WASHINGTON - I'm here for the weekend for some family stuff, and since I had the afternoon free I headed downtown to watch Georgetown and Connecticut face off at the Verizon Center.
As the Hoyas will be in Philadelphia on Sunday to face Villanova, I figured it would be a good chance to see John Thompson III's team for a second time after their scrapfest against Temple in November. The Huskies will come to town February 15, but the time will go by quickly enough.
I'm sure many of you watched the game on TV. So I'll try to take you inside the numbers a bit and provide some analysis of what I saw from courtside. It’s a bit long, but as you’ll hear in the audio player below, it’s nothing like Jim Calhoun's opening monologue in his postgame press conference.
Connecticut is full of athletes - Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson in particular - and they can definitely get out and run. But I’m not sure they're so good in a halfcourt set. Robinson plays best near the basket, so someone has to get the ball to him, though he’s a decent shooter too.
We know Dyson is talented too, but he's only shooting 31.6 percent from three-point range this season. Kemba Walker and Gavin Edwards are also good, but Calhoun made it clear after the game that Robinson is supposed to be the focal point of the offense.
Georgetown has three really good players in guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman and center Greg Monroe. Coming into this game, though, it wasn't so clear that any of them were really willing to take a game over when necessary.
We know Monroe's skill set, but we know someone has to get Monroe the ball for him to be effective. And while Freeman gets his points and minutes, Wright is the focal point of the offense.
Wright can score a lot of points - 34 against Harvard and 21 against St. John's - but he took 21 shots against the Crimson, which dilutes that performance. He can also go quiet, such as his nine points on 3-for-8 shooting in Georgetown’s loss at Marquette this past Wednesday.
Given all these factors, it might not seem too surprising that Connecticut had a 40-25 lead at halftime. Stanley Robinson threw down four spectacular dunks, while Chris Wright was 4-for-10 from the field and Greg Monroe only took two field goal attempts.
Georgetown really seemed out of kilter at that point. The ball wasn't going where you would expected to in John Thompson III's system, which resulted in the Hoyas shooting 8-for-27 from the field. They only recorded four assists and eight turnovers, and gave up 18 defensive rebounds to only two offensive rebounds.
While it's true that the Princeton offense puts very low value on offensive rebounding, that isn't the case with Thompson. Georgetown was flat-out getting beaten on its glass, and Connecticut turned that advantage into 10 fastbreak points.
The Huskies also got six offensive rebounds that translated into six second-chance points. They scored 24 of their 40 first-half points in the paint and tallied 12 assists while committing only six turnovers. You get the idea.
Connecticut had a 19-point lead with 1:16 left in the half. Wright gave Georgetown the smallest flicker of momentum going into the locker room by making two baskets in the final 50 seconds, sandwiched around a turnover by Kemba Walker. But it was hard to imagine the second half going all that much differently.
Yet that's exactly what happened. Georgetown came out of the locker room on fire, and Austin Freeman in particular. Freeman scored 10 points in a two-minute span, and at the other end Connecticut was missing shots all over the place.
After Gavin Edwards' dunk at 18:16, the Huskies didn’t make another field goal until Robinson threw down a slam at 13:36. Greg Monroe answered with a layup at the other end, and all of a sudden it was 48-43. The announced crowd of 15,464 - there were a lot of empty seats in the upper deck - had come alive.
Georgetown finally tied the score on another Freeman three with 8:29 left, and Freeman put the Hoyas ahead with a layup on their next possession. Connecticut took the lead back, but by then the game's tempo had slowed down dramatically.
Which is to say it was in Georgetown's favor, and as a result the Hoyas ran their offensive sets much better than they had in the first half. The passing was crisper and some great screens were set at the perimeter. Georgetown also got the ball inside more to Monroe and forward Julian Vaughn. Both hit big shots in the final 1:30 as the Hoyas held on to win, 72-69.
That I just mentioned Vaughn's name for the first time at this point is of some consequence. He plays the 4 in a three-guard system, and the two bench guys behind him aren't nearly as good. The first thought I had at halftime was that Georgetown really needed someone to help Monroe under the basket, and Vaughn is supposed to be that guy. But he was only 1-for-4 shooting with two rebounds in the first half.
In the end, as Jim Calhoun said, Georgetown "had Austin Freeman in uniform - that helps a lot." Freeman scored 28 points in the second half and 33 in the game, and the 28 would have been a career high in and of itself.
But the numbers that caught my eye were the Hoyas' 10 offensive rebounds to UConn's eight defensive rebounds in the second half. Princeton offense or not, that's a sign that Georgetown was much more aggressive on the glass, and they were rewarded for it.
So what does all this mean for Villanova next Sunday? If the Wildcats can play good defense for all 40 minutes and disrupt Georgetown's flow, they should win the game. But if they let Georgetown get in a rhythm, don't pressure the ball and don't contest every rebound, the Hoyas could sneak past 'Nova once again.
As for Connecticut, the Wildcats don't really have a player who's a straight match for Stanley Robinson. But as Georgetown showed, Robinson can't win the game by himself. The senior forward scored 16 points on 18 shots, and Jim Calhoun said afterwards he wants Robinson to get the ball even more.
My guess is that Villanova will have to beat Connecticut with offense rather than defense, and the Wildcats' guard depth should come in handy. Once Georgetown got settled, they were able to space out the Huskies' defense pretty well. If Villanova can do that, there will be opportunities for Corey Stokes and Scottie Reynolds to hit shots.
If you've made it this far, you deserve some kind of reward. As it turns out, I have one. If you thought you saw a familiar face behind the Connecticut bench, that was indeed former Penn coach Glen Miller. And yes, he was wearing a blue shirt and a red sweater of a certain hue.
I talked to Miller for a few minutes, and he was in a pretty good mood. While I think Penn made a necessary at a necessary time, I also think Miller will end up just fine. Maybe not as a head coach right away, but he's got plenty of connections in Division I to get somewhere.
I also heard that former Virginia coach Dave Leitao and current George Washington coach Karl Hobbs were at the game. Miller, Leitao and Hobbs all come from Calhoun’s lengthy coaching tree.