The rankings are meaningless. Let's get right to it.
Preview of Friday's Game: #3 Georgetown v. #14 Belmont, 3:10pm, NCAA Tournament - (Don't Call it the) Second Round
Ever since we lost that terrible, terrible game to VCU last year, and that terrible, terrible game to Ohio the year before that, and that terrible, terrible game to Davidson two years earlier, we've all been waiting for this game. JTIII and your 2011-12 Hoyas deserve credit for exceeding expectations this season and finishing near the top of the conference, but let's be honest, this weekend is the one that will, rightly or wrongly, determine the legacy of this year's team.
In some respects, Belmont resembles last year's VCU team. The Bruins have a fair number of experienced juniors and seniors, they like to press and run, and they shoot a relatively high number of threes. Unlike VCU, which entered the 2011 Tourney with an "us against the world" mentality because no one thought they deserved an at-large bid, Belmont enters the 2012 Tourney as the darling of the sports-writing commentariat. Which leads me to my first observation.
More GTM / Six Observations after The Jump....
Observation #1: Everyone is Picking Belmont to Beat Us
Unless you’re not really a college basketball fan, or you’ve been living under a rock these last few days, you know that virtually every college basketball writer/analyst that matters is either picking Belmont to beat us, or saying that Belmont could pose serious problems for the Hoyas. Here are the most common reasons why people like the Bruins:
· Earlier this season, they only lost to Duke by one point at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
· In 2008, as a #15 seed, Belmont only lost to Duke by one point.
· They have an experienced and hungry group of players.
· They are a deep and talented team that likes to push the tempo.
· They have a high octane offense and they shoot really well.
· They don’t make a lot of mistakes.
· Belmont is underseeded and Georgetown is overseeded. (I can’t really argue with this one. We probably should have been a #4 seed and people like Nate Silver think Belmont should have been a #9 seed. A #9 seed is a little nuts, but suffice it to say that the Selection Committee could have been kinder to Belmont.)
· Belmont has been to the Tournament four times since 2006 and has not yet won a game, so they are hungry.
· Georgetown overachieved during the regular season. Teams that overachieve in the regular season tend to perform worse in the postseason. (Let’s call it the Notre Dame Rule.)
· Georgetown has been defeated by lower-seeded opponents each of the last three times it has played in the NCAA Tourney.
· Belmont has a lot of undersized white guys who can shoot. (Yes, someone actually said this. According to Grantland’s Mark Titus, Belmont has “a handful of shooters who you know are going to get hot just because it's March Madness and these things are inevitable.”) Shame on Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin for not including a “white guy” metric in their NCAA predictors.
Observation #2: Most of the Things You Hear about Belmont are True
· I mean, it’s hard to dispute the obvious facts. Belmont only lost at Duke this year by one point, and yeah, they only lost to Duke by one point during the 2008 Tourney. (Maybe this says more about Duke?)
· Belmont is definitely experienced and deep. Three seniors and three juniors play significant minutes for the Bruins. And they have nine players averaging 10+ minutes per game. Nine of Belmont’s 11 leading scorers return from last season.
· Belmont does have a high octane offense and they do shoot really well. The Bruins average 81.4 points per game (#4 in the nation); shoot 48.1% from the floor (#14 in the nation) and 38.1% from beyond the arc (#30 in the nation); shoot over 23 three-pointers per game (#15 in the nation); and convert 73.6% of their free throws (#43 in the nation).
· Belmont does have a lot of white players.
· Belmont does not make a lot of mistakes. The Bruins average 17.3 assists per game (#5 in the nation) and boast an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.452 (#9 in the nation).
Observation #3: The Hoyas are Pretty Freaking Good Too
· That just goes without saying.
Observation #4: Even Though Belmont is a Good Basketball Team, Georgetown is Definitely Not a Good Match-Up for Belmont
· Belmont is a high scoring team. But Georgetown only allows 59.2 points per game (12th in the nation).
· Belmont shoots well from the floor. But Georgetown only allows opponents to shoot 38.6% from the floor (13th in the nation).
· Belmont is a pretty solid three-point shooting team. But Georgetown has the #1 three-point defense in the country (allowing opponents to connect on only 26.6% of three-point attempts). Does Belmont really want to face the team with the best perimeter defense in the country?
· I’m not bothered by those who say that Belmont has enough size to compete against Georgetown. Belmont is undersized in the backcourt, but has two experienced bangers, Hedgepeth (6’9’’) and Saunders (6’10’’), in the frontcourt. The trouble is that Belmont is very poor on the defensive glass. And Georgetown happens to be very good on the offensive glass (38th in the nation) and the defensive glass (58th in the nation). Rebounds shouldn’t be an issue for the Hoyas.
· Saying that Georgetown “hasn’t seen a team like Belmont this year” is just a silly comment. We’ve seen plenty of teams that shoot lots of threes and have a solid assist-to-turnover ratio. Notre Dame comes to mind, and we punished them. Marquette also plays an up-tempo game, and we split with them. But Belmont is not nearly as talented as Marquette. Ask Memphis what happened when they tried to quicken the pace (twice).
· Belmont’s best two wins are against Marshall and Middle Tennessee State. (They also lost to both of those teams.) The Bruins have also lost to Lipscomb and USC Upstate. Georgetown’s worst loss was at Pittsburgh.
· Some really smart commentators have pointed out that Belmont has played in the NCAA Tourney four times, but has fallen short every time, so they are due for a big win. Let’s take a look at Belmont’s recent history of close NCAA losses. The Bruins were destroyed by UCLA in 2006, crushed by Georgetown in 2007, lost a close game to Duke in 2008, and were blown out by Wisconsin last season. Notice a trend? All of the teams that beat Belmont had one thing in common: they played great defense. Duke did not. And if you want to argue that Belmont’s close loss at Cameron is an example of how this Belmont team is different? Guess what? Duke doesn’t play any defense this year either. When a very good offense faces a very good defense, the very good defense usually prevails. It’s easier to slow the game down than speed the game up. (Belmont also lost to Memphis this season by 16 points. People forget about that game. They prefer to talk about Duke.)
· When Georgetown beat Belmont in the 2007 Tourney, Belmont only connected on 6 of 26 threes. The game was close for the first ten minutes, but then the Hoyas pulled away. (Fun Fact: Jeremiah Rivers had 7 assists in that game.) And this year’s Georgetown team arguably plays better perimeter defense than that Georgetown team.
· But Belmont will be so motivated because they have lots of juniors and seniors who have come so close to winning an NCAA Tourney game. True statement. But your 2011-12 Georgetown Hoyas will also be motivated. Do you think JTIII wants another flameout in the first weekend? Do you think Jason Clark and Henry Sims want to end their careers without a single victory in the Tourney? Plenty of guys will be motivated on Friday. If you’re not motivated, go make millions of dollars to not play defense on the Knicks.
Observation #5: “New Girl” on FOX is a Really Good Show
· That guy who plays Schmidt is hilarious.
Observation #6: Fab Melo is Ineligible for the Tourney
· Syracuse self-reported this one, so you know it must be bad.
· In fairness to Syracuse, Jim Boeheim and his team have exhibited remarkable focus this season, despite having to overcome so many obstacles. [Insert snarky comment here.]
· In the words of the great curmudgeon himself, “First of all, news doesn’t matter. This is you people’s thing. This doesn’t bother our players or our team or me. None of this. This is a media thing, period. If things bothered us, we wouldn’t be 31-1. Nothing bothers us. We come ready to play. That’s what you should do in life.” I’m not bothered, Coach. I’m ready to play.
Who to Watch on Belmont
Kerron Johnson – A 6’1’’ junior, Kerron Johnson is the engine of this offense. He leads the team in scoring (14.1 ppg) and assists (5.2 apg) and is a nuisance to defend. He’s very good in transition, penetrates with ease, shoots well from the floor (52.6%) and is one of Belmont’s best free throw shooters (77.2%). He’s not as strong from the perimeter as some of the other players, though, as he shoots a below-average 31.6%.
Ian Clark – A 6’3’’ junior, Ian Clark is second on the Bruins in scoring (12.7 ppg) and one of Belmont’s best shooters. He shoots 45.5% from the floor, 82.2% from the free throw line and 40.7% from beyond the arc. Clark leads the team in three-point attempts and will be one of two guys the Hoyas will need to focus on. Clark is also a decent passer (2.3 apg), but not much of a threat on the boards.
Drew Hanlen – A 5’ll’’ senior, Hanlen is the most important player to defend. Hanlen does a little bit of everything: he’s third on the team in scoring (10.0 ppg), second in assists (3.8 apg) and shoots a solid 46.5% from the floor. He is also the only Bruin who averages over 30+ minutes per game. Hanlen joins Johnson as the only two Bruins with a better than 2:1 assist-turnover ratio. But Hanlen is most dangerous when he’s shooting threes. He leads the team in three-pointers made (91) and three-point shooting percentage (48.1%). He’s the 14th best three-point shooter in the country and boasts the 15th best effective field goal percentage in the country. (For those who are wondering, yes, he shoots at a better rate than Hollis Thompson.) Expect a lot of Whitt and Hollis on Hanlen. We cannot let this guy be the next Brandon Rozell.
Mick Hedgepeth – A 6’9’’ senior, Hedgepeth is one of Belmont’s two horses. He scores all of his points in the paint (9.8 ppg) and is Belmont’s leading rebounder (5.8 rpg). He leads the team in offensive rebounds (75) and scores lots of bunnies in the lane. He’s not a threat to score from the perimeter at all, but he’s good at what he does and he should have the size to bang with our bigs.
Scott Saunders – A 6’10’’ senior, Saunders is a slightly better version of Hedgepeth. He scores (10.2 ppg), he rebounds (5.0 ppg), and rarely shoots from outside the paint. Saunders shoots an impressive 54.8% from the floor and 77.1% from the free throw line, which means that when he gets to the line, he doesn’t mess around.
J.J. Mann – A 6’6’’ sophomore, Mann is a decent scorer (8.5 ppg) and rebounder (3.6 rpg) who excels as a defender. He’s also Belmont’s best free throw shooter (84.8%), although he doesn’t get to the line nearly as often as Johnson or the bigs. Mann’s biggest weakness is that he forces too many perimeter shots. He’s not the best shooter (32.4%), so Georgetown should keep him out of the paint.
Blake Jenkins – A 6’7’’ sophomore, Jenkins (5.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) is a role player who does a little bit of everything. He’s not a very good shooter, but he takes smart shots and does a lot of his work in the paint.
Keys to the Game:
1. Limit Perimeter Shots: Belmont makes 8.8 threes per game. Georgetown allows 4.6 threes per game. Let’s say that five threes is the magic number. The Hoyas need to defend the perimeter well, prevent Belmont’s shorter guys from getting open looks, and force them to score in the paint. Pay particular attention to Drew Hanlen and Ian Clark. They are Belmont’s two best perimeter shooters. Remember – Kerron Johnson is the guy who likes to penetrate; Hanlen and Clark are the guys who like to shoot.
2. Break the Press: We’ve all heard that Belmont likes to press and trap, but Belmont doesn’t force a lot of turnovers. Since Georgetown doesn’t really seem to have a true point guard, and Jason Clark has stumbled in his last few outings, the Hoyas will need to find a way to be patient and use guys like Otto and Hollis to help break the press.
3. Win the Free Throw Battle: The Bruins get to the foul line a lot, and when they do, they make their free throws. There is absolutely no way that Belmont should shoot more free throws than Georgetown. We can’t let that happen. And we can’t give them free points. Kerron Johnson and the two bigs – Hedgepeth and Saunders – are very good at drawing contact and getting to the line. We have to be patient and play under control. And really, we should be getting the ball inside to Otto, Nate and Henry every single time down the court. If we get Belmont’s bigs in foul trouble, we should cruise.
4. Stop Kerron Johnson: Hanlen is Belmont’s best shooter, but Kerron Johnson is the guy who makes the offense go. He’s very quick and usually has no trouble penetrating and finding Hedgepeth and Saunders in the paint or Hanlen or Clark on the wings. If we stay in front of Johnson and make him shoot over the top, Belmont will struggle. Don’t let Johnson become the next Cashmere Wright.
5. Get the Ball to Hank: Belmont doesn’t have a guy who can stop Hank Sims. Feed the big man in the post every single time. Fresh off of two straight double-doubles, Henry is out for blood. Give him the damn ball and let him go to work.
I love all of the attention Belmont is receiving. Belmont is already advancing to the Sweet 16 and is the Cinderella darling of the Tourney. And that’s fine. Sports writers have become so lazy. “Belmont only lost to Duke by one! And Georgetown always loses to inferior teams! And Belmont is underseeded and Georgetown is overseeded!” These are all great talking points, and under different circumstances, maybe I’d pick Belmont to go to the Sweet 16 too.
But the reality is that Georgetown is a terrible matchup for Belmont. And Georgetown will be every bit as motivated as Belmont to win this game.
Last year, we had to deal with VCU’s “us against the world” mentality, thanks to Jay Bilas and everyone else who thought there is no way that VCU should be an at-large team. And this year it’s the opposite. Keep singing Belmont’s praises, media. Belmont is the greatest team in the world!
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Belmont.
Stay Casual, my friends.