Beach's Bits - Beating the Bulldogs

As match ups go, the No. 7-seed Washington's second-round NCAA Tournament game against the 10th-seeded Georgia Bulldogs is a favorable one. That is, of course, assuming the Pac-10 Tournament Champions show up Friday, rather than their significantly less impressive alter egos. The Bulldogs are a post-oriented, slower-paced program that takes pride in their sturdy defense and efficient offense.

They're considered average athletically, though wing Travis Leslie is the clear exception. Their offense pounds the paint and they don't shoot it from three very often. When they do, they don't shoot it with a high degree of accuracy.

But what they are is big, and that's been a challenge for Washington at times this season. Washington is actually well-equipped to counter Georgia's offensive options, but scoring the ball in the interior against their tightly packed zone could be an issue. Six-foot-ten forward Trey Thompkins is a two-time, All-SEC Conference junior who also happens to be the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He's solidly built and long, averaging 1.7 blocked shots per game. He and 270-pound center Jeremy Price actively fill the paint for the Bulldogs, making lane penetration a serious challenge. They're especially effective when in their zone, which the Huskies will undoubtedly see as Georgia Head Coach Mark Fox likes to constantly switch between zone and man-to-man defensive principles.

That being said, here are some of Washington's main talking points, as they try and combat the 'Dogs and move on to the third round of the Big Dance.
1) Post defense must be stout.

Georgia's offense is almost entirely dependent on interior scoring. Offensively they don't do much else, so it goes without saying that the Huskies win if they successfully control the paint. The Huskies have the bodies to counter Georgia inside as long as they avoid foul trouble. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Darnell Gant are both athletic and skilled enough defenders to guard the offensively-versatile Thompkins, who is a threat just about anywhere on the floor. When allowed to establish position in the paint, Thompkins' soft hands make him a dangerous post scorer, and he uses the baby hook quite effectively.

The challenge when guarding Thompkins is that he isn't limited to handling the ball in the paint. He'll isolate on the right wing as the Bulldogs use their flex screen to free Leslie under the hoop for open baskets. That means Washington's post defenders will see extended time defending the open floor as they're drawn away from the basket. They'll also occasionally use Thompkins to bring the ball up the floor, further demonstrating his flexibility.

Aziz N'Daiye will draw defensive duties against Price, who averaged 9.2 points and five rebounds a game. The 6-foot-8 senior isn't a natural scorer, earning most of his buckets off put-backs and open layins, often capitalizing when Thompkins is double-teamed. He's strong, but he's also anchored to the floor, which the 7-foot N'Daiye should be able to handle. The Bulldogs use flex screens to manufacturer open looks in the paint so Washington will be rotating defenders constantly. Unfortunately, the Huskies' pressure defense leaves them vulnerable to back cuts, which is what the Bulldogs offense is designed to exploit. Washington's weak-side help defense is going to have to be at its very best to draw charges and generally alter Georgia's offensive plans.
2) Contain Travis Leslie.

Containing Travis Leslie is going to be a key factor for the Huskies. Standing 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Leslie is an explosively athletic tweener wing blessed with great strength. His 14.5 points per game are impressive, but his 7.2 rebounds a game should tell you plenty about the physical guard. He isn't a huge threat from outside, though he'll knock down the occasional open three when left alone. Where he is tends to do the most damage is under the basket, where he's often left open courtesy of a Jeremy Price screen around the left elbow.

With Thompkins isolated and dragging his defender extended to the three point line, the Huskies weak-side defense will be tested constantly – and that's never been a strength of UW. Leslie is a physical mis-match, a poor man's Rodney Stuckey. The Huskies do have a height advantage on the wing in Justin Holiday – who will no doubt draw Leslie at tip off, as well as C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross and Scott Suggs, but none are physically equipped to stop him underneath if he's allowed to run free. He's also a blur in transition, and like his Husky counterparts, an explosive finisher on the break. Washington will have its hands full with him no doubt, especially on the offensive glass.
3) Hit their threes.

There are two Washington teams that played this season: One that connects from beyond the arc, and the one that doesn't, and they are two dramatically different squads. As stout as the Bulldogs' interior defense is, they aren't nearly as effective defending the perimeter.

Other than Leslie, Georgia's back court isn't very big. With their focus drawn on closing down the paint, that leaves large gaps and open looks outside that can be exploited. Additionally, they don't close on shooters very well - a flaw the Huskies should be able to take advantage of. That is, if they are connecting from outside. Uncontested shots should be there for the taking. Expect a ton of three-point attempts from Washington.

Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas has struggled with teams built similarly to Georgia this season, and he's going to have to rely on his sharp-shooting teammates to generate offense if the dribble penetration isn't there – and there is a good chance it won't be. Any questions about UW's reliance on the three pointer were answered during the Pac-10 Tournament. For better or worse, it's a huge part of their game plan, especially when they are on. If the Huskies are connecting, they usually win, and win big. The Huskies simply have too many weapons for a post-oriented team like Georgia to defend if they get hot from outside, as they did last week.
4) Pressure and deny.

Georgia's back court is their weakness, and compared to their heft up front, it's pretty glaring. They don't have many ball-handlers, and they could be in for a long afternoon with a ballhawk like Venoy Overton providing his trademark pressure. Gerald Robinson is their point guard, averaging 12.2 points and 4.2 assists a game. He's a moderately athletic slasher who does the bulk of his damage attacking the lane, but he's also turnover prone, averaging three turnovers per game. At times he's been a momentum killer due to his sloppy play.

On paper, Dustin Ware appears to be their lone shooter, and the most sure-handed of the Georgia guards. He doesn't bring much to the table offensively, but he's competent and doesn't make many mistakes. The Huskies are going to do everything in their power to keep the ball out of the paint. Expect to see plenty of zone from Washington, as they deny the interior pass, forcing the Bulldogs to earn it from outside. Washington has a glaring advantage in their perimeter play, especially when you look at depth. The Bulldogs simply don't have the athletes, or the numbers, to match up individually with Washington's deep guard rotation. Look for the Huskies to physically overwhelm them with non-stop pressure. What will be interesting to see is if Washington presses after makes. Lorenzo Romar may do it to give his team a jump-start and force tempo. Which brings me to my next point...
5) Push the tempo at every opportunity.

Washington scores in the 80's, the Bulldogs in the 60's; something has got to give. During conference play, opponents did everything they could to slow down the high-octane Huskies; walking the ball up the floor, full-court ball pressure, dropping back offensive rebounders in transition defense while constantly changing defensive schemes. It was all done in an effort to keep Washington off-balance. Georgia ranks 173rd in the country in scoring. They will run the break on occasion, but mostly they walk the ball up the floor and set up their motion. The faster the tempo, the greater Washington's advantage. The Huskies should push the ball at every opportunity, with Overton and Thomas attempting to blast through the paint on the secondary break to get to the rim and draw fouls. If Washington is able to set their tempo and put the Bulldogs on their heels, they'll win handily. Unfortunately, the last time they did that was against California back in February. That shouldn't stop them from trying though, because Georgia doesn't have the depth on the bench to maintain a breakneck pace for 40 minutes, nor do they want to match that kind of pace.
On paper, Washington is easily the superior team. Husky fans, however, have been hearing that all season so any perceived roster superiority means little if Washington doesn't bring their "A" game. And as we've already seen Thursday, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Thankfully, they seemed to right the ship during the Pac-10 Tournament. If that tournament is any indication of how they'll do in this tournament, the Huskies should earn a second-round victory against Georgia, potentially setting up a marquee showdown versus the No. 2-seed North Carolina Tar Heels Sunday night, a virtual home game for UNC.

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