Games That Matter - February 1, 2012 - Georgetown v. Connecticut
ESPN / USA Today: 14
And we're back. February is officially upon us. The season that once featured an overachieving group of Hoyas has given way to criticisms that this year's team is just the "same old Georgetown" (i.e. start off strong against nonconference opponents, then come back to reality during Big East play, before ultimately going out with a whimper in March). The naysayers are doubting us. Some of our fans are doubting us. And life goes on, and there are plenty of games that have yet to be played. Time for a quick sanity check to put things in perspective.
(More after the Jump)
Five Reasons To Be Pessimistic:
1. Look at the teams we've defeated this season. How many teams have we beaten that will definitely go to the NCAA Tournament? It's at least one (Marquette). But beyond that, how many quality wins do we have? Memphis is a bubble team. With the season-ending injury to Adonis Thomas, Memphis will be in a dogfight to win the C-USA. Winning at Alabama used to look nice, but maybe the Crimson Tide were never really that good. They're stuck in the middle of the SEC and still struggle to score. Louisville? Ok, maybe, but still a bit early to tell. So yeah. We've defeated one team that is definitely going to the Tourney.
2. Our last six games (three wins, three losses) have been ugly.
3. We go through long stretches without scoring. Markel picks up too many fouls. Jason and Hollis forgot how to make free throws. Henry can't score when he's two feet from the rim. Nate keeps shooting threes. Hollis can't finish. Markel doesn't penetrate enough. Hollis disappeared against Rutgers and Pitt. We rarely get backdoor lay-ins. Our communication on defense has gotten worse. Jason has lost confidence in his outside shot. Whitt and Otto can't hit from the perimeter on a consistent basis. And so on....
4. We're still very young. Among our eight best players, five are freshmen or sophomores. It's nice for our long-term prospects, but doesn't bode well for the postseason.
5. Too much pessimism. It's picture time.
Florida State owes its recent winning streak to The Wire's very own Bunny Colvin (aka Leonard Hamilton):
Five Reasons to Be Optimistic:
1. We don't have any bad losses. We've lost to Kansas on a neutral court, at West Virginia, home against Cincy, and at Pittsburgh. Fine. Should we have beaten Cincy at home? Yup, no argument here. But Cincy always plays us tough, and despite their recent slide, I still think they'll be good enough to be among the seven or eight Big East teams that advance to the Tourney. Pittsburgh? Not a good loss, and another game we definitely should have won, but not a devastating loss. With Tray Woodall back in the starting lineup (he had 10 assists against us), Pitt is a completely different team. We always have at least one bad loss. So far, we've had a couple of head-scratchers, but nothing that makes me want to punch my fist through a window.
2. What does this team have that the last few Georgetown squads have not? A commitment to playing defense (and yes, I realize our performance against Pitt was less than inspiring). With length on the perimeter, solid rebounding and focus on the defensive end, this team doesn't need to score 60 points to win. We've held six opponents to 50 points or less. Do you know how many times that happened last year? Here's a clue: ZERO TIMES. So everybody relax. Our offense has been pretty subpar against a number of teams this year, but we've managed to eke out a few wins because of our defense.
3. Comparing this year's team to our teams from the last two seasons is like comparing apples to blue construction paper. It's a useless exercise. Two years ago, Austin Freeman unexpectedly had diabetes and we had to regroup. Last year, Chris Wright sprained his wrist and everything fell apart. (And while we're discussing last year's team, take a look at the end of our season. We lost six out of the last seven. Two losses to Cincy (which advanced to the Sweet 16); one loss to a very good Syracuse squad (and we didn't have Chris Wright); one loss to a team that went to the Final Four (VCU); and two losses to the eventual national champion (UConn). I wouldn't say we unraveled. I would say we just got screwed. Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that this is a new season with new players and new expectations. The last couple of seasons don't mean anything, despite what you've been hearing from Doug Gottlieb.
4. The Big East is mediocre this year. Syracuse is the best team in the conference, with or without Fab Melo. (Yes, it's probably true.) Beyond that, what do we have? A bunch of decent teams. Is there any teams we can't beat? I don't think so. And with the exceptions of UNC and Kentucky, I think we have a pretty good chance against every other team in the country. So regardless of what happens against UConn, we're still going to New Orleans in April. Obviously.
5. Every year it seems like there is at least one game where everything clicks for us. The backdoor cuts, stingy defense and an all-around solid performance. Last year it was our road win at Syracuse. The year before that, it was our home win against Duke. This year, we have yet to see that game. The second half against Marquette was the closest we've come. I'm looking forward to a complete victory. And I'm hoping that it happens on February 8.
Preview of Tonight's Game:
This is a gut-check game. As Georgetown struggles to find its identity, the battered carcass that used to be known as the UConn Husky will limp into the Verizon Center after having lost three games in a row (to Cincy, Tennessee and Notre Dame). At this stage of the season, Connecticut is more desperate than Georgetown for a victory. At 4-4 in the conference, UConn is trying to regain its position in the top quarter of the conference.
The return of Ryan Boatright will certainly help. The 6'0'' freshman guard (9.8 ppg, 3.4 apg) was suspended for a couple of games, but returned last weekend against Notre Dame and is likely to play at least 20 minutes against the Hoyas. (Question: Anyone else peeved that Woodall comes back in time to face us, and now Boatright is back just before our game? I kind of am. I'm sure Fab Melo will make his triumphant return on February 8.) Boatright is a difference maker for a UConn team that lacks perimeter depth. Boatright not only gives the Huskies a solid perimeter threat; he also takes pressure off of Napier and gives Napier a little more space to look for his shot. Without Boatright, UConn struggles to hit from beyond the arc, and Napier tries to do too much. With Boatright on the floor, there is more balance.
Without Kemba Walker's leadership, the Huskies have, at times, struggled to fill the void. Despite returning a number of core players from its national championship team, UConn still relies on eight freshmen and sophomores and only one junior (Alex Oriakhi). Not one senior receives significant minutes on this team. But it doesn't matter. UConn still has four of the most talented players in the conference and arguably one of the best frontcourts in the country. It's not a question of whether the Huskies will be able to right the ship; it's a question of when.
UConn's two biggest playmakers are a pair of sophomores: 6'1'' guard Shabazz Napier (14.3 ppg, 6.1 apg) and 6'5'' guard/forward Jeremy Lamb (17.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 apg). Napier is the closest thing UConn has to a floor general. He's third in the conference in assists per game, behind only Vincent Council and Tray Woodall, and he's adept at getting into the lane and dumping the ball off to the Huskies' bevy of bigs. He's a solid player, but often struggles to hit shots on a consistent basis (41% from the field). In UConn's most recent lost to Notre Dame, he finished the game with four points on 0 of 7 shooting. Without Boatright on the floor, Napier often tries to do too much, which frequently leads to turnovers (he currently leads the team with 3.2 per game). To defend Napier, the Hoyas will need to stay in front of him and keep him from penetrating. (Note: Calhoun is apparently starting Boatright over Napier today. That shouldn't mean much to anyone. Both players will get their minutes and Napier will get into the game in the first few minutes.) The Huskies' other big-time playmaker, Jeremy Lamb, can do a bit of everything. He can hit perimeter shots or take his man off the dribble; he shoots over 50% from the floor, and he's one of the better free throw shooters in the conference (84.1%). If Georgetown is going to key in on one guy, it should be Lamb.
The Huskies' dominant frontcourt is spearheaded by 6'10'' freshman Andre Drummond (10.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg), a sure-fire lottery pick in this year's draft. Drummond has improved his game tremendously in the last few weeks. His defense and rebounding have always been solid, but now he's becoming more of a factor on offense. Drummond is third in the conference in blocks per game (2.6) and he shoots an impressive 55.8% from the field (because almost all of his shots are in the paint). He's big and long and strong, but he can't shoot. When he's outside his comfort zone (i.e. not dunking the ball), he really struggles to score. He only shoots 35% from the line. Georgetown needs to force him outside the paint and deny him easy putbacks.
The rest of UConn's five bigs are more or less interchangeable. They average between 15 and 20 minutes per game. They are all between 6'7'' and 6'9''. Alex Oriakhi has the most experience, but he's taken a step back this year (but he's one of the few bigs who can score inside or outside). DeAndre Daniels and Roscoe Smith are both athletic. They rebound well and they're solid defensively, but neither guy shoots effectively from the floor (they both shoot under 37%). Daniels shoots too many threes. Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander are good role players who shoot the ball better than Daniels and Smith. They're also deceptively good rebounders.
Keys to the Game:
1. Force Perimeter Shots: Boatright and Napier are decent shooters, but as a team, UConn struggles to hit perimeter shots. The Huskies are dominant on the glass and score fairly easily in the paint, so making them beat us from beyond the arc will be a huge factor. Connecticut isn't as bad from the perimeter as St. John's or Providence, but three-point shooting is not exactly their bread and butter. They need to score in the paint to win. We need to stop them. I expect to see a fair amount of zone in this game.
2. Win the Rebounding War: Against Pitt, we were manhandled on the glass, 33-22. And Pitt would've had even more rebounds if we didn't allow them to take so many lay-ups and dunks. We tend to struggle against teams with higher rebound rates. Pitt ranks #2 in the country with a total rebound rate of 57.3%. West Virginia is #22. UConn is #35. To be fair, Georgetown is no slouch (at #48 in the country with a 53.1% rate). UConn is also #7 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (Pitt is #1). In these types of games, we tend to get pushed around way too often. Against UConn, one of the few teams in the conference that has a clear height advantage over us, we'll need to be aggressive on the boards. Attack the glass.
3. Get to the Free Throw Line: I know we've been struggling from the charity stripe in the last few weeks. But it doesn't mean should stop being aggressive. UConn will try to bully us in the paint and force Henry, Otto and Nate away from the basket. We need to play tough and not be intimidated by their size in the middle. Markel and Jason need to penetrate; Nate and Otto can't settle for long jumpers; and Henry needs to go to the basket like a man. You can't play cute against these guys. Play hard and stay aggressive.
4. The Congressman Goes to Hollywood: This sounds like the title of an awful movie. But it's not. It's a reference to Markel and Hollis, the two guys who have struggled more than any other Hoyas in the last few games. Markel needs to avoid early foul trouble, penetrate often and find open shooters like Hollis when the defense collapses. Against UConn, Hollis won't be able to get his turnaround jumpers against undersized defenders. And he likely won't be able to penetrate either, considering all of the tress in the paint (and his inability to finish). Hollis needs to fight through screens and find his shooting touch early and often. If the defense is too aggressive, instead of penetrating he should try a quick shot fake and take a mid-range jumper. Both of these guys are important. We look good when they play well. We look below average when they don't. One or both of these guys needs to step up. Now.
Make no mistake about it. Tonight's game is huge. UConn has lost three in a row and they desperately need this win. But the Hoyas need this one too. And frankly, this would be our best win of the season.
Good things happen when we play UConn at home. Roy Hibbert hits game-winning threes. Austin Freeman scores 28 points in one half to lead furious comebacks. Let's hope the magic continues.
It's time to get back on track, fellas. It's February, which means there's only six weeks left to right the ship.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Connecticut.