Fast and furious or slow and steady, Hoyas prove
College Basketball Contributing Editor
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
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
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
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.