First Take: Orange Romp Hoyas
Greg Monroe is being wasted by Georgetown.
Last night was a rare, but enjoyable occurrence for me: I watched just two games. Don’t get me wrong, I love the packed days/nights where I have two TV’s and a laptop running simultaneously with the channels or windows constantly being changed in order to keep up with as much action as possible. Of course, the wonderful world of DVR and internet archiving don’t hurt either, but last night none of that was needed. With just two nationally televised games and a handful of other contests taking place in the MEAC, SWAC and SoCon, my remote was limited to the role of volume changer for once.
I made it a point to watch Georgetown at Syracuse very closely from start to finish because of the wealth of talent and story lines. Aside from featuring upwards of half a dozen players who at the very least are going to get NBA consideration at one point in the future, it is arguably the best rivalry in the Big East and it was a chance to evaluate two teams that have been mentioned in the Final Four discussion pitted against one another in a regular season game. All seem like logical reasons to have pulled up a seat on the couch last night for the two hours it took to digest this one. I of course took some notes.
· Few, if any, pundits saw Syracuse enjoying the kind of success they are right now entering into the season. The biggest reason perhaps is because none of us knew just how good Wesley Johnson was we know now. The other had to do with the losses of Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devondorf. A team doesn’t lose its three best offensive players and actually get better offensively do they? In this case, the answer is yes. The Orange move the ball so well on the offensive end, better than any of the other top five teams in my opinion, the reason being they don’t have one or two superstars who need to have the basketball in their hands in order to make things happen. Now, don’t get me wrong, Wesley Johnson is a superstar and a National POY candidate, but one of the biggest reasons NBA teams are so high on him is his ability to score within the flow of his team’s offense. Johnson gets his 17 a night but he doesn’t dominate the basketball. There’s a reason that six different players have led the team in scoring this season and five players have done it more than once.
· As good as ‘Cuse has been on the offensive end, I still wouldn’t call them a great offensive team, they have their lulls still. Where I was impressed last night was at the other end of the floor with the discipline and smarts that were being shown on defense. Obviously Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone has been talked about at length during his more than three decades of coaching in upstate New York, but what I saw from his team last night was a step above. Not only do the Orange play the zone with the utmost understanding of where they are supposed to be at all times, but they have mastered the knowledge of when to trap out of that zone. It is one thing to set up a specific gimmick defense on a given play designed to trap the basketball, or to even do that out of a man-to-man set, but trapping out of a zone, especially a 2-3 look, can be very confusing and easily screwed up. This team showed they have the ability to do it successfully and often last night.
· Entering this season I was of the mindset that Greg Monroe was going to be more appreciated as a pro player than college because of his unique combination of size and skill and the fact that he clearly isn’t a super physical big man. After watching last night’s game I can safely say that John Thompson III is simply wasting Monroe’s talents and to the detriment of his team. The Hoyas opened the game on a 14-0 run in the games first three minutes. They had ‘Cuse on the ropes. Granted, Austin Freeman was hitting everything, but Monroe was the reason the team was getting looks. The basic zone principle for basketball is if you have an even number of men at the top you go odd against it and vice versa. Against a 2-3 zone, the easiest way to do this is by putting a man at the high post. Georgetown did this and their offense flourished, then, inexplicably, they stopped. In the NBA if a play is working you keep doing it, why isn’t this the case in college? Not only is Monroe a better offensive facilitator than 98% of the point guards in the country, he actually LIKES playing the high post, a rarity in the college game. What Thompson settled on for offense was hoisting up threes (the hope for any team playing a zone) and trying to feed a 6-4 Austin Freeman along the baseline against the likes of Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. The fact that Monroe ultimately fouled out with eight points and no assists is a disgrace and poor coaching. He should have touched the ball on every possession at the high post and had the offense run through him. The sad thing is, NBA scouts are going to look at games like these and see nothing but a poor showing which will further discredit the big games he has put up on teams like Rutgers.
· One last note on this subject. I get that Thompson likes to run a balanced offense and it works well most of the times, mainly against teams that aren’t as smart or as talented as Syracuse. But, when I spoke with him before the season started Thompson told me that while the entire load of the offense would not fall on Monroe’s shoulders, he did say he expected the sophomore to win big games for his team. I’m still waiting.
Kansas made quick work of Missouri last night which was left with nothing when their press wasn’t able to neutralize the Jayhawks guards. The Tigers are a good team, an NCAA Tournament team even, but against a team like Kansas who has guards with poise, when you break that vaunted press there is little Mizzou can do about the inside play. Especially when Cole Aldrich is on his game like last night. Forgetting the fact that the big man went for 12 points, 17 boards and a back breaking seven blocks, the All-American was doing all of the little things right. He was banged up earlier in the season so that same level of crispness wasn’t there, but last night it was on full display. There have been arguments in the past for giving out secondary assists in basketball like they do in hockey and soccer, well Aldrich’s outlet passes last night were a strong argument in favor of that statistic being put into play. He was responsible for at least a dozen points for his team thanks to his ability to recognize an open man up the floor and get the ball into his hands quickly. That is going to be a huge asset to have later in the season, especially against teams like Texas who are so long and big in the middle as to make life difficult in the halfcourt set. The play of Marcus Morris also can’t be understated as the Jayhawks can now trot out two very effective frontcourt players that will create problems on both ends of the floor, particularly Morris given his versatility.
Sadly, the best game of the night isn’t getting national billing on this Tuesday, with Kansas State’s trip to Baylor confined to ESPN360. This is a chance for the severely underrated Bears to make some noise after giving Kansas all sorts of fits just a few days ago. Don’t be surprised one bit if the #9 Wildcats are taken down on the road. Neither Michigan State at Michigan nor Kentucky at South Carolina should be too close, but the SEC battle will certainly provide more entertainment. It will be fun to see if the Gamecocks’ Devon Downey can continue his torrid pace in the SEC, as he is currently averaging more than 30 ppg in conference play. Enjoy the hoops!