Georgetown's defense rebranding JTIII era

Georgetown's defense rebranding JTIII era
February 22, 2013, 10:15 am
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Play a game of "Georgetown Hoyas" word association with a random college basketball fan or even among some seasoned hardwood scribes. Ask for a first thought about the Hoyas program in the John Thompson III era. Mortal lock the mention of another school comes before the one he actually coaches at: Princeton, as in the offense.

For those that indulge in any repetitive games involving consumption of some sort whenever a broadcast crew mentions certain buzzwords, best of luck Saturday when No. 11 Georgetown plays it's highly anticipated final Big East game at eighth-ranked Syracuse. That third school in the ring will give your elbow a workout.

This is how it has been since Thompson moved from Ivy League school, where he played and coached, to the Big East power. The masses have never stopped to think if linking the other school and the scoring side of the court connotation first with Thompson made sense.

It doesn't. Even equal billing with the defensive side of Thompson's coaching mind arguably makes no sense considering, well, you know.

Obviously, the read-and-react, movement attack offense is part of Thompson's basketball core from his days playing under the architect of the famed offense, Pete Carrill. There is no argument here.

However, it seems odd that most simply overlook Thompson's connection to defense considering that was the forte of, well, you know. John Thompson Jr., the large man who raised the current Georgetown coach, the larger than life figure who raised the program on the Hilltop into a national power and cultural phenomenon.

Not overlook as in unaware - let's not go crazy. Besides, the elder Thompson remains a looming presence at practices and games. No, overlook as in neglect, disregard, as in the narrative is out there and that is that.

This might finally become the season where the old connection to a Georgetown Thompson becomes new again.

Considering the Hoyas level of defensive stinginess this season and the magnitude of Saturday's game at Syracuse - the final matchup inside the Carrier Dome between the fierce rivals has both teams part of a first place tie - the assumptive change could come by this weekend.

Fine, probably not because such tectonic shifts do not come overnight. Not that Georgetown's defense is an overnight sensation, not this season or under JTIII's tenure.

Almost universally this season, opposing and vanquished coaches use a chunk of their postgame debrief with the media to praise Georgetown's defenders and schemes.

"They’re probably as good of a defensive team as there is in the country," Seton Hall's Kevin Willard after his team shot 33 percent and committed 25 turnovers against the Hoyas pressure and assorted defensive looks.

Thompson's crew bottled up St. John's primary scoring threats in two decisive wins this season, including a 68-56 home win on February 2.

"Georgetown plays great defense," Steve Lavin said. "John is a great coach. Comes from great basketball lineage. A Hall of Famer - two Hall of Famers really influenced his coaching, his father and Pete Carrill. So no surprise that they play great defense, they're well prepared."

Lavin meant no harm of course, but what does a suffocating defense have to avoid sharing the spotlight?

During conference games, the No. 11 Hoyas (20-4, 10-3) leads all Big East teams in scoring defense (57.2 points) and field goal percentage defense (37.6). Georgetown has won 10 of 11 games - including the last eight - and in that span only one team managed to shoot over 40 percent from the floor. That squad, Marquette, committed 19 turnovers - and lost.

Should the Hoyas maintain their current stingy pace, they will lead the conference in scoring defense for the fourth time and field goal percentage defense for the third time in Thompson's nine seasons with the program.

In that span, Syracuse (22-4, 10-3) under venerable coach Jim Boeheim, himself linked favorably with his noted 2-3 matchup zone, has never led the conference in either category.

What about the "Princeton" label in the first place? Anyone who has ever broached the topic with Thompson knows the coach is not a proponent of the limiting identifier even though the offense's principle scheme is diverse. That is because his implementation of said scheme varies.

"The powers that be have decided to give our offense a label," Thompson said. "Does Seton Hall run the Seton Hall offense? Does Louisville run the Louisville offense? St. John's run the St. John's offense? I don't think any other school in our conference has a label for their offense - and I don't think they should.

"At the same time...nor should we. If you look at year to year, game to game, personnel to personnel, we have changed dramatically what we do at the offensive end of the court."

Last season and through the first 13 games of this campaign, the Hoyas took advantage of their lengthy roster by often playing four 6-foot-8 or taller types together, leading to more half court sets, more zone defense - and plenty of victories.

Following forward Greg Whittington's academic suspension, Thompson countered with more perimeter-based looks, more full-court and man-to-man defensive concepts. Increased offensive push followed, the overall winning and lights out defense simply continued.

Yet whenever the scoring dips -- or plummets as was the case in the 37-36 win over Tennessee or Big East opening losses to Marquette and Pittsburgh --, the habitual attacking of the "Princeton" begins. This is how it has been, the by-rote crowd never stopping to think if doing so makes sense. Sometimes it does, just not always.

"That's something we're stuck with, good or bad, right or wrong, is that label," Thompson said. There are connotations that people decide to put with that.

"The same thing is true at the defensive end. We've had different schemes, different philosophies depending on our personnel."

Maybe all that is needed is a better marketing campaign like the kind Notre Dame's Mike Brey has used to win three Big East Coach of Year awards while Thompson, the arguably the favorite for such honors this season, awaits his first.

John, what about a catchy moniker to describe, perhaps even immortalize your defensive approach?

Always a fan of answering a reporter's question by repeating said query in his response, Thompson recently said, "Do I have a label I want to put on our defense? Absolutely not."

Should it ever become necessary to label the defense, only one term works: Thompson. Catchy, no. Formidable sounding, absolutely. Just ask the opposing coaches.