Monday, March 26, 2007

Hoyas, Heels, Wins, and Losses

For some, it isn't enough to simply go to HoyaSaxa.xom for full coverage of last night's stunner against UNC. They've got to do the analyzing themselves. And so now, with guest commentary from Galley Friend Joseph Bottum, a review of last night's win:

Georgetown didn’t win; North Carolina lost--or so friends from down South have been calling to insist. The Hoyas played well down the stretch and through the overtime, they admit, but just look at the Tar Heels’ collapse: a stretch of 1 field goal in 14:37 minutes and 23 misses on their final 25 shots.

That sure does look like a collapse. But is it true that North Carolina’s failure decided the game more than Georgetown’s success did?

Some obvious things should be said here: Teams don’t collapse without a lot of help from their opponents. When good shooters start clanking their shots at the end of a game, it often comes from tiredness that playing against a well-coached team induces. A strong defense inside forces a team into low-percentage shots outside, and after a stretch of that outside game, even average shooting starts to look very cold.

That said, North Carolina didn’t manage even average shooting down the stretch and through the OT. They took 4 three-pt shots in the final six minutes of regulation--by my count, 3 of them good, reasonably open looks--and missed all 4. Along the way, they hit 1 of 3 strongly contested two-pt shots and had Hansbrough fouled twice for 4 free throws.

That’s 6 points from inside play for nine possessions over six minutes--which isn’t really too bad. The question is why they took and missed 4 three-pt shots during that same six-minute stretch. Part of the answer has to be Georgetown’s defense: The Tar Heels tried to get the ball inside on 3 of those 4 possessions and just couldn’t manage it. The other part of the answer is panic--induced by the fact that the Hoyas’ offense over the last six minutes was something close to perfection.

Look at it this way: At 6:03, Georgetown is still down 10. They score on eight of the next nine possessions, for 16 points in six minutes:

6:02 Green hits 1 of 2 free throws
5:37 Sapp layup
5:09 Green hook
4:19 Hibbert dunk
3:15 Wallace hits 2 of 2 free throws
2:43 Ewing lob from Green
2:13 Sapp layup
1:25 Green misses layup
0:35 Wallace three-pt. shot
(10th possession, with 2 seconds left: no shot)

Well, who wouldn’t panic? North Carolina was ahead through all of this until Wallace tied it at 0:35, but the feeling of the game had shifted entirely to Georgetown, and the Tar Heels were obviously burdened by it. North Carolina got no offensive rebounds during this stretch, and that was all: 10-point lead disappears, and the game heads into overtime with momentum all on Georgetown’s side.

Interestingly, in overtime, the reverse is true: Georgetown’s defense was better than its offense. The Hoyas did allow three offensive rebounds and turned the ball over once immediately after a defensive rebound. But they closed down the inside completely until Hansbrough was fouled at 0:31 after an offensive rebound, and they strongly contested the first 4 three-point shots North Carolina took.

Meanwhile, the Hoyas’ offense was very good during the OT, but not the perfection you might expect from the lopsided scoring. Georgetown had 10 possessions in OT, but 6 of them came in the final 1:38, with Summers’ dunk the only basket and the other 5 producing foul shots after deliberate fouls by North Carolina (all by Summers and Sapp, with Summers 4 for 4 and Sapp 3 for 5).

So Georgetown’s offense in OT essentially came down to the first 4 possessions, after which a scoreless North Carolina was in a deep hole. Here’s the breakdown:

1. Green miss, ball out of bounds on NC, Wallace scores on backdoor cut at 4:22. (G’town 1 for 2 shots.)
2. Loose ball, scramble, Summers stuffs at 3:57. (G’town 2 for 3.)
3. Green banks it in at 2:53. (G’town 3 for 4.)
4. Lost pass, Green blocked, Sapp misses 3-pt shot at 1:54. (G’town 3 for 6.)

That’s excellent basketball--6 points in 3 minutes, 50% shooting--but not the high-speed perfection I felt it to be while watching it live.

Turns out that what was high-speed perfection in OT was the defense. Hibbert, in particular. North Carolina got some second chances--preventing offensive rebounds has to become a higher priority for the Hoyas--but Georgetown shut down the interior and contested the low-percentage outside shots that the Tar Heels didn’t make.

So, did Georgetown win or North Carolina lose? The Hoyas’ amazing 8-for-9 run at the end of the regular game makes it look as though Georgetown won, while the Tar Heels’ 4 missed three-pointers (three of them good looks) over that same stretch make it look as though North Carolina lost.

But the Tar Heels had reasons to miss those shots: tiredness, panic, and a Hoya zone defense that confused them at the end. That’s enough to make it definitive: Georgetown won.

JVL adds: I agree completely with poet, intellectual, Civilization Grand Master, and Hoya Super-Fan Joseph Bottum.

Four things typically happen when a team "collapses" in basketball: (1) They turn the ball over at an alarming rate; (2) They go stone-cold from the field; (3) They miss free throws; and (4) The opposing team starts raining 3-pointers. Only one of those things happened during regulation in the UNC game. UNC certainly could have played better down the stretch, and in overtime they looked ashen even before the tip. But they didn't choke in the conventional sense of the phrase.

What happened is that Georgetown played efficient, controlled, and very, very smart basketball. They pounded the ball inside, they passed up 3-point shots (except for their final score in regulation), they played excellent defense, and they managed their substitutions brilliantly, getting the most out of Hibbert and Ewing Jr. It was a cool-headed, cerebral performance and the guy who deserves the most credit is John Thompson III. The impact of coaching is often over-stated, but to my mind, that win is almost entirely on him.

(If you've followed Georgetown basketball for the last 20 years or so, imagine just for a moment how a team coached by Thompson the Elder would have behaved under similar conditions.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did the referees intentionally disregard rules violations (in Georgetown's favor) when the senior Thompson was coach?