Friday, November 12, 2010

Old Dominion vs Georgetown

I realize that elite defense often results in ugly games, but Old Dominion’s defense is a thing of beauty. A year after posting a top 10 defense nationally (according to the Pomeroy ratings), Old Dominion played lock down defense on the Hoyas for 33 minutes. ODU played some man-to-man but when they realized the Hoyas were not hitting their shots, they ended the first half on a zone blitz. And then, perhaps wisely fearing a Hoya adjustment at halftime, ODU went back to man-to-man to start the second half.

I normally hate zone defense this time of year. When a team like Florida Gulf Coast busts it out against Indiana, you just know you are in for some ugly basketball. But with ODU switching from man to zone and back to man, the defensive strategy was in mid-season form. Count 10 blocks for ODU, 11 first half turnovers forced, and a 77% defensive rebounding rate, and the Monarchs dominated this game defensively. When it came to physicality, ODU was a taller, stronger, deeper team. And for most of this game they looked like the better team.

But this has been a backwards series. The road team has won every game in the four game home-and-away, and even the rules of basketball seemed reversed in this one. They say in college basketball, the great equalizer is the three point shot. It is the thing that allows the mid-majors to stick with the BCS boys, and occasionally spring an upset. But this time around the three point shot swung the other way. It was the factor that allowed the smaller Hoya team to upend the Monarchs at ODU.

And the play-of-the-game clearly belonged to Chris Wright. Sure he was 4 of 6 from deep and had a couple of key threes as the Hoyas came from behind with a late three-point barrage. But it was the timing of one of his threes that was so critical.

With 3 seconds left on the shot clock, Hollis Thompson was seemingly unaware of the timing as he held the ball in the corner. Then Thompson skipped a cross-court pass from one offensive corner to the other. It was a foolish play, destined to end in a shot-clock violation. But then Wright pulled off what the announcers called the Larry Bird shot. Wright caught the ball and in one motion released a three as the shot clock hit zero. It was a miracle to get the shot off, and even more amazing when it went it. The Hoyas took the lead, the momentum, and soon after the game.

Chris Wright was not perfect on this night. He had a couple of fast-break opportunities where he seemed to want to finish himself, instead of making the right pass to an open teammate. I was ready to call him selfish. But it is hard to not blame the senior for wanting to put the team on his back. This is a team that will go no further than its three sensational guards take it. While Hollis Thompson was missing a critical second half lay-up on a gorgeous pass from Julian Vaughn, and Vaughn was seeing his own shots swatted away on a regular basis, the elite backcourt led the way. Wright had 19, Jason Clark had 18, and Austin Freeman had 17, accounting for all but 8 of the Hoyas points.

Before the season is over, Georgetown will find a way to get more inside baskets. But with such a perimeter presence, this is going to be an inconsistent team. Georgetown will beat some teams when they make their shots, and lose to some teams that make you scratch your head. But what is new about that? The Hoyas beat Duke last year but were blown out by Ohio in the NCAA tournament. You never know which team will show up.

So the story of this game cannot be the Hoyas. The story of this game is Old Dominion. Come March no one will remember this game played on the first day of the season. But the selection committee will hold it against ODU. They were a mid-major with a chance to beat one of the big boys at home, a chance to prove they deserved an NCAA bid. And if you watched this game, and watched this team smother teams in the CAA last year, you know they are worthy of an NCAA spot. But mid-majors don’t get second chances. Georgetown will have plenty of chances to win and lose big games this season. For ODU, the heartbreak begins before the season even gets started.

But you know what? We need more games like this. Forget these early season tournaments with two home games and a guaranteed slot in the tournament semis. More teams need to go on the road against the mid-majors. We need more games like this.

Two Final Comments
-CSN picked up the CAA feed from Norfolk for this game, and boy were the production values low. Several times they were caught showing instant replays, missing 10 seconds of game action at a time. I think I take for granted the high production values you see on ESPN, and even in the games.

-Georgetown used full-court pressure at the end of the first half. That’s right, the short-benched, boring half-court Hoya team is looking to make this a transition game this year. This is what I love about college basketball. Every season is full of surprises.