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Film Room: Defensive Hope

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at St. John Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas learned their lesson after the first go-round with St. John’s on Sunday. The prior match-up resulted in the Hoyas being a little too sticky with the ball and letting Shamorie Ponds get to where he wanted. That coupled with a disastrous last 20 seconds led to another home loss. The ending nearly occurred again in the Garden but better offensive flow paired with a much sharper defensive game plan brought the Hoyas to a 3-4 Big East mark with a return game against Xavier up next.

The biggest takeaway vs St. John’s was how Georgetown operated defensively in the half court. Given their continued lackadaisical effort in getting back and communicating, the transition defense still was not there but when in the half-court they managed quite well at making life difficult for Ponds and forcing (daring) a non-shooter to beat them when given the opportunity to do so. In the first week of January it was much to easy for Ponds to roam free and even into his strong hand without much resistance from help defenders. The result was a 37 point performance on 11-21 (6-10) shooting and 9-12 from the FT line. This past Sunday the Johnnies posted their worst points per possession (.93) game of the entire season. Ponds still had his 21 points on 8-17 (1-5) but only four free throw attempts. He’ll get his, but Georgetown limited how much that’ll be and rolled the dice on letting Justin Simon at times try to be the one to beat them. Simon on the season now is only 7-26 from 3 and posted a 2-11 (0-3) afternoon against the Hoyas.

Back to the January 5th game - there are examples of Hoya defenders seemingly forgetting Ponds was left handed. There also appeared to be no plan to let others beat them as help either was late or non-existent and Ponds was not driven into help.

Pickett recovers with his length there, but we’d later see on Sunday that the corner defender on Simon would bail and plug that driving lane.

Even if McClung’s help is a little sloppy and Ponds splits it to find Simon, the process of making Simon beat you is correct.

Here, Mosely lets Ponds freely go left and no help from the corner (understandable with score & situation, but you just can’t freely give a layup):

Mosely’s individual defense was much improved. He was able to shade Ponds to his right a few times and stay connected. Mosely generally has the right defensive principles and has led to a defensive grade that sits at 91% percentile nationally on Synergy only allowing .647 PPP on 119 tries. He’s stuck in a case where he’s a bit too small to guard bigger wings (Tyus Battle) and not quite quick enough to guard small scoring guards (Ponds) but he has the right idea most of the time as of late.

Here’s a great possession of him moving Ponds right, recovering and then digging down to help on an aggressive Figueroa:

Here again, Mosely lets Ponds have his right and is driven into help - and great help by another upperclassmen who is accepting and finding his role in Kaleb Johnson.

Kaleb makes another great play here and this type of attentiveness and sharpness did not exist earlier this season. He makes the read immediately and Blair correctly zones up where Kaleb has left (as Greg did as well in the prior clip:

Here Trey Mourning essentially screens off his own man but Kaleb covers for it:

I would think Ewing at this point has to consider letting Govan, LeBlanc and Johnson take most, if not all of the 4 & 5 minutes. Even if that leaves you playing a bit too small, the Trey Mourning cameos continue to be worrisome.

Not great.

Ewing has to have seen something over the past several months to believe in Mourning, but entering the meat of the season, it’s time to make a decision of what you can survive minutes with.

But back to what they decided to live with, it was Simon:

Simon could have hit two of these, the game flips and an important part of the game-plan ends up a flop. But it didn’t and credit is due when it breaks right. The margin for a win or loss has been so thin for this team that it just feels good to get one - and seeing a team recognize personnel and have a plan was refreshing to see. It was only handful of possessions but when you can swing four or five Ponds attempt and put them in Simon’s hands, that is a win.

Onto Thursday, two things must improve vs Xavier. Getting back and aligned defensively and defending the post at a much tougher level. Xavier does not want to run, checking in as the 9th paced team in Big East play. The problem is when you play transition defense as the Hoyas do so far, you don’t have to be North Carolina to get out and score on the break.

Here are some sequences from Sunday’s game along with the first game against Xavier. To be blunt, it’s embarrassing. It takes little talent to get back and communicate - and for a team that will struggle defensively regardless, handing away free layups is an absolute killer. If there is one correctable attribute of this team to help it play competitively into February and March, this is it. Currently, the Hoyas are in the 4th percentile on Synergy in transition defense - good for 340th out of 353 teams.

The second matter is just to be stronger against Hankins and Jones. Xavier had yet to show a two big man alignment before the first game but the absence of Quentin Goodin led to that. But having not seen it on film was still no excuse for some of the bullying Hankins and Jones dealt the Hoya frontcourt. They combined for 42 points and 20 rebounds and this type of non-resistance can not occur again:

Yes, zone offense is another concern - but seeing that zone for the second time should be helpful as is the addition of the best penetrator and pace setter on the team in McClung who missed the first match-up. James Akinjo perhaps has had enough of a chewing out from Ewing to make sure the ball moves and finds Govan’s hands in the middle of the zone when Xavier employs it. Govan is playing/shooting at an offensive level that should work over any soft zone. A big difference when he touches the ball and when he’s ignored:

The two big alignment is something Xavier has continued to go with since trying it out vs Georgetown, playing it over 30% of the time in the following four games. It is continuing to work offensively- 1.21PPP in 103 possessions against Butler, Marquette, Villanova and Providence. But it’s allowing 1.28PPP over 106 possessions. If Georgetown plays with pace and moves the ball, they will score. If they defend the post, they will win. If they begin to play any semblance of transition defense, they might win a few more.