Monday, March 26, 2007

Bad coaching 101? The Georgetown comeback

First, congratulations to Georgetown. The Hoyas are the first Big East team other than Syracuse and Connecticut to reach the Final Four since 1989! Georgetown now leads all Big East teams in Final Four appearances with four (SU has 3, UConn has 2 -- remember, Louisville [1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005] and Marquette [1974, 1976, 2003] were not Big East teams until 2005-06 and the Big East didn't exist until 1980, therefore SU's appearance in 1975 doesn't count). The Hoyas won because they outplayed UNC, and John Thompson III outcoached Roy Williams.

Yesterday's Georgetown-UNC game deserved all the hype, although that build-up could more easily have concentrated on these teams, not the Jordan/Ewing teams from 1982. I'm 37, so I remember that game. The players are 18-22 -- they weren't even twinkles in their mamas' eyes then. And for the first 34 minutes, the game was not much of a game: UNC dominated inside, rolled up 75 points against a slow-tempo team with good defense (including 50 in the first half) and Georgetown could barely get stops because UNC rarely committed turnovers and often scored on tap-in offensive rebounds.

Georgetown's late run of 30-6 spanning the end of regulation and OT is the stuff of legend. UNC dominated inside, put the Hoya frontline in foul trouble, feasted on offensive rebounds and an egregious free throw advantage (and the Big East fans in the Meadowlands noticed that) and actually shot fairly well (23 of 47) before the collapse. But when Georgetown finally collapsed in the zone, its rebounding vastly improved, and UNC began laying brick after brick. Consider: UNC had a 32-16 rebound edge midway through the second half; Georgetown then outrebounded UNC 22-11 the remainder of the game. And UNC missed 22 of 23 shots. Jim Nantz said he couldn't remember such cold shooting from such a good team but The Monk could -- 1984 Final Four, Georgetown 53, Kentucky 40 and UK shot 3 for 33 in the second half whilst getting its clock cleaned 31-11.

How did Georgetown win? First, UNC completely failed on defense throughout the game. Georgetown distributed the ball very well (26 assists on 38 baskets), ran backdoor layup cuts on UNC constantly and executed its Princeton offense extremely well (nearly 60% FG). Worse yet, UNC stupidly refused to go zone. The Princeton offense is a MAN TO MAN offense; Georgetown has been vulnerable to the zone (Syracuse, Boston College). Add that up and you get . . . UNC playing man all game and overplaying the passing lanes? Wrong move. Even Duke will go to a zone and UNC should have done so yesterday.

The diagram at the top of this post is the play that Georgetown ran time and again against UNC, the most basic Princeton Offense play: get the ball to a player on the wing (usually Wallace or Sapp, not the small forward as shown in the diagram), have him dribble at the elbow of the key and smack a one-hand bounce pass to the man at the top of the lane (Sapp or DaJuan Summers) while he's cutting to the basket. (Courtesy the invaluable Hoops 101 feature ESPN ran in 2003 -- Google it).

Georgetown's Princeton offense is impressive because it does not rely as much on forwards to serve as the hubs of attack for the back cuts that lead to layups for the guards. Instead, Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp combined for 15 assists and hit cutting forwards on one-hand bounce passes all day long. Therefore the bread-and-butter baseline back-door cut of the UCLA high-post offense that was a staple of Princeton's teams in the 1990s is used less by Georgetown than the typical Princeton offense team.

Second, Georgetown got its players to smarten up. Roy Hibbert stopped reaching down to block shots, the team played better position defense and let UNC pop from the outside. UNC's lack of consistent outside shooting doomed it. And once Georgetown shut down the UNC offensive rebounding, it sharpened up on both offense and defense. Billy Packer was right twice: Georgetown did seem the better and more confident team even when it was trailing late in the second half, and UNC should have had a larger lead with 8-10 minutes left.

One final thought: The Monk disdains the waterworks shown by Roy Williams yesterday and by Mike Krzyzewski each time Duke loses in the NCAAs. This is not the end of the world for you or your players, nor are your players the center of the universe. They lost. Most will have the chance to win again at this level; others will have the chance to win at the next level. Either way, you are overinflating both your own importance and that of these games by crying like four-year old girls. The players' tears are more acceptable because their opportunities are limited and they hopefully played as hard as they could; the coaches will be coaching for decades. In this respect, Bob Knight has it right -- his reaction after winning the national title in 1987 was to praise the kids and say how happy he was FOR THEM without exuding the glee of a toddler with a new toy.

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