Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's Ailing The Hoyas?

We usually stay away from sports topics on this blog, but with our beloved Georgetown Hoyas in freefall, we need to get this off our chest.

The Hoyas started the basketball season in fine form, going 11-1 against the toughest pre-conference schedule in the nation, then promptly went into the toilet, going 1-5 so far in the Big East. What's the problem?

When a team this good gets into a funk, it's the coach's responsibility to get them out of it. This isn't the first time it's happened to G'town--a couple years ago the Hoyas had a great start to their season, culiminating in a dramatic drubbing of UConn on the road, before going into a swoon and missing the NCAA tournament. Coach John Thompson III was not able to get his team turned around.

Can he do it this time? We'll see. The big problem is the Hoyas' offense, modeled on the so-called "Princeton offense" of swift ball movement and backdoor cuts. The other Big East teams have now seen this offense for several years, and they've figured it out defensively.

An inherent trade-off in the offense is a lack of offensive rebounding; the offensive strategy compensates for this by getting easy "backdoor" baskets that don't require rebounding. But when the offense stalls, requiring a forced shot as the time clock expires, a miss is essentially a turnover. That's exactly what we've been seeing from a team suddenly shooting quite cold from three point land. Earlier in the season, the team was getting good threes--open looks--and making them; now, they're shooting in desperation and missing.

Thompson needs to show more flexibility. Using the same offense no matter who he has on the floor makes no sense. Last year, he had big man Greg Monroe, one of the best passers in college basketball, and a threat to go to the basket himself. It was perfect for the Princeton offense. This year is much different. The Hoyas have the best guard trio in the country, but rather than turning them loose on opponents, they are forced into a slow tempo offense.

During last weekend's loss against a decidedly ordinary West Virginia team, the Hoyas showed a couple of flashes of brilliance. In both instances, Thompson uncharacteristically put his team into a full court press, with instant results. The quick Hoya guards forced turnovers and easily converted them into points with lay-ups. But the press didn't last, and the Mountaineers recovered as soon as the pressure relented.

JTIII has a talented bunch on the court. He needs to turn them loose, instead of forcing them into an offense that their opponents have completely solved.

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