CURRAN | Puzzling Hoyas Defy Odds
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 00:01
Does any team anger the Vegas oddsmakers like Georgetown does?
This season’s Hoyas have gone from brilliant to miserable and back to brilliant time and again, sometimes in less than a week. Last weekend, 48 hours and a plane ride was the difference between a flat-out embarrassing loss at South Florida and a triumphant shellacking of No. 24 Notre Dame — in South Bend, no less.
At its best, Georgetown is a coach’s dream, an unselfish, disciplined group capable of decimating more talented teams with textbook ball movement and rock-solid defense. John Thompson III is a coaching mastermind, Otto Porter Jr. a Wooden Award candidate.
At its worst, Georgetown is a fan’s nightmare, an undersized and unathletic collection of gaffe-prone players stuck in a robotic, outdated system. Thompson III is behind the times, Porter Jr. incapable of carrying a team.
With that in mind, how can the Vegas boys be expected to formulate reasonable odds for tomorrow’s showdown with No. 5 Louisville? In short, they can’t. But I have a feeling the Cardinals-Hoyas game will be closer than the line predicts.
The most consistent habit of the Blue and Gray under Thompson III is to play to the level of their competition, for better or for worse. Georgetown is 2-1 against the Top 25 this season, and the one loss (in overtime against Indiana) may have been its best-played game of the year. But while the Hoyas don’t back down against big-time competition, they do often get mired in tight contests with mediocre or poor teams — the loss at South Florida and narrow wins over Duquesne and Towson come to mind.
It’s easy to attribute this tendency to Thompson III’s modified Princeton offense. The slow-paced attack — especially when combined with a stingy defense — minimizes the amount of possessions per game, giving the more talented team fewer chances to assert its dominance.
Of course, the phenomenon is tougher to explain when you realize that this year’s Georgetown squad plays to its competition’s level even more than in the past few years, despite pushing the ball more than any Hilltop team in recent memory. But whether it’s a psychological quirk, a coincidence of shooting streaks or the still-methodical half-court set, the Hoyas have undeniably played well against good teams and poorly against bad teams.
Fortunately for anyone planning to attend Saturday’s contest, Louisville falls firmly in the former category. Still, this matchup will be unlike any Georgetown has experienced this season.
Yes, Indiana was the top-ranked team in the country when it met Georgetown in November. But the Hoyas also had the services of Greg Whittington and were playing under virtually no pressure — for an unranked team against No. 1, virtually anything but a blowout loss is a win in the public eye.
The visitors at Verizon Center tomorrow have little in common with the Hoosiers, save for their high ranking. Rick Pitino’s fifth-ranked Cardinals are coming off two straight conference losses, including one at the hands of a weak Villanova team, and are desperate for a convincing victory.
Georgetown will make it difficult for Louisville to pick up that win. Whether the Hoyas can actually finish the job, however, depends on their ability to avoid mental errors.
That’s one of the great ironies of this year’s squad: A team that runs one of basketball’s more complex, disciplined systems has often struggled due to simple mental mistakes — mistakes that will destroy any chance of a win against Louisville. Mikael Hopkins can’t bench himself with silly fouls against Gorgui Dieng. Nate Lubick can’t get over-ambitious with back-door passes against Chane Behanan. Porter Jr. can’t attempt to keep dribbling when Peyton Siva comes to double him.
What may have been a toss-up game with Whittington on the court (the Cards have no offense either, remember?) has become a long shot with him off it. The Hoyas have to play a near-perfect game to stand a chance, a bet no smart man would take after watching their performance against South Florida.
But given its big-game history this year, I’d say Georgetown has a shot to beat the odds — or, at least, to cover the spread.