I may be biased, but the Belmont vs. Georgetown game should be one of the most exciting games this weekend. This would be the college football match-up equivalent of Alabama or LSU against Oklahoma State. On one side you have a high powered offense- on the other, you have a “grind it out” style defense.
Every reference to statistics, unless I say otherwise, comes from this source.
I’m going to take a slightly unpopular stance and start by giving you a grain of salt. Georgetown is a very good team. Like, three seed in the tournament, fourth in the Big East type good. In all likelihood, if Belmont played in the Big East this year, they might have finished second to last at best.
But you wouldn’t know that by comparing these teams’ offensive statistics. Offensively, Belmont is in another stratosphere. The Bruins rank fourth nationally in points per game (81.5), fifth in effective shooting percentage (56%), fourth in assists per game (17.4) and third in points per possession (1.17). In each of those statistical categories, the Hoyas rank 142nd (69.1 ppg), 79th (51.5 eFG%), 95th (13.7 APG), and 63rd (1.07 ppp). If only these were the only statistics that mattered, right?
Now, you Hoya people will be tempted to say, “Hey, we’re in the Big East. You’re in the Atlantic Sun. (#truth) Of course your offense is going to look good.” First of all, thank you for the compliment. Secondly, you’re right; Belmont’s strength of schedule is nowhere near Georgetown’s but I think equally as important as WHO the Bruins played is HOW they played. Regardless of WHO they played, Belmont still tallied an average winning margin of 19.3 points on the season. Additionally, the Bruins scored 81 in Memphis, had a 52.6 eFG% in Cameron, averaged 14 APG in both the Duke and Memphis games and tallied 1.02 PPP in the same. Belmont’s numbers didn’t change materially against far superior talent to the remainder of their opponents.
My point is this: these numbers serve to indicate a particular style of play. Belmont likes to score a lot of points with a lot of different people, take care of the ball and be as efficient as possible. Belmont will do everything in its power to dictate the tempo of this game (as will Georgetown). If the Bruins can bait the Hoyas into an up-and-down type game, that style would appear to favor the Bruins.
The Three Ball
Another important area to look at is how each of these teams score. It’s no mystery that Belmont likes to shoot 3s. We know that on average, the Bruins score more points than the Hoyas, but how those points are collected is also vastly different. 32.4 per cent of Belmont’s points come from made three pointers, good for 59th in the country. For the Hoyas, only 24.2 per cent of their points come from the three which ranks 240th nationally. Obviously, the outside game is much more important to the effectiveness of Belmont’s offense than it is to Georgetown. As Nick will tell you shortly, this is bad news as Georgetown’s defense, especially their long range defense, is what has earned the Hoyas a three seed in this tournament.
The Princeton Offense
Georgetown runs what is known as the Princeton offense. You’ve probably heard of it before, but I’d be surprised if you could define it or even describe it. I certainly couldn’t. So I’ll borrow from the master. Yesterday in an interview with the Midday 180 on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Rick Byrd spoke briefly about the Hoya’s style of offense. “It’s not something that this team, anybody on this team has seen,” Coach said, “and it’s so different. I mean, the whole idea behind the Princeton offense is ‘here is how people are taught to play defensively so let’s do everything different’….So you’ve got to re-learn, you’ve got to almost teach new habits.” It’s not as though Coach Byrd expects the team to be experts in the system by Friday. “We’ll give up some back cut layups, you can count on it. They’re just too good at it.”
Different may be the understatement of the year. Belmont fans are used to seeing the ball be distributed by Kerron or Drew, our point guards. But in the Princeton system, the post man or center becomes the hub of the offense. The center doesn’t necessarily score the most points, Georgetown’s Henry Sims does score 11.7 per game, but he will lead the team in assists. Sims averages 3.4 assists per game. He’s collected 107 over the season. Compare that with Belmont’s bigs who have a COMBINED total 29 assists this season. Sims also takes care of the ball. His 1.22 assist to turnover ratio proves that Georgetown knows what it’s doing in terms of the Princeton.
Finally, the motion that the Princeton system creates allows for a greater rate of offensive rebounds and thus, second chance points. With multiple players running toward the basket at any given time, offensive players have a greater chance of being in position for a rebound as compared with a pick and roll or isolation-type offense. Freshman forward Otto Porter averages two offensive rebounds per game and Sims will add 1.9 on average as well. However, as a team, the Hoyas collect 11.4 offensive rebounds per game – same as Belmont. Regardless of the season averages, Mick, Blake and Scott will have their hands full keeping Georgetown off the offensive boards.
Assists or The Motion Offense: A Thesis
One stat line that jumped out at me as I was looking at the comparison between Belmont and Georgetown is assists.
Now as The Byrd Cage’s Nick Broadhead put it, “Assists are a tricky statistic.” For the setup, I’m going to borrow from an email thread Nick and I worked on this morning. Nick writes,
“My take on assists is it is totally dependent on what type of offense you have. Rick Byrd has perfected the motion and recruits as such. He doesn’t bring in players who have the ability to create in one on one situations. If this Belmont team isn’t moving the basketball, it isn’t scoring. I feel like the Big East teams, from what I have seen, do not execute a motion offense with the precision of a Belmont or a Duke or a Vandy. They tend to stand around and attack one on one. And that is the beauty of the motion. That’s what Bobby Knight always used to preach. Motion is hard to defend. So, obviously a good motion offense has to have a high assist rate or it is no longer ‘good’.”
Now, let’s look at the numbers. Statistically, Belmont runs one of the best motion offenses in the country, thus, the assist rate is very high at 17.4 per game, 4th in the country. Typically, that much ball movement also tends to lead to turnovers. However, this Belmont team has a lower assist-to-turnover ratio than only eight other teams in the country. As Nick will point out shortly, Georgetown’s defensive strength doesn’t necessarily come from its ability to create turnovers. The Hoyas defense averages 11.4 assists allowed and a 0.87 assist-to-turnover ratio on defense.
With this in mind, I looked a little closer. Since Georgetown averages 11.4 assists, I looked at their record with 11 or fewer vs. record with 12 or more assists. The Hoyas are 14-1 when they hold their opponent to 11 or fewer assists, but the record drops to 9-7 with 12 or more assists. Additionally, when the Hoyas have given up more than Belmont’s average number of assists (17.4/gm) they are 0-2.
Then I went one step further. In the 16 games in which Georgetown allowed 12 or more assists their opponents exceeded the Hoyas’ average three point field goal percentage (27%) eleven times, exceeded the average field goal percentage (38.7%) thirteen times and scored more than the average points per game (59.2 ppg) twelve times.
Assists are an often overlooked statistic and, tricky as they may be, could well turn out to be a lynch pin for a Belmont victory.
Let’s close where we began: with a grain of salt. As prolific as Belmont’s motion offense may be and as much as the numbers may appear to have held against Duke and Memphis, Belmont has not played any team as defensively potent as Georgetown this season. Don’t expect Belmont to come out and run over the Hoyas – it won’t happen. This will not be an easy game for Belmont to win, however, if Belmont plays the style its used to and executes to the level its used to then it will also not be an easy game for Georgetown to win.
This is why we watch. I could break down statistics until 3pm eastern Friday but it won’t matter. At the end of the day, the players, coaches, practices, weight sessions, free throw reps, late nights and early mornings are what will decide this game.
Go Belmont. Beat Georgetown.
The Defensive Side
Belmont will not face the most dynamic offense in the country.
They will, however, be faced with the challenge of trying to score against the most efficient defensive club in the Big East, according to Kenpom (which adjusted points allowed per possession). The Hoyas have allowed a measly .91 points per possession from their opponents. That number looks even smaller when you see that the Hoyas only average 64.5 possessions a game. The Bruins have had no problems scoring all season putting home 81 points per game (1.17 points per possession) but will be forced to earn every bucket they get on Friday afternoon. So what makes this Hoya defense so dominant?
One thing a mid major is always concerned about going into a tournament game is taking care of the basketball and placing high value on every possession. What sparked Belmont’s historic season last year was their ability to force turnovers. It generated great offensive output while obviously limiting the opponents looks at the basket. Belmont fans have seen first hand what forcing turnovers can create. Georgetown, however, does not depend on the turnover for great defense. The Hoyas are only forcing their opponents to turn the ball over 20.3 percent of their possessions placing them right in the middle of the country in that particular category. They do not produce a large number of steals either. Jason Clark leads the Hoyas with 1.67 steals per game adding to the 6.2 steals per game for the team. Belmont’s experience at the guard position will allow for quality ball control. Will that turn into quality looks at the basket?
The percentages say that a lower turnover rate will produce more looks at the hoop. Sounds simple, right? Well, Georgetown has always had long, athletic basketball players. The Hoya program has seen great athletes like Patrick Ewing, Jeff Green, and Greg Monroe. This version of the Hoyas has Henry Sims, a 6’ 10” senior center out of Baltimore who was one of the top shot-blockers in the Big East this season averaging 1.4 blocks per game. After a season of watching Anthony Davis play, that does not sound overly impressive. But considering the strength of schedule and the quality big men Henry Sims has faced this season, Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders can expect to have their hands full below the basket. Simply put, it is not easy to score the ball inside against this team. Georgetown’s opponents only produced 54 percent of their points inside the arc, one of the lower point distribution percentages in the country. While Belmont may be able to control the ball, scoring down low may be more difficult.
Effective Field Goal Percentage
Belmont, like most good mid majors, can shoot the daylights out of the basketball. Led by Drew Hanlen, the Bruins are 5th in the nation in effective field goal percentage at 56 percent. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Hoyas have made their living at defending the floor. The length of the perimeter defense for the Hoyas has caused troubles for teams all season. This season teams have shot a dreadful 43.2 percent effective from the field against the Hoyas. That is good enough for the 6th best field goal defense in the nation. They force tough shots and do not allow many easy buckets. This stingy defense also posts the best 3-point defense in the country (Debate is still ongoing as to whether defense really affects 3P FG percentage ). Teams shot 27 percent against this Georgetown defense from deep, not a stat that will bring a smile to Rick Byrd’s face. The Bruins depend on the three ball for over 37 percent of their offensive output. Finding those wide-open looks will not be easy. This is what makes this defense dominant.
One Good Defense
To sum it up, this Georgetown defense is good. Really good. The Bruins offense is predicated on post touches opening up the outside game. The Bruin big men dominated the Atlantic Sun conference this season. At times commanding double teams, this allowed the Belmont guards to shake free and get open looks from behind the arc. With the athleticism and length of this Hoya roster, doubles on the post will not be in the defensive game plan. Coach Thompson will force Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders to generate offense down low and he will not allow Ian Clark and Drew Hanlen to get hot from deep. If the Hoyas can stop the dribble penetration of Kerron Johnson, it will be a very long afternoon for the Bruins. Hot shooting early is a must for the Bruins if an upset is to take place. Seton Hall laid the blueprint for how to take care of the Hoyas.
Now the Bruins must execute.
Belmont plays Georgetown in Columbus, Ohio on Friday. Tip-off is 3:10 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on TRU tv.