On Friday night the Georgetown Hoyas beat the Tennessee Volunteers by a score of 37-36. It was a score reminiscent of the days before the shot clock, basketball's pre-Columbian era; Tennessee's famous 11-6 victory over Temple in 1973 may be the crowning achievement of that period.
With a shot clock, teams can no longer engage in Dean Smith-style ball stalling tactics. Sure, both Tennessee and Georgetown prefer to walk the ball up the floor and run half-court offense, which reduces the number of possessions in the game, but the shot clock puts a limit on how far this can go. To only score a combined 73 points in a game these days takes work. The Hoyas and the Volunteers did that work, missing shot after shot after shot. The Vols hit 33 percent of their shots from the field, including going 3-16 from three point range. The Hoyas made 36 percent from the field, hitting only one shot from beyond the arc. In addition to this, neither team shot many free throws, and neither team produced much in the way of second chance points.
The Texas Longhorns hope that the poor shooting by Georgetown continues. The two teams square off tonight in the Jimmy V Classic, in Madison Square Garden (ESPN, 6 PM central).
That shooting performance for the Hoyas was probably a fluke; on the season Georgetown has an effective field goal percentage of 53 percent. Coach John Thompson III has a team that runs a reasonably efficient half-court offense that creates looks for many different players. Thompson learned his offense while serving as an assistant for Princeton legend Pete Carril. The style has changed some in recent years -- Thompson's team no longer shoots as many three point shots as it once did -- but the Hoyas still feature ball movement and balanced distribution of shots among the five players on the floor.
Part of the reason that the Hoyas are relying less on the three point shot these days is that they are big. Against Tennessee, the listed heights for Georgetown's starting lineup were 6-8, 6-8, 6-9, 6-8, and 6-2. Three of the four taller starters -- Otto Porter, Greg Whittington, and Nate Lubick -- are efficient scorers. Guard Markel Starks can also score, and is Georgetown's most dangerous outside shooter. Although Starks is considered the team's starting guard, the style of offense employed by Thompson distributes play making duties. Leading assist men in Princeton-style offensive systems often play other positions (even center), and this season the versatile Porter is the most common play maker for Georgetown. Another potentially scary shooter is freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, although he frankly hasn't played enough yet for us to know just how scary he actually is.
With all of that size, the young Texas big men will have their work cut out for them. Georgetown's man-to-man offense forces big men to play in space on defense. This is not something that Cameron Ridley or Prince Ibeh seem comfortable doing (although Ridley defends against the screen and roll game very well). Given this, don't be surprised if Rick Barnes plays a fair amount of zone. While my anti-zone views are well-established, playing some of the game in zone is a reasonable approach against the Hoyas, given that they don't really pursue offensive rebounds. Despite playing so many tall players, Georgetown has one of the lowest offensive rebounding rates in Division I.
Thompson's offense, because of its unusual style, gets talked about a lot. But defense does the heavy lifting for this iteration of the Hoyas, who have the No. 20 ranked defense in Division I according to Ken Pomeroy. All of that size helps on defense. Otto Porter is a good shot blocker and rebounder, and he gets help defending the rim from sophomore Mikael Hopkins. Georgetown holds down opponents by preventing penetration, blocking shots at the rim, forcing teams to shoot jump shots, and securing the defensive glass. To put things simply, Georgetown is hard to score on.
This is a very interesting test for Texas. Georgetown has at times looked very good, such as the game where Thompson's men took Indiana to overtime. The Longhorns have not yet faced a team of this caliber. It seems like Georgetown should be the easy favorite, but don't discount Texas' defense in this game. If the Longhorns can sufficiently bog down the Hoya offense, and if they can hit some outside shots, then this young squad can pull of the upset in New York.