Games That Matter - February 23, 2010

Games That Matter – February 23, 2010

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ESPN / USA Today: 13

AP: 11

RPI: 11


Syracuse 75, Georgetown 71

In what could have been one of Georgetown’s most historic comeback victories of all time, the Hoyas fell one possession short in their bid to knock off the hated Orange. It was a tale of two halves for the Jekyll and Hyde Hoyas, who fell behind 23 points midway through the second half before mounting a furious rally to cut the deficit to a single point, when Syracuse finally pulled away in the closing seconds of the game.

Now with the benefit of four days of reflection, the loss seems more and more like a quality loss and less like the most awful, terrible, dramatic, heart-breaking defeat of all time. This wasn’t Villanova in ’85 or Davidson in ’07. This wasn’t even an elimination game, so the Hoyas will still have several opportunities to fight on. That Georgetown fell behind by so many points in one half and rallied so intensely in the second is not surprising; if anything, it’s indicative of how good – and how bad – this team can play. When we spread the floor, share the ball and attack opposing defenses, we’re the best team in the conference. When we don’t, we can lose to anyone. We are consistently inconsistent. And yet, when you think about it, this year’s team is far more consistent than the 2008-09 Hoyas. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

As excruciating as that loss to ‘Cuse may have felt, it’s refreshing to know that this team didn’t quit. With just over twelve minutes to play, the game was basically over. This wasn’t the UConn game (down 19 with 18 minutes to go); this was an impossible deficit against a team that might win the championship this year. And yet, the Hoyas never gave up. In turning an impossible deficit into a near-victory, Chris Wright and the rest of the Hoyas showed the country the most important thing that was missing from their losses to South Florida and Rutgers: their heart.

Some quick-hitters on Thursday’s painful loss:

- The all-important bench numbers: 36 minutes, 2 points (1 of 7 shooting), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block. Special thanks to Hank Sims for scoring the lone basket. Extra special thanks for shooting that amazing air ball that landed somewhere in the third row behind the basket. Also noteworthy: Jerrelle was solid in 19 minutes of action, particularly on the glass. But why does he insist on shooting at least one three-pointer per game? Please stop.

- You really can’t say a bad word about Chris Wright after Thursday’s performance: 20 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds. For better or worse, the C Wright (jinx?) is officially over. For the first time all season, Wright scored in double figures and the Hoyas lost.

- In the second half, Greg Monroe showed why he’s the best big man in the conference. He was an absolute beast.

- Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson combined for 0 points (0 for 7 shooting), 0 assists, and 1 rebound in 30 total minutes. There’s your ballgame right there.

- We had three turnovers in the second half.

- Free throw shooting (16 of 24, 66.7%) definitely hurt us, particularly in the second half, but it was by no means the reason why we lost. An even bigger factor was Syracuse’s free throw shooting (27 of 30, 90%). For a team that was shooting 65.8% from the line before this game, that’s pretty remarkable. Georgetown was averaging 70% from the line before the game, so shooting a couple of free throws below average is hardly surprising. Syracuse was simply too good from the line.

- Austin’s dunk. He pole vaulted from eight feet away and slammed down a thunderous one-hander that nearly brought the house down. That was, without question, the highlight of the game. A clear “Let’s go!” moment.

- I’m tired of listening to people criticize Jason Clark’s shot. It was a good look. The ball just didn’t go in. With twelve seconds left on the shot clock, and after three attempts at getting the ball inside to Greg (who had two or three guys hanging on his back the whole time), it was an open look that Clark usually makes. Would I have preferred Greg in the post or Austin on the wing? Absolutely. But I’m not upset with Jason’s shot. I’m just upset that it didn’t go in.

- Oh, how deliciously ironic it was that Georgetown’s furious comeback began when Syracuse allowed former Hoya commit Dash Riley to enter the game. Dash was terrible – actually, he was beyond terrible. In five minutes of action, I’m pretty sure we outscored the Orange by 12, as Greg Monroe absolutely crushed him. If we won the game, it would have been sweet revenge; even in the loss, it felt pretty good. Can you imagine if Dash was a Hoya this year? People would be all over JTIII for signing an unathletic, uncoordinated bum. Yes, I’m sure with another year of tutelage, he’ll be a decent player (see Kris Joseph), but for five minutes on Thursday, he brought a smile to lots of Georgetown faces.

- HoyaTalk and Casual Hoya unite! Down with the traitorous scumbags who allowed hated rival fans to sit in the lower bowl and cheer for the enemy! Those of you who allowed this to happen should be beaten, tortured and stripped of your season tickets for life. Or not. Everyone should relax. Not all of the so-called traitors are the same. There are scalpers who buy season tickets to make huge profits. There are casual fans with big pockets that only attend a handful of games. And then there are out-of-towners who go to as many games as they can and give the rest of the tickets to Georgetown friends or sell the extras on Stubhub to recoup some of the dollars they lost on the outrageous season ticket prices. I fall into the latter category. And if there were Syracuse fans in my lower bowl seats (which apparently, there were), I don’t really care. Would I prefer to have Hoyas in the seats? Obviously. Did I knowingly sell tickets to ‘Cuse fans? Absolutely not. All I’m saying is that before we chastise hundreds of Georgetown alums for selling their tix on Stubhub, let’s also remember that these are the same people that are spending thousands of dollars to support the program. Like I said, not every fan in the lower bowl is the same – some are out to make a profit and others leave the seats empty. I’m not one of those people. But I also don’t have two grand to throw away on season tickets – so for the weekday games that I can’t attend, I have no problem collecting money from whoever wants to buy my tickets. Until there is a legitimate substitute for Stubhub (and no, the HoyaTalk ticket exchange isn’t adequate), I will continue to sell my tickets to certain games. But I will also continue to “steal” seats from opposing fans when I go to road games and sit in their best real estate too.

Preview of Tuesday's Game: Georgetown at Louisville, 7pm

With four games left in conference play, Georgetown has buried itself in a huge hole. Now in seventh place (we lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Marquette), the Hoyas have only a distant chance of clinching a top four finish and will, in all likelihood, finish somewhere between fifth and eighth. Whereas two weeks ago the Hoyas had a fighting chance to finish in the top three and make a run at ‘Cuse and ‘Nova, Georgetown is now fighting desperately to avoid a Tuesday game at the Garden. How quickly things have changed.

After a rocky start to the season, Louisville is now surging after picking up key wins at Syracuse and against Notre Dame. Like Georgetown, Louisville is trying to find an identity – are the Cardinals the team that won at ‘Cuse or the team that lost to Western Carolina and got blown out at St. John’s? In the next two weeks, we’ll find out, as Louisville scrapes not only for an NCAA Tourney berth, but also a top four finish in the conference.

Like Villanova, Louisville is an exceptionally deep team (11 players average 10 or more minutes per game) which likes to press and trap. Rick Pitino will often substitute waves of players at a time, in Esherickian fashion, so that his players remain fresh on defense.

In the backcourt, Louisville is led by a trio of experienced guards: 6’2’’ senior Edgar Sosa (12.9 ppg, 4.3 apg), 6’1’’ junior Preston Knowles (8.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg), and 6’2’’ senior Jerry Smith (8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg). Sosa is both the floor leader and bellwether of this team. He’s scrappy and loves to penetrate; when he’s playing well, he’s driving to the basket and finding Samuels inside or Smith on the wing for easy buckets. When he’s struggling, he’s settling for contested jumpers and allowing defensive lapses to lead to poor decision-making on the offensive end. As the team leader in assists, he’s one of the most important players on the floor for the Cardinals. With more than three years of experience under his belt, he now plays the role of a poor man’s Chris Wright. Louisville typically doesn’t win if his head isn’t screwed on properly. To his credit, this year has been Sosa’s most consistent and his offensive production has really improved.

Knowles and Smith complement each other well. Knowles is the better defender and is much more likely to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. Smith is more of a set shooter, but unlike the last two years, he has really struggled from the perimeter. When Knowles and Smith are both connecting on outside shots, Louisville is tough to beat; the problem, though, is that Knowles and Smith haven’t been very consistent. Without Terrence Williams and Earl Clark in the middle, teams have put more pressure on Louisville’s guards – the result has been fewer perimeter openings and more misses.

A pair of freshmen guards will also get some play in tonight’s game: 6’0’’ Peyton Siva (4.3 ppg, 1.7 apg), and 6’5’’ Mike Marra (3.6 ppg). Siva is a baby Sosa. Marra has been impressive from the perimeter in short spurts.

Up front, Louisville is led by 6’9’’ sophomore Samardo Samuels (16.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and 6’8’’ sophomore Jared Swopshire (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Samuels is the unquestioned star in the paint for the Cardinals. He is strictly a post player who rarely shoots the ball from the perimeter and prefers baby hooks and putback layups. He’s not as smooth as Monroe, but he’s a notch above Onuaku. If he’s not scoring, Louisville has no balance and usually loses. In last week’s win against Notre Dame, Samuels was dominant against the Harangody-less Irish, pouring in 36 points and connecting on 16 of 19 free throws.

Unlike Samuels, Swopshire will take his chances from the perimeter. He doesn’t have much of a back-to-the-basket game, but he’s very effective in Louisville’s full court traps and he runs the floor very well for a big man. Georgetown would do well to keep him off the glass. Expect Louisville to also use 6’10’’ sophomore Terrence Jennings (5.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) to spell Samuels. Jennings is strictly a garbage man – he rebounds and will often get putback layups and dunks. He’s improved his game steadily this year, though, so don’t be surprised if he gets more action tonight against a bigger Hoyas lineup.

Keys to the Game:

1. Controlling Sosa: Sosa is not as erratic as he used to be, but he’s still unpredictable. Georgetown needs to force him to the perimeter and make him hit threes. When he gets in the paint, draws contact and dishes the ball to Samuels, the Cardinals are tough to beat. Expect a lot of zone against Louisville tonight. Let’s see if the Cardinals can shoot.

2. Keeping Samuels off the Line: Samardo isn’t an amazing free throw shooter (70%), but he shoots well and does a tremendous job of drawing contact in the paint. Monroe and Vaughn need to front him and make him shoot over the top – silly fouls against Samuels could go a long way in determining which team wins this game. Keep Samardo off the line and the Hoyas should win.

3. Breaking the Press: We’ve done a fairly good job of breaking the press against ‘Nova and Seton Hall. Tonight, expect a lot more pressure in the backcourt. Wright and Clark need to protect the ball and make the Cardinals pay. No more lazy passes from Austin or crazy lobs from Clark. We need to be smart and careful every time Louisville makes a basket. Don’t be surprised if Louisville starts pressing right after the first bucket.

4. Feeding the Beast: Monroe is better than Samuels and Swopshire. Get #10 the ball and let him go to work. If Samardo gets into foul trouble, Louisville may not be able to recover.

5. Paging Julian Vaughn: Give me Vaughn. You mean Julian Vaughn? Yup. Has Julian reverted back to last year’s form? At times, he’s looked like a beast. When he’s playing well, we have the best starting five in the conference. Against Syracuse and Rutgers, he disappeared. Tonight, let’s get back on track. Put on some glasses, get a crazy haircut, and give the ladies what they want to see – Wild Thing at his best.

After Georgetown’s first two-game losing streak of the season, this is a critical game for the Hoyas. A win will open the door for a top four or five finish and propel the Hoyas ahead of Louisville and Marquette. A loss will cause more “pain and misery” (as JTIII aptly described his emotions after the Syracuse loss) and put us in a very precarious position heading into the final three games. After three straight Big East victories, this is also an important game for Louisville. A loss here would push them closer to the bubble, especially when you consider that the Cardinals’ last three games are at UConn and Marquette and home against a ‘Cuse team that will want revenge. So yeah, this one is huge for both teams.

Freedom Hall is a tough place to play, especially for the Hoyas, who always seem to fall short against Pitino and his sweaty white suit. Despite the location, make no mistake about it: Georgetown is the better team. A win will go a long way towards restoring confidence and keeping the Hoya faithful off the ledge for one more week. A loss will, you know, be really, really awful.

Four days removed from proving to the country that its heart is still beating, Georgetown will begin the next chapter of its brutal schedule when it rolls into Kentucky. Will the Hoyas return to form? We’ll find out tonight.

Let's go Hoyas. Beat Louisville.

Stay Casual, my friends.