Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fifteen Ties, Eighteen Lead Changes, No Lead Bigger Than Six Points

You know when both Jim Burr and Ed Hightower are refs for your game, that you have a good game in front of you. (And that most of the country is off for finals.)

First off, Dana O’Neil’s recap of Georgetown vs Memphis is a must read. And the always entertaining Hoya Saxa recap opens with a great quote from John Calipari. “There were times we had a chance to get [the lead] to eight or ten and [Georgetown] just said, 'Nope, not happening'.”

But despite all this good stuff, I still have more to say on this game. First, I don’t think the recaps were fair enough to Memphis. Calipari isn’t searching for answers. He might have been searching for a few more points, but I thought he had an absolutely perfect game plan in this game.

Despite an absolutely horrid shooting percentage, horrible three point shooting, a shocking free throw disparity, and an incredible tendency for the refs to call traveling, carrying the ball, and offensive goaltending, Memphis still almost won on Georgetown’s home floor. Given that almost all the above factors are beyond the coach’s control, let’s look at exactly what Calipari was able to get his team to do in this game:

1) Memphis played by far the best half-court defense Georgetown has seen all year. The AP recap said it well. Basically every shot was contested in this game. Chris Wright may have claimed that the Memphis size wasn’t a deciding factor, but it clearly prevented him from initiating the offense the way he normally does. Memphis was disciplined enough to prevent backdoor cuts, persistent enough to stay out on perimeter shooters, and physical enough to prevent Monroe from dominating in the lane.

2) Memphis did not fear Georgetown’s fast break and Calipari had his team crash the boards with a 3rd or 4th person on almost every possession. Georgetown often has trouble with offensive rebounding, especially when they played zone, but this didn’t seem to be a case of Monroe or Summers not boxing out. This was a case of Memphis sending perimeter players to the glass and coming in from unusual angles. Memphis also clearly pushed it a little, touching a number of balls that were close to being on the cylinder, and earning two offensive goal-tending calls, but those were a small price to pay for 20 offensive boards.

3) Georgetown’s defense holds opponents to an incredibly low shooting percentage in large part because they almost always “help” in the post. It doesn’t matter if they are playing zone or man-to-man, Georgetown will send a weakside post man over to double team the ball and stop an inside basket. But Memphis was perfectly prepared to exploit this. Throughout the first half, Memphis would get deep position but instead of taking the expected shot, would pass to the weakside big man for an easy lay-up or alley-oop dunk. My wife pointed out that you could see the frustration on JT III’s face because he knew what Memphis was doing, but he wasn’t able to get his team to adjust until halftime.

So basically, Calipari had his team ready to defend, and exploit the two key weaknesses in Georgetown’s defense. And his team almost pulled off the victory. If you ask me, that’s not a coach that is looking for answers. That’s a coach who is looking for better production.

Unlikely Hero

Having watched the Hoyas eek out close victory after close victory last year, you just felt incredibly confident any time a game was close. (This made the Davidson loss all the more painful.) But now there was no Jonathon Wallace to sink a big three or Roy Hibbert to take a big hook shot in the lane.

And instead of flourishing with the crowd on their feet, Georgetown actually had several turnovers down the stretch and went the final 5 minutes of regulation without a FG.

With 2:45 left in OT, Georgetown had officially gone over 7 minutes without a made basket and I was really starting to panic. And that’s when Georgetown found an unlikely hero.

With the shot-clock running down, Georgetown needed an answer. Wright tried to drive, but was cut-off. Freeman tried to drive, but was cut-off. And that’s when freshman Jason Clark drove into the lane and with one second on the shot clock hit a pull-up jumper to give Georgetown a three-point lead. It was a lead Georgetown would never relinquish. And in my opinion, a freshman hit the biggest shot of the game.

Oh, DaJuan Summers was incredible in this game. And Georgetown needed every one of Summers’ 21 points. But if you hit an over-time shot-clock expiring shot, I don’t care if that’s your only basket all day. Jason Clark gets my game ball.