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SCREENING ROOM: A Look at Georgetown’s Switching on Picks

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Patrick Ewing absolutely has a plan for defense—but can it be improved?

2K Empire Classic- Duke Blue Devils v Georgetown Hoyas Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The other day on WFAN, Patrick Ewing mentioned tongue-in-cheek that he blames Jeff Van Gundy and Pat Riley for his bad knees from making him trap while defending every pick play. During his time, the Knicks were notorious for trapping on every screen. The Georgetown Hoyas, not so much.

As a basketball fan and constant student of the game, I’m always looking to learn how to better articulate things I see on the court. For instance, while I can look at the Duke game and plainly say that Duke’s pick-and-roll killed the Hoyas, I can’t necessarily elucidate what went wrong or what to change.

That’s where Jordan Sperber and HoopVision come in. Georgetown’s screen defense issues often stem from decisions regarding hedging. A hard hedge after a screen brings a momentary double-team but is significantly less than the Knick’s beloved trap of the ball-handler. The help defense is forced to adjust.

During the Texas game, the hard hedge was effective at cutting off the rolling screener.

However, during the Duke game, the ball-handler often waited out the hedge and delivered the ball to the rolling screener effectively. Alternatively, when help defense covers the rolling screener, Duke moved the ball and found the open man for a jump shot.

What else do these clips mean? Prepared teams can work well against the hard hedge. It’s clear that hard hedging requires a lot of movement and a lot of help defense.

Sights that always disturb me with this Georgetown defense are when the big is chasing the roller with his hands up. If help defense covers the cutter, a man on the perimeter is open. That leads to another disturbing sight when then help defense has to run out to stick a hand in front of an open shooter’s face.

Moreover, we see that the rotating help defender, who is not always in the right spot, also finds himself forced to foul more than occasionally. It’s hard for me to admit but Georgetown’s 31 fouls against Duke were not all phantom referee favors.

Still, contrary to what many fans may assert when frustrated, Ewing does indeed have a real strategy on defense, and the team is buying in. Whether the plan to “hard hedge” on screens fits with each iteration of Ewing’s lineups is not immediately clear.

My gut feeling is that the hard hedge works better when you mix in a few traps that put the fear of Pat in the opposition’s back-court. Trapping at times may catch opponents off-guard and generating a turnover or two can’t hurt. Perhaps asking the hedger to support rather than chase the roller each time is another wrinkle that could be added.

If and when you get the chance (after consuming Kente Korner #20), give HalfCourtHoops a listen.

For me, my criticism of Ewing’s man-to-man defense often is based on the hard hedge. Perhaps the personnel may be slow-of-foot at times, but the strategy needs to be looked at.

The issues from a hard hedge are not anything we haven’t heard from some of our most astute commenters and contributors before. However, after the 2K Empire Classic, the contrast of how Duke handled the hedge and Texas failed to handle it may be illuminating to coaches and fans—especially if this team intends to step up the defense on the road to a tournament bid.