Georgetown gave away a very winnable game Saturday, once again failing to crack a not-very-difficult zone defense en route to yet another road defeat, this time a 60-57 loss at Providence. In a nip-and-tuck brickfest, Georgetown failed to maintain two second-half leads, stagnating offensively thanks to poor outside shooting, missed free throws, and continued coaching malpractice.
This game was ugly for both teams throughout. The Hoyas shot just 37 percent from the field, and just 4 of 17 from three. Providence was no better, making barely 31 percent form the field and 20 percent from deep. The teams traded bricks throughout the game, especially in the first half. JT3 once again started both Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith, immediately killing the Hoyas' offensive spacing and minimizing their ability to score against Providence's zone.
That wasn't the end of the coaching sins, but it was the first and foremost. There really is no excuse for playing Hopkins and Smith together at all, particularly against a zone. Hopkins cannot shoot beyond the length of his arm, and can't really shoot less than the length of his arm, either. Smith is devastatingly effective in the low block, including today, when he led the Hoyas with 15 points and 12 rebounds. But he needs room to operate, and that room vanishes once an extra defender can cheat off of the offensively inert Hopkins onto Smith.
On a good day, Hopkins' presence could be justified thanks to rim protection and rebounding. Today was not a good day. Hopkins' three blocks were nearly negated by his two goal tends, and his six rebounds were off-set by three turnovers and six missed free throws on six attempts. This last was a back-breaker, as Georgetown wasn't generating enough other offense to withstand the empty trips to the line.
JT3's second coaching shortcoming is failing to instill in Georgetown a basic understanding of how to beat a zone. Paul White (11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) understands the soft spots in the 2-3, occasionally flashing to the high post, or along the baseline, setting up open midrange jumpers for himself and feeding open cutters. But no other Hoya navigates a zone instinctively or even passably well, and Georgetown as a whole doesn't run set plays--weak-side flare screens for perimeter shooters, quick high-low post passing, or continuous ball and player movement--that suggests any preparation for an opposing zone.
Saturday, this lack of preparation for beating a zone translated to contested jumpers, sloppy ball-handling, and aimless possessions that drained one shot clock after another. Georgetown was unable to sustain any offensive production; no sooner had the Hoyas built a seven-point second-half lead then they gave it away with a series of turnovers and missed perimeter jumpers.
Thompson's third coaching mishap was having neither a plan nor a sense of urgency in crunch time. Even after surrendering that lead and another five-point advantage, the Hoyas were down by just a point in the closing minutes. Despite trailing, Georgetown proceeded to use an entire 35-second possession in which the ball did not go below the three-point arc for 33 seconds, at which point D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals) was tied up in a desperate effort to penetrate. The arrow favored the Hoyas, and Georgetown burned a timeout, presumably to draw up something to generate an open shot. But the Hoyas then "ran" a sideline out-of-bounds play that involved no concrete plan and instead resulted in DSR unsuccessfully heaving the ball from near half court.
After Providence mercifully missed one of the two ensuing free throws, Georgetown again took possession with a chance to tie or lead, this time with 17 seconds remaining and the deficit at two. Again, the Hoyas acted with no sense of purpose, jogging the ball up the court before calling another timeout. Eventually, White heaved an open three that missed. Smith worked in the post to grab the offensive board and put home the second-chance opportunity, forcing overtime.
But the extra session was unkind to the Hoyas. Having stayed cold throughout regular time, Providence star Kris Dunn heated up with the game on the line, scoring the Friars' first six points in overtime to put Providence ahead for good. A late rally gave Georgetown the ball back down three with just 10 seconds to play, but the Hoyas turned to a fundamentally flawed DSR-Smith pick-and-roll that, just as it did in the last second against Wisconsin, resulted in Smith-Rivera being double-teamed and giving the ball up to a covered White. The freshman tried to get off a last-second three-pointer but was snuffed out by the Providence defense.
Road wins are hard to come by in any league, particularly in this season's Big East, in which there aren't any really bad teams. And it's tempting to look at Hopkins's 6 missed free throws as the difference between defeat and victory, particularly giving the big man's maddening performance generally.
But placing the blame on one player ignores problems that won't be fixed merely by Hopkins connecting on, say, half of his free throws. This team will see a zone until it proves it can beat one, and it hasn't proven that much. This team will struggle in late-game situations when it relies on seeing what the defense gives it, rather than drawing up quick-hitting set actions that at minimum generate an open shot for Smith-Rivera or even White or LJ Peak (6 points, 5 rebounds). Those responsibilities lie with the coaching staff, as does today's loss. Finally, blaming Hopkins for a few missed free-throws ignores that even a decent-shooting opponent would have run Georgetown out of the gym, regardless of the Hoyas' performance from the charity stripe.
Georgetown has now lost 11 of its last 13 road games, including its last six. The Hoyas' last road win came at DePaul last season. Fortunately, although Georgetown stays on the road, it travels to Chicago next. Unfortunately, this trip is no gimme this season, with the Blue Demons winning their first three conference games. Whether the Hoyas can pick up a needed road win Tuesday remains to be seen, but playing, and coaching, like they did Saturday won't cut it.