Night Line: Georgetown’s Elite Defense Will Be a Factor in MarchPosted by EJacoby on February 28th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Is it possible for a team ranked in the Top 15 of the AP and Coaches Polls for each of the last ten weeks to be considered under-appreciated? It certainly seems that way for No. 11 Georgetown, a team that ranks third in the Big East at 12-5 and 22-6 overall yet never seems to get mentioned as an elite team. On Senior Night for Henry Sims and Jason Clark Monday, the Hoyas throttled Notre Dame by 18 points and in the process held the Irish to their lowest scoring output (41 points) in a conference game since 1993. While John Thompson III’s team is always first associated with the efficient Princeton-style offense, this year’s team also locks up defensively as well as anyone in the Big East. Their methodical approach on both ends will make the Hoyas a very difficult draw in the NCAA Tournament.
Georgetown has been a surprise team all season, consistently sitting in the top four of the Big East after being picked to finish 10th in the preseason by conference coaches. But the surprise factor is gone, as the Hoyas were initially ranked in the polls on December 5 and have not dropped out since. This is a classic JTIII team that features a passing big man in the high post (Sims), a bevy of wing players that take and make smart shots in the flow of the offense, and a collective bunch that thrives in a zone defense with their length. While a team like Connecticut has superior NBA talent and big-name scorers, the Hoyas are a far more effective group on both ends of the floor. Monday night’s 59-41 victory over the once-streaking Fighting Irish proved once again that this team is a pain to play against.
Defensively, Georgetown’s numbers are starting to look elite. The Hoyas lead the conference in defensive efficiency (93.2), opponent field goal percentage (38.3%), and defensive rebound percentage (69.6%). They’re second in three-point defense (28.6%), block percentage (9.2%), and overall points allowed per game (58.4). Any way you break it down, Georgetown has a fantastic team defense that constantly causes problems for opponents. The team suffered an alarming 73-55 defeat at Seton Hall last week, but that game featured the Pirates’ best shooting performance of the season. SHU point guard Jordan Theodore shot 5-5 from three-point land, with several of the makes coming from NBA-plus range. Every team is susceptible to an off night, and the Hoyas can live with the fact that theirs came as a result of the opponent catching fire from the outside on its home floor. Georgetown has been reliable defensively in nearly every other game, sustaining a level of play that allows the team to dictate the pace of games with its methodical offense.
In addition to their terrific defensive metrics, the Hoyas remain a difficult matchup offensively as well. Their 44.7% field goal shooting is third in the Big East during conference play, and their 40.3% free throw rate is tops in the conference. They play the third-slowest pace in the 16-team Big East, another staple. When combining these factors, the Hoyas become a real nuisance to defend. The senior center Sims is 6’10” yet leads the team with 3.5 assists per game, while fellow senior Clark scores 14.7 PPG on 49% shooting. Hollis Thompson is another upperclassman that knows how to play in this offense, and he’s hitting 45% of his threes en route to 12.8 PPG. Meanwhile, freshman Otto Porter wasn’t an All-American type of recruit but has been one of the most productive freshmen in the conference, totaling 8.7 points and 6.8 rebounds this year, mainly off the bench. Perhaps most impressive of all is that all of these players are impact defenders with their length and athleticism, giving Thompson the flexibility to mix and match zone defenses against different kinds of opponents.
Georgetown is not going to be a team that jumps off the page at you on your NCAA Tournament brackets, and the Hoyas probably won’t be a trendy Final Four pick. But they’re looking good for a #3 seed — or a #4 at worst — and a team that no opposing coach wants to prepare for this March. Be sure to track how this team performs at Marquette in its final regular season game and then in Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament to gauge how strong the defense looks against top competition heading into the Big Dance. If Monday was any indication, the Hoyas could be peaking while continuing to ride its corps of reliable veterans, a great combination for postseason success.