Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the 2004 National Chamionship game was Georgia Tech’s insistence on forcing a fast pace. It was widely regarded as a mistake for the Jackets to avoid creating a halfcourt game. I’m not exactly sure why, because the Jackets could match the Huskies in both athleticism and depth. But did the Jackets play too fast – and if so, was this a mistake?
Here are the pre-tourney Georgia Tech games that involved the fastest pace, based on calculated possessions, and how the Jackets fared:
@ North Carolina (91 possessions) L 103-88 vs. Connecticut @ MSG (84) W 77-61 vs. Duke (81) L 82-74 @ Cornell (81) W 90-69 vs. Maryland (80) W 81-71 vs. UNC (77) W 88-77
Now the slowest paced games…
vs. Duke @ Greensboro (64) L 85-71 @ Clemson (66) W 79-60 vs. NC St. (67) L 79-69 @ NC St. (67) L 76-72 @ Georgia (67) L 83-80 @ Wake Forest (68) W 73-66
It appears that the Jackets were more comfortable with the faster pace, even against elite competition. Their first meeting against UConn was the 2nd fastest paced game they played. Against Duke, their worst effort came in the slowest paced game of the 3 meetings, in the ACC tournament. Their win at Durham was the 7th fastest game they played.
Now let’s check out how UConn fared in similar games.
@ Syracuse (60) L 67-56 @ Villanova (60) W 75-74 vs. Pittsburgh (61) W 61-58 vs. Yale (62) W 70-60 vs. West Virginia (63) W 88-58 vs. Notre Dame (63) W 61-50
vs. Iona (89) W 104-54 vs. Sacred Heart (85) W 111-64 vs. Ball State (84) W 101-62 vs. Georgia Tech @ MSG (84) L 77-61 @ North Carolina (83) L 86-83 @ Rice (82) W 92-83 vs. Oklahoma (78) W 86-59 vs. Nevada (77) W 93-79
Certainly UConn was uncomfortable with a deliberate pace. The Yale game raised red flags with all sorts of observers that the Huskies were undeserving of their preseason #1 ranking. The late-season loss to Syracuse and the close call against ‘Nova were surprising. Yet the Huskies also were human at the frenetic pace, losing to both Georgia Tech and UNC, the 2 fastest games they played against decent competition.
All in all, I think the case that Georgia Tech should have been more patient is a weak one. I doubt Paul Hewitt even considered doing anything other that letting his team play its usual game. They proved they could beat UConn with their running style earlier in the season, and the trio of games against Duke demonstrated that a faster pace gave them a better chance of success. There was the sweep by NC State and the shocking loss against Georgia to demonstrate that a slower pace could lead to disaster.
The game turned into a disaster anyway from the Tech perspective. UConn was a far superior team that would have beaten Tech regardless of what style the Jackets wanted to play.
For the record, the championship game had 76 possessions, 8 fewer than the regular season matchup. So maybe Georgia Tech was too patient.