Saturday, January 29, 2011
Don't forget about Austin Freeman
By Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- You forget.
With Kemba Walker trying to outjimmer the Jimmer every night and the topsy-turvy Big East spin-cycling teams into a muddled mess, you forget that Austin Freeman was named the league’s preseason player of the year.
Then the senior comes along and shakes the cobwebs from your brain with this performance on Saturday: 30 points, six assists, 10 of Georgetown’s final 12 points, and the assist on the other basket in a gut-check 69-66 Hoya win against Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center.
Austin Freeman's 30 points and last-minute heroics helped key Georgetown's victory over Villanova.
Now let’s get this out of the way. Freeman isn’t going to be the conference’s player of the year. Barring a cataclysmic disaster in the next month, Walker is the surest bet since Secretariat at the Belmont.
But one shining star doesn’t necessarily eclipse all of the others and there’s no way Freeman ought to be in anyone’s backseat.
“Austin Freeman in most situations is unflappable,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “So the last three minutes of the game were only indicative of what he’s done the last four years. They’re running, trapping and making it hard to do what you want to do, so you put the ball in his hands because good things happen.”
The Hoyas were in need of some good things. Georgetown started the league season 1-4, and even though they have ripped off three victories in a row, they were wins with an asterisk. Three of the four came against the league’s bottom-feeders -- Rutgers, DePaul and Seton Hall -- with sliding St. John’s being the lone exception. Those four teams compiled a combined record of 35-21. The teams that beat Hoyas, on the other hand, boast a 60-20 record.
In other words, not much to hang your hat on.
But the same team that nosedived into disaster two seasons ago -- from 10-1 to 16-15 -- has learned not to fret.
“They realize now that there is time to climb out,” Thompson said. “There’s no panic.”
Austin Freeman Loves Facing Villanova
In Austin Freeman's past three games against Villanova, the 6-foot-3 senior has averaged almost 26 points a game while shooting better than 56 percent from the floor. Saturday, he put up 30 on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the line.
They take the cue from Freeman. The guard won the game not once, but twice for Georgetown.
Buried in the corner, and practically sitting on the laps of his walk-on teammates, he buried a jumper with three seconds left on the shot clock and 43 ticks on the game clock to put the Hoyas up two.
And Freeman’s reaction? We’re still looking for it. Unflappable doesn’t do the senior justice. Flat line may be better.
Thirty points in a hostile environment against your longtime rival? Accounting for 43 percent of your team’s offense?
“I just want to play well in every game,” he said. “It isn’t about Villanova or Syracuse or anybody. I just want to play well.”
Playing well is the formula that Villanova is searching for right now. After starting 16-1, the Wildcats are now 17-4. Philadelphia fans have started to collectively gasp and are muttering, "not again."
In the previous season, Nova started 20-1 and finished 25-8. The early expectations built on a ranking that soared as high as No. 2 fizzled into a coughing and sputtering finish. A year after their Final Four run, the second-seeded Wildcats barely escaped Robert Morris in the first round and were quickly sent packing by Saint Mary’s in the second.
This season, Villanova has partnered an eye-opening win at Syracuse with back-to-back losses at Providence and at home to Georgetown, losing three times in the past 12 days.
“I don’t know if this team has a personality yet,” Nova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve got to get one but I do think we’re in a better place than last year. We’re closer to being the kind of team we want to be. We just have to get there.”
What Wright wants Villanova to be, what he always has wanted Villanova to be, is a team that relies on its defense and not on its offense. The Wildcats have gotten away from that a little bit in the past two seasons. The D is better but the Cats are still fairly easy to figure out: when they don’t shoot well, they don’t win.
That may sound simplistic -- score more and you win, duh -- but it’s not. In the past Nova could win games when it didn’t score well or easily, using its scrappy defense to keep things together.
This season that hasn’t been the case. In the Wildcats’ 17 wins, they are averaging 78.5 points and shooting 46.8 percent.
After starting 16-1, Villanova has now lost three of its past four games.
In their four losses, they’re scoring only 65.2 points and shooting just 35.7 percent.
“We’ve got to bring it with our defense,” guard Corey Fisher said. “If we can do that, the rest will take of itself. We’re a good team and to be a good team, you have to be able to win when you’re not shooting well.’’
Fisher, though, insists he’s not worried.
He and the Wildcats are no more wringing their hands over their skid than the Hoyas are celebrating their win streak.
Not in the Big East.
The league is smoke and mirrors, what you think is real isn’t.
Just as Villanova was losing to Georgetown, Connecticut was going down at home to Louisville, two games after Louisville lost to Providence.
Syracuse looked unbeatable and then it looked awful.
Pitt never loses at home -- except when Notre Dame, which never wins on the road, comes to town.
“Jamie Dixon said last week, and he’s right, that in the first part of the season, Big East teams beat up on the rest of the country and then we beat each other up,” Thompson said. “People start questioning and thinking, what’s wrong with this team? There’s nothing wrong. This league is outstanding. It’s crazy.”
So crazy and so outstanding that you can temporarily forget about someone as good as Freeman.
Dana O’Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.