The Carrier Dome was rocking on Saturday afternoon as the Syracuse Orange routed the Georgetown Hoyas 77-70.
But the game was not as close as the score might indicate. Syracuse jumped out to an early 22 point lead behind solid play by Paul Harris, Donte' Green, and Arinze Onuaku.
The lead was cut to 16 by halftime, and the Hoyas managed to get within five late in the second half. But the Orange were able to pull away with solid defense and clutch free throws.
But why was Syracuse able to completely overmatch the eighth-ranked Hoyas?
1. The 2-3 Zone
No team in college plays a better zone than Syracuse, and Jim Boeheim has coached this defense to perfection. Georgetown looked confused early and failed to get the ball into the hands of their big man, Roy Hibbert. The Hoyas passed the ball around the perimeter and would usually have to settle for a long jumper. Later in the game, Georgetown worked the ball inside-out creating either an easy play for Hibbert, or an open three for one of the guards. But the aggressive zone early set the tone.
Just nine minutes into the game, the Hoyas had already committed 9 turnovers while only converting three field goals. As the commentators said, "It's never good when you have triple the number of turnovers as field goals made."
The 2-3 zone forced Georgetown to continue to pass the ball, since open shots were at a premium. The guards seemed reluctant to shoot early on, even though later in the game both Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp were hitting threes consistently.
3. Roy Hibbert's Foul Trouble
Hibbert picked up two early fouls in the first half and had to sit for several minutes before getting back on the floor a few minutes before halftime. Hibbert picked up his third early in the second half and remained tentative while defending the rim, allowing Onuaku and Harris to convert easy buckets.
But another problem with Hibbert's defense is that he feels he always needs to help near the top of the key. Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn beat Wallace off the dribble numerous times, and Hibbert continually came up top to help out, resulting in either a Hibbert foul (since he can't stay with Flynn) or an easy lay-up as the rim was left wide open. It's weird to say, but Hibbert would be better off if he did less on defense. His main job should be to protect the rim.
There's no defensive three-second call in college, so he can stay in the paint for as long as he wants. All that he should be worried about is not letting the big man score and grabbing the defensive rebounds. Hibbert's tendency to run out and the three-point line has never worked out.
4. The Carrier Dome Energy
Syracuse-Georgetown games are always heated, especially after the Hoyas' overtime comeback win at the Verizon Center on MLK day. The Orange had something to prove today, and the crowd was not going to be gentle on G'Town. The defense set the tone early, and Donte' Green had three three-pointers in the first half igniting the 30,000+ plans.
Paul Harris led the Orange with 22 points and eight rebounds, including several big free throws toward the end of the game before the fans stormed the court. Georgetown was able to take the crowd out of the game when they cut the lead to just five with a few minutes to go in the game, but Syracuse always seemed to get the big bucket when they needed it.
The Hoyas will still end up with a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, and they play good enough defense to make a run. But unless they address the problems of being passive on offense, and teaching Hibbert to stay at home on D, they could see an early exit. Georgetown doesn't blow teams out due to its slow style of play, so they are definitely vulnerable to an upset.
Congrats to the Orange for an impressive victory. This game will go a long way as Syracuse right now is on the bubble of getting into the tournament. If Cuse can play this way consistently, we should see them still competing tourney time. Just think of what this team would be if Eric Devendorf and Andy Routins were healthy. If the Orange don't get in this year, they'll definitely be dangerous in the 2008-09 season.