Monday Bullets

Some stuff to keep you entertained in a week-long layoff until Saturday’s game at Pitt.

Polls. A decent road win and a shaky escape at home aren’t losses, which is more than several teams previously ranked ahead of Georgetown can say. Thanks to other squads’ losses, the Hoyas, previously ranked #10 in the AP and #12 in the coaches’ poll, ascend to #9 in the AP and #10 in the coaches’ poll.

Anti-New Jersey Conspiracy. Much was made in the wake of Saturday’s win over Rutgers that the Scarlet Knights were whistled for 29 fouls, while the Hoyas got tagged for just 14. The foul discrepancy became a particular issue because Georgetown prevailed by just two, and the Scarlet Knights were called for a pair of critical fouls in the waning minutes: an offensive foul by Eli Carter, who pushed off of Jason Clark to get free well beyond the three-point arc; and a holding foul on Mike Poole in the lane with eight seconds remaining, which sent Otto Porter to the line for the game-clinching points.

Admittedly, there were a ton of fouls called on Saturday. But Hoya fans need not worry that they unjustly stole one.

At this point, Rutgers complaining about those fouls seems a bit disingenuous. The Scarlet Knights foul at the highest rate in the Big East (and, save for a woeful Texas Tech squad, the highest rate of any major conference team). They have been whistled for 15, 11, and 8 more fouls than their opponents in previous games this year. Running the numbers differently, the Knights have been whistled for 20 or more fouls in the majority of their games thus far, and average being charged with more than 24 fouls per game. (By contrast, the Hoyas have hit the 20-foul mark just 4 times in 19 games, and eclipsed that number just once, not coincidentally in a 12-point loss to West Virginia; Georgetown averages around 17.5 fouls per game.) Coach Mike Rice, who repeatedly questioned the officiating after the game, can scarcely be surprised by Saturday’s result: it’s been happening all year.

In addition, gripes about foul calls don’t pass the eye test. It is evident to anyone who watched Saturday’s game (and, I presume based on the numbers, other Rutgers games this year) that the Scarlet Knights are a very tough defensive team, at least in part because they’re so physical. Were they less physical, they almost surely would be less effective defenders. Unfortunately, they can’t have the benefit of physical defensive play–opponents’ missed shots and turnovers–without the inherent risk that physical play will frequently cross the line. If that were the case, I’d take all of Georgetown’s sweet backdoor cuts without the turnovers resulting from forced passes into traffic, please. Does Rice eat cheesesteaks at every meal then complain when he packs on the pounds?

And finally, let’s address the last two fouls. Those particular fouls–with Carter fully extending his arms to get separation from Clark, and Poole wrapping his arm around Porter’s waist–are exactly the type of noticeable violations that, whatever the actual harm inflicted, inevitably draw the attention of referees. Still, some accounts imply that those sort of calls should not be made late in a tie game. Hoya fans might be sympathetic to this line of thinking: recall that in the Alabama game, Clark got whistled for a questionable foul with 13 seconds remaining, leading to free throws that, but for Hollis Thompson’s heroics, might have given the Tide the game. Nevertheless, a swallow-your-whistle approach would lead to far worse problems. If the officials should not call fouls as the rules prescribe, what should be the standard? Only call flagrant fouls? Blow the whistle only for blood? Particularly in a game that was called closely from the get-go, calling fouls the same way throughout the game, including in the final minutes, was best.

Ultimately, Rutgers is a very good defensive team, and at this rate will be a contender in the conference next year or the one after that. As long as the Knights play defense like they did Saturday, they’re likely to frustrate opposing offenses. And who knows, as their stature in the conference rises, they may even get a few calls.

The Week Ahead. Without a mid-week game to cover, we’ll be taking a broader look at what lies ahead for the Hoyas, and at what’s going on in the rest of the Big East. Saturday’s win put Georgetown just five (not counting the win over D-II Chaminade) short of the magical 20-win marker that generally ensures entry into the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the rest of the conference is messier than usual: Georgetown is one of five teams with two conference losses apiece, just a game behind Syracuse, the Big East leader. Check back throughout the week for updates, then Friday for a preview of the Pitt game.

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