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Fast and furious or slow and steady, Hoyas prove their worth

Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor


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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Adaptation is the key to survival. In college basketball, as in the primal settings of life, those who adapt live on. Those who wilt, fall away.

As November has turned into a fast-approaching holiday season, not many teams have faced a tortoise-hare test like the Georgetown Hoyas.

It was a test in complexity and pace, a two-game tilt-a-whirl with a frenzied prelude and a long, drawn-out conclusion. The opener was an afterthought to the highly-publicized ACC-Big Ten challenge, showcased in the cable basement of ESPNU, without much fanfare outside the two college campus. Yet, the Hoyas' and Missouri Tigers' exhibition in speed would have made Vin Diesel and Paul Walker jealous. It was fast, and man was it furious, with the tension and playmaking of an NCAA Tournament barnburner.

And make no mistake, Georgetown may have won the race (an apt description) with a 111-102 overtime victory, but each team will have a major say in the winner of the war. Both squads shot over 56 percent from the floor, the Hoyas made 15 three-pointers -- six from Austin Freeman and three of Jason Clark's four came in overtime. A game played end line-to-end line with talent and speed covering the court totaled 40 assists to just 30 turnovers.

It was one of those games that featured SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays" and one unforgettable strategic no-no, as Missouri's Kim English saved the basketball underneath his own basket -- with the lead -- and under 10 seconds remaining in regulation. The basketball eventually ended up in Georgetown guard Chris Wright's hands, and he released a majestic game-tying trey with three-tenths of a second left.

The Hoyas pulled away in overtime, scoring 17 points in the extra session while showing no ill-effects from the game's frantic pace.

After the game, Hoyas head coach John Thompson III's words not only rang true to this contest's outcome, but carried clout to the game his team would play several days later.

"We don't worry about pace," said Thompson. "We just want to get a good shot whether that takes three seconds or 33 seconds."

The Hoyas have the players to excel both ways. Last Tuesday's game featured shots in the early ticks of the shot clock. Then fast forward to Saturday's home tilt with Utah State, a plodding, precision-oriented team which prefers to play the percentages, force defensive lapses and pounce...later rather than sooner.

Georgetown made only two three-pointers Saturday, instead probing and working through the post and attacking the rim, getting to the charity stripe 27 times and still eclipsing the 50-percent shooting barrier from the floor. Georgetown showcased its Princeton offense instead of its secondary break, practicing its patience instead of its up-tempo playmaking.

The result was still the same: a victory, this one slightly more comfortable than its predecessor as a second-half run wore down the visiting Aggies, 68-51. In the post-game press session, Thompson discussed his team's due diligence in feeding the post instead of waxing poetic, as he did Wednesday, about his team's decision-making in transition. He got solid contributions from big men Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson and 21 points from the reliable Wright.

Two games, both victories, played at two different speeds against high-caliber polar opposites (remember: the Aggies were a 27-win tournament team a season ago) left most observers to make one conclusion. Georgetown is good enough to play any way, anywhere, against anyone.

In the words of Thompson, "we never come into a game determined to play fast or slow." In other terms, the Hoyas can adapt, which is a championship-winning trait come March.

WHAT WE LEARNED LAST WEEK:

In the Big Ten-ACC Challenge: Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg uses the national media as his intercom on Selection Sunday as it seems his team is always one of the last few left on the tournament bubble. The Hokies had a golden opportunity against Purdue, which is still searching for some offense (any offense!) from anyone without the last names (JaJuan) Johnson and (E'Twaun) Moore. Virginia Tech has lost to Kansas State, UNLV and the Boilermakers already, and from this vantage point, there isn't a high-quality non-conference opportunity left. In a universally-accepted "down" year for the ACC, will 10 conference victories be enough without the signature victory? Elsewhere in the challenge, Illinois is really talented, experienced and plays well together, but the Illini have to avoid long spells of settling for jump shots. It didn't doom them against the identity-less Tar Heels, but inside the conference, they need to attack the rim with more consistency. Duke-Michigan State may have been a title game preview, as each team had to leave Cameron Indoor Stadium feeling good about itself. Yes, the Spartans left vanquished, but losing by just five points despite 20 turnovers and an 8-of-15 effort the charity stripe has to lessen the blow. Michigan State didn't play its best, yet still hung with the Blue Devils, who received 31 points from Kyrie Irving and 15 points and seven rebounds from Kyle Singler.

Butler needs Ronald Nored back healthy and Matt Howard to stay out of foul trouble. The latter may be difficult since Howard's propensity to foul has been well-chronicled since this core group's story was broadcast to the nation last season. He scored 13 points in 24 minutes, but didn't grab a single defensive rebound, a sign that early foul trouble killed his aggression on the glass. Nored played 26 minutes, but didn't score, took just one shot and didn't look near 100 percent in the Bulldogs' 82-70 loss to Duke on Saturday. These Bulldogs are trying to integrate new role players (Chase Stigall and Garrett Butcher), and need the championship game veterans -- Nored, Howard and Shelvin Mack -- to play better, and stay on the floor longer.

Memphis may not have a cakewalk to the Conference USA crown. Do you know the biggest early-season surprise? Central Florida and Michael Jordan's son, Marcus, who is pacing the Golden Knights with 18 points per game. Central Florida has whipped up on the entire state of Florida it seems, routing West Florida, escaping South Florida and slipping past the state's crown jewel, Billy Donovan's Florida Gators, 57-54, on Wednesday. Marcus scored 18 points on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting, and the swarming Golden Knights defense held the Gators to a 2-of-15 effort from three-point range. UCF left Donovan so exasperated afterwards that he chided his team, saying, "all of our older guys are way, way too wrapped up in their own offense." To translate coach-speak, Donovan called his team selfish. Give the Golden Knights credit for taking advantage of a stagnant Gators offense, and they now sit at 7-0 on the season. A two-game road trip to Miami and Massachusetts will tell this team's tale before conference play begins.

Bad, bad call by the officials in Lawrence, Kansas Thursday night as UCLA was trying to end the Jayhawks' 63-game home winning streak. The last three of Tyler Honeycutt's 33 points pushed the Bruins to a 76-76 stalemate in the closing seconds. The game appeared set for, and should have resulted in, overtime. Instead, UCLA's Malcolm Lee was whistled for a slight bump on Mario Little, who was off-balance and not in complete control of the ball with seventh-tenths of a second left. The whistle blew on the quintessential judgment call, but in the closing seconds, the man in stripes has to swallow his whistle unless the contact (and trust me it was minimal if at all) puts one of the players at an advantage. The foul call gave the home team the edge, and Little's free throw gave the Jayhawks the victory. Mild-mannered Bruins head coach Ben Howland found anything to throw when the call was made, then threw several verbal jabs at the officials in the heat of the moment afterward.

North Carolina finally followed my offensive advice and played through its bigs, Texas looked like its young self in an uninspired loss to Southern California and Miami posted the biggest victory nobody is talking about at the water cooler this Monday. The Tar Heels' offense ran, for the most part, through Tyler Zeller and John Henson to productive results, which should come as no surprise for a team that has no outside shooting threat and a tendency to play sloppy when the ball is dominated by its guards. Zeller scored a career- best 27 points to go along with 11 rebounds, and he and Henson frustrated Kentucky's star freshman Terrence Jones to a nine point, 3-of-17 outing. The 75-73 victory is a major confidence boost for a team still finding its way. Texas looked lost on Sunday, shooting just 32 percent from the floor in a 73-56 waxing at the hands of the Trojans. Texas has shot over 50 percent just twice in its first eight games, and the Longhorns young guards, while doing a veteran's job minimizing mistakes, can't seem to find the ocean let alone the bottom of the net. After an early-morning loss at Memphis and an ugly 45-point effort in a loss at Rutgers, Miami's raw athletes were being dubbed undisciplined and out of control with the basketball. However, when clicking, the Hurricanes swarm opposing offenses and use their running and jumping ability to create easy baskets. Two straight victories over worthy opponents, Ole Miss and West Virginia, make Miami a conundrum in the early season. Malcolm Grant scored 25 points in the 79-76 victory over the Mountaineers, and he did so by recognizing the shots weren't falling and attacking the rim. The byproduct was 14 free throw attempts (he made 13 of them). Grant is shooting under 40 percent from the floor this season, so he needs to continue the new- found offensive aggression, especially since he makes over 83 percent of his free throws.

FINE 15

1. Duke (8-0): Rolled through the Meadowlands in title game rematch. The legend of Irving continues.

2. Pittsburgh (9-0): Quiet, confident, taking care of business. The beat goes on in the Steel City.

3. Ohio State (6-0): Nine days between Florida State slugfest and December 9 date with IUPUI. Next test is December 18 versus South Carolina.

4. Kansas (7-0): Rough three-game stretch concludes with Memphis on Tuesday. Sloppy with the ball, poor foul shooting kept UCLA in the game last Thursday.

5. Kansas State (7-1): Another poor shooting performance by Jacob Pullen (2- of-11) in "whew" 63-58 victory over Washington State. Curtis Kelly's 15 points were a good sign.

6. Michigan State (6-2): Held its own in Cameron, now another test on Tuesday versus Syracuse. Taking care of the orange should help take care of the Orange.

7. Connecticut (7-0): Typical letdown in return from Maui versus New Hampshire. Game had that "upset" feel. Good news for Huskies fans? Kemba Walker was too good to let that happen.

8. Georgetown (8-0): Biggest move made by week's most impressive team. Duo of Wright and Freeman make up -- at least to this point -- for team's lack of forceful presence on the interior.

9. Syracuse (8-0): Orange have played good defense, but continue to have trouble scoring. They have scored over 80 points just once (versus Canisius) and made only 2-of-16 from long range in narrow victory Saturday over North Carolina State.

10. Missouri (6-1): Not penalized much for losing the game of the year to date. English must be sick for mental error at end of regulation. Saving that basketball is a cardinal sin.

11. Villanova (6-1): Big Five tilts with Penn and La Salle should give Wildcats a week to find their footing.

12. Tennessee (6-0): Next game is Saturday at Pittsburgh. A contrast of styles with two high-energy coaches and teams. It should be the game of the week and a barometer of the Vols' staying power.

13. Memphis (7-0): If Tennessee-Pittsburgh is the game of the week this is quite the consolation prize. Have Josh Pastner's kids grown up? The answer comes Tuesday in New York against the talented Jayhawks.

14. San Diego State (8-0): Not to look ahead to Selection Sunday, but if the Aztecs lose in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, it will have victories over mid-major foes Gonzaga, St. Mary's and now Wichita State to fall back on.

15. Central Florida (7-0): Likely not the nation's 15th best team, but this spot is reserved for a big mover, and the Golden Knights gave notice to the nation with an impressive victory over Florida. Marcus Jordan has played within himself, the ultimate compliment for the player with the famous last name.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEK

Four top teams, chronicled above, meet in New York this Tuesday. Syracuse can prove its worth against the Spartans, who need to see productivity from the strangely quiet Durrell Summers. Kansas, fresh off a sloppy victory over UCLA, will get Memphis' best shot in the first game of the night. Vanderbilt's guards will be tested by Missouri's up-tempo pressure on Wednesday, while the aforementioned Hoyas take their show on the road to North Philadelphia, where the talented but underachieving Temple Owls wait.


Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jared Trexler at jtt128@comcast.net.

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