- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Georgetown’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in five seasons could be a short one if the Hoyas don’t find a solution to their 40-minute enigma.

Despite the Hoyas’ 21-9 record and a solid 11-5 mark in the nation’s toughest conference, a strong case can be made that Georgetown played 40 minutes of its best basketball only four times this season — in the team’s signature 87-84 victory over top-ranked Duke on Jan. 21 and in its tip-to-whistle homecourt routs of Cincinnati (76-57), St. John’s (64-41) and Syracuse (68-53).

The rest of the team’s resume is littered with erratic, 20-minute performances, with last week’s stint at the Big East tournament providing perhaps the ultimate microcosm of the squad’s maddening inconsistency. In three games last week at Madison Square Garden, the Hoyas showcased their stunning Jekyll-and-Hyde routine against each opponent, pairing three exquisite halves of offensive efficiency with three ghastly halves of near-complete incompetence.

Such inconsistency could well spell first-round doom for the seventh-seeded Hoyas tomorrow against a seasoned bunch from Northern Iowa (23-9). And it’s almost a certain formula for failure should the Hoyas advance to meet No.2 seed Ohio State (25-5) in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday.

“At this point in the season, you aren’t going to beat anybody with less than 40 minutes of basketball — at least we’re not,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said yesterday.

In some respects, the Hoyas have become a victim of their own offensive efficiency. The paradox of the Princeton offense is that the better a team becomes at executing it, the less likely it is to see the kind of tight man-to-man defense against which it thrives. Only four teams all season had the hubris to employ a preponderance of man against the Hoyas — Connecticut, Duke, Pittsburgh and Marquette in the Big East tournament. Three of those four teams paid for that decision with a loss.

Most of Georgetown’s opponents this season were either smart enough or humble enough to realize that by far the best defense against the Hoyas, and in fact any Princeton-based system, is a zone. Zoning the Hoyas not only eliminates most of the system’s famed back cuts, it enables opponents to double sophomore Jeff Green (11.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists). The most effective zone against the Hoyas this season was West Virginia’s 1-3-1 because it softened Green’s impact even more by cluttering up the foul line area and denying the textbook high-post zone entry.

But most zones have been effective against the Hoyas for two other reasons: 1) The Hoyas don’t have a zone-busting slasher in the backcourt. 2) Georgetown’s capable 3-point shooters are as streaky and tentative as they are numerous.

Georgetown’s loss to Syracuse in last week’s Big East semifinal typified this last weakness. In the first half, the Hoyas were 7-for-13 on attempts from 3-point range, stretching coach Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone past the point of effectiveness, opening up the paint for Green and resulting in a near-rout halftime lead of 36-21 for the Hoyas.

In the second half, Georgetown was 0-for-7 from 3-point range, and the Orange zone collapsed on Green and senior forward Brandon Bowman. Georgetown’s shooters started doubting themselves and passing up open shots, the Hoyas’ offense stagnated and Syracuse rallied for a 58-57 victory.

“You can say pound it inside all you want, but if they’ve got four guys packed down there, it’s not going to work,” Thompson said. “If teams are going to give you wide open looks, you’ve got to put the ball in the basket. The first thing I tell every little kid at clinics is no matter how big you are or how high you can jump, if you can shoot, there’s always going to be a place for you in basketball.”

In games in which Georgetown attempted more than five 3s and shot a mere 35 percent or higher from 3-point range, the Hoyas were 13-2. In the 15 games in which they fell below that mark, they were 8-7.

And more often than not, the key to Georgetown’s long-range attack has been fifth-year senior swingman Darrel Owens. Unlike Georgetown’s other perimeter options, the 6-foot-7 Owens has the size to get his shot at any time. Owens attempted a team-high 121 3s this season and matched sophomore point guard Jonathan Wallace with 47 3-pointers.

“All the really good teams, the teams who are capable of going deep into this tournament, have guys who can hit deep shots,” Thompson said. “And there’s no question that when [Owens] has played well this year is when we’ve looked our best.”

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