).  If things are going to be different tonight, we’ll need to figure out how to solve Syracuse’s zone.  Considering we typically face ‘Cuse’s zone twice a year, you’d think we would understand how to break it.  Our difficulty, it seems, is in Syracuse’s different personnel and moving pieces.  With Rautins at the top of the zone, instead of Flynn or Devendorf, the Orange have done a much better job of deflecting passes, creating turnovers and scoring points in transition.  And with guys like Wes Johnson and Rick Jackson in the corners of the zone, instead of Paul Harris and Rautins, it’s much more difficult for teams to go over the top.  So unless teams make quick, crisp passes or shoot the lights out, it’s extremely difficult to crack the zone.

The whole key to Syracuse’s success has clearly been its defense.  Turnovers at the top of the key lead to fast break points and easy baskets.  (This largely explains why Arinze Onuaku shoots 67% from the field, while Rick Jackson shoots 60%.)  When your bigs only shoot layups and dunks, it’s hard to miss.  But to be fair, everyone on Syracuse shoots the ball well.  Rautins is actually the worst shooter (42%), but that is principally because he shoots the most threes.  To beat Syracuse, Georgetown cannot allow itself to get flustered at the top of the key and gift-wrap easy fast break baskets for Rautins and others.

Quick passes.  Get the ball to the foul line or the short corner, or just shoot over the top.  We’ll know in the first seven minutes of the game whether Georgetown has figured out the zone. 


Keys to the Game:

1.  Turnovers:  We had 19 turnovers in our last battle with Syracuse.  To have a legitimate chance in this game, we can’t have more  than 12 or 13.  Syracuse converts turnovers into fast break points better than any other team in the country.  Pay attention to Rautins, in particular.

2.  Pounding the Ball Inside:  We need to take it to Jackson and Onuaku.  We need to get the ball inside and go to work.  Make Syracuse play defense in the paint instead of on the perimeter.  Monroe has to take over.

3.  Fouls:  For all the talk about Georgetown’s lack of depth, Syracuse only has seven players in its regular rotation.  Keep that in mind.  Getting Rautins and Onuaku in foul trouble could prove critical in this game.

4.  Forcing Perimeter Shots:  Syracuse leads the conference in offensive efficiency because it scores regularly in the paint.  Georgetown needs to get back on defense, deny interior passing lanes, and force Syracuse to shoot from the perimeter.  Outside of Rautins, Syracuse doesn’t really have any strong shooters.  If Georgetown can keep the Orange outside, it will have a distinct advantage.

5.  Kris Joseph:  He has quietly become Syracuse’s second-leading scorer.  He killed us in the last game.  Freeman and Hollis have to keep him in check.

6.  Good Chris / Bad Chris:  He gets into foul trouble against ‘Nova.  He plays very well at Providence.  He struggles offensively against Rutgers.  If the pattern continues, C Wright should rebound with a 20+ scoring night.  But do we really want the pattern to continue?  (Maybe for just one more night.)   

Georgetown has only been blown out by one team all year.  Tonight, the Hoyas have an opportunity to avenge that loss.  As frustrating and demoralizing as the loss to Rutgers may have been, it’s only one loss.  A win tonight against our bitter rival will put the Hoyas back on track for a strong finish and a possible bye in the BET.  If you can’t get excited for Georgetown and Syracuse, you should just stop watching college basketball altogether and tune into NBC for some riveting men’s curling.

It’s time to get serious about reclaiming the conference.  Tonight, we’ll find out just how badly we want it.

Let's go Hoyas.  Beat Syracuse.


Stay Casual, my friends.

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