A score by Louisville and the fun begins for Georgetown.
The Cardinals, rather than retreat into their defensive half of the court, stay up, arms in the air, feet moving wherever Georgetown’s guards go.
For the Hoyas, a quick inbound, usually to junior guard Chris Wright, is followed by a quick move off the dribble to beat the defender, then maybe a behind-the-back dribble or a cross-court pass to sophomore guard Jason Clark. And just like that, the Hoyas have broken Louisville’s press.
The focal point of Tuesday’s victory surely was junior guard Austin Freeman’s 29 points and the second-half defensive effort of the Hoyas, but lost in the shuffle is just how well the Hoyas have been able to break opposing presses this season.
Whether it was Villanova, a desperate Duke or the patient Pitino press, the Hoyas have made breaking the press look as easy as taking the ball up uncontested.
The most important reason for that is Wright.
The guard’s offensive output on Thursday was far from spectacular, but rather than let the point column affect his entire game, Wright buckled down and took it upon himself to break the press.
“I thought Chris in particular,” Head Coach John Thompson III said when asked about who performed well against the press. “I thought Chris did a terrific job for 40 minutes of handling Louisville’s pressure.”
Wright said the press is something that he’s focused on since last season.
“With me first off, last year was my first year and the press was kind of – they were different,” he said. “They had a lot of different schemes. So what I tried to do over the summer, and looking at film, was pay attention to what they were doing and seeing different ways I could break the press. I think myself, and Jason as well, did a good job of breaking that press and not trying to get too many turnovers.”
Clark said breaking the press has been a focus of the entire team.
“We worked on it,” he said. “We’ve been working on the press a lot in practice even if it’s not coming up. We’ve basically been focusing on owning our own space and not letting people take the ball.”
And Freeman, who has been the beneficiary of his teammates’ success against the press, doesn’t hesitate to give credit where it’s due.
“It’s really good to have guards like that who can break the press,” he said.
There isn’t too much to the Georgetown man-to-man press break. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles. If you’re not going to trap the ball, then Georgetown will let it become a one-on-one break. The Hoyas inbound the ball and if the receiver can beat his man on the dribble then more power to him. If not, then across the court is another guard ready to take his man one-on-one.
There’s not much to it, but the Hoyas make it work. Also, the way the Hoyas did it against Louisville was impressive because they got to the timeline quickly, giving themselves more time on the shot clock to run their offense.
“I don’t know Coach Pitino,” Wright said. “But I feel like it’s more of a press to slow you down and take some time off of the shot clock just to speed you up. They do harass you, but it’s more of a press to get some time off of the shot clock.”
A lot is made of the Hoyas’ slow tempo offense of reads and progressions, and just how much of the shot clock they need to run their sets. Probably too much is made of it because even on the occasions when the Hoyas had 25 seconds left on the clock when they started the possession, they were able to run their offense and get good looks.
“[Louisville’s] strength through the years not only has been their press, but because of their press, it then takes you three, four, five, seven seconds to get organized when you cross halfcourt,” Thompson said. “Then all of a sudden there’s nine seconds on the shot clock and you’re just now getting into your offense, whatever that may be. That’s one of the goals of their press as much as to get a turnover in the backcourt, and I think our guards did a very good job of not only beating their pressure but then making sure we got into our early offense and initiating our sets quickly.”
Then again, it doesn’t take very long for Freeman to come off of a screen and drain a three.
“It’s not changing anything,” Wright said about the offense after breaking the press. “It’s just execute and if you see openings and it’s something we’ve been doing this year, just attack whenever you can. You have to stay aggressive. You can’t get defensive on offense.”
That has been the biggest difference between the Hoyas this season versus last. Besides their first 70 minutes against the Syracuse zone – and that is certainly one large, glaring exception – the Hoyas haven’t let opponents dictate their style of play. In their five losses besides the two to Syracuse, the Hoyas’ problems have been much less about what the other team is doing and more about their own lack of execution.
One thing does seem certain: Against the press, the Hoyas know they can weather any full-court storm.
Ryan Travers is a senior in the College and a former Sports Editor at The Hoya. Follow him on [Twitter](https://twitter.com/illprocedure). He can be reached at traversthehoya.com. Illegal Procedure appears in every Friday issue of Hoya Sports.”