Xavier v. Georgetown: Preview

US PRESSWIRE

Two teams on opposite sides of the bubble square off in a pivotal Big East game.

If you've found your way to this page, you probably don't need too much explanation on why tomorrow morning's game (yes, morning; the game tips at 11:30am local time) is a big one for both involved parties. Because I'm here to help and not judge, though, I'll give you the brief synopsis. Georgetown was a team garnering pre-season mentions as a conference top dog. A little bit of bad luck mixed with a little bit of bad play has conspired to find them floundering near the middle of the conference and probably on the wrong side of the bubble.

Xavier came into the year as a question mark in the league, but they have managed to sink their claws into third place almost in spite of themselves. The final five games of the conference season - @Georgetown, @St. John's, Creighton, @Seton Hall, Villanova - figure to be brutal, and X probably needs to win at least two and maybe three of them to feel comfortable heading into Selection Sunday. The time to make hay is right now for both of these squads.

Team fingerprint:
You don't get to 6-8 in conference without having a solid slice of trouble on both ends, and Georgetown has had just that. Their offense has slid steadily since Big East play began and is now solidly below average. They are 7th in the league in shooting percentage both inside and outside the arc, 6th in free throw percentage, and 7th in OReb%. They're also 6th in turnover percentage, coughing the ball up in almost 18% of their possessions. They only take 30% of their shots from behind the arc, which is obviously something Xavier fans will be keeping an eye on tomorrow.

Defensively, Georgetown has actually done a decent job in forcing bad shots, holding opponents to 46.7% shooting inside the arc and 34.1% outside of it. They are also 3rd in the conference with a block% of 12.4%. Their troubles have come everywhere else. They can't force turnovers at all, and they're 8th in the league in DReb%. They are also 9th in the league in avoiding sending opponents to the line; Georgetown can keep teams from scoring on their first look at the bucket, but they're been bad at limiting the damage anywhere else.

Georgetown's bench has been fairly thin all year, especially at guard, and that has continued through conference play. They also happen to be one of the tallest teams in the league, though it should be noted that their bigs are not as effective as their fan base might hope.

Starters:
The player: 6'2", 175-pound guard Markel Starks
The numbers: 16.5/2.2/3.8 on .409/.307/.835 shooting
More numbers: 25.2% usage rate, 22.9% assist rate
Last time: 19/5/7 on 7-18/3-6/2-2 shooting, 5 TO
The words: Markel Starks is the man in the engine room for Georgetown. He plays well over 90% of the team's minutes, leads the way in assists and assist rate, and still finds time to shoulder the burden of being the team's second-leading scorer. He can get a little trigger-happy even when his shot isn't falling, but he has gone off enough time that it's hard to argue with his "never up, never in" approach to shot selection.

The player: 6'3", 218-pound guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
The numbers: 17.1/4.5/2.8 on .454/.407/.871 shooting
More numbers: 121.5 ORtg, 53.6% EFG%, 5.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes
Last time: 18/3/1 on 7-13/3-5/1-2 shooting
The words: Smith-Rivera, as he demonstrated last time these two teams played, is a pure shooting guard who can get buckets from just about anywhere on the court. His shooting from both pull-ups and behind the arc is an obvious asset, but his physical size and strength set him apart from a lot of other guards in the county. He's borderline elite in drawing contact and getting to the line, and he is powerful enough to finish plays after taking a hit.

The player: 6'7", 225-pound wing Reggie Cameron
The numbers: 4.4/1.5/0.4 on .364/.306/.778 shooting
More numbers: 16.4% usage rate, 2.0 OReb%, 14.3 minutes per game
Last time: 13/4/0 on 5-10/3-6/0-0 shooting
The words: Despite his size, Cameron is a basically negligible force on the glass. Offensively, his role is usually to avoid turnovers and get opportunistic buckets, but he had no problem posting a career high against X while the Muskies stood there and watched him pick off clean looks at the basket. He had a hand in holding Justin Martin to 10 points on 3-10/2-7/2-2 shooting, but we'll see if his defense is up to checking JMart 2.0.

The player: 6'8", 219-pound forward Nate Lubick
The numbers: 5.2/6.0/2.0 on .552/.000/.588 shooting
More numbers: 13.1% usage rate, 3.0% block%, 20.2% DReb%
Last time: 4/2/4 on 2-5/0-0/0-0 shooting, 1 block, 2 steals
The words: Lubick is the Hoyas' most efficient big man, hitting 55.2% of his two-point field goal attempts, but he rarely figures into the flow of the offense. He has scored in double digits just once in Big East play, and it was against Butler, so it barely counts. He has also taken more than five field goal attempts just once in conference play. He mostly roams around cleaning the defensive glass and trying not to turn the ball over on the rare occasions that he touches it.

The player:
6'9", 223-pound forward Mikael Hopkins
The numbers: 6.5/5.7/1.3 on .423/.250/.592 shooting
More numbers: 12.3% OReb%, 19% DReb%, 9.1% block%
Last time: 2/4/1 on 1-2/0-0/0-2 shooting, 4 blocks
The words: Hopkins is Georgetown's best rebounder and their only viable threat on the offensive glass. He's also a monster in the lane on defense, turning away opponents' shots at a rate that has him hanging around the top 50 in the country. On offense, he's mostly a non-entity beyond his aforementioned work in retrieving his teammates' misses.

Reserves:
Six-foot-five wing Jabril Trawick comes off the bench to get 8 points per game on .523/.269/.704. He's not a great passer or ball-handler, but he is probably the closest thing to a reserve guard that Georgetown has, which is why Smith-Rivera and Starks are both in the top 100 in percentage of minutes played. Aaron Bowen is a 6'6" forward who gets 5.6/3.6/1.0 in 19.5 minutes per game. He is a sticky defender both on the ball and in the passing lanes, and he'll likely be tasked with guarding JMart if he gets going. Finally, Moses Ayegba is a 6'9", 247-pound body who plays to spell the bigs and rebound.

Three questions:
-Will fatigue be a factor? Georgetown is not a very deep team, as discussed above, and the schedule makers did them no favors with this game. After a 9pm tip at Seton Hall on Thursday, they'll have to get home and get ready to play Xavier before noon on Saturday. After the drubbing they received stretched late into Thursday night, the Hoyas will step onto the court against Xavier about 36 hours after the final horn at Seton Hall. It's not the end of the world, but it's certainly far from ideal for a team with a thin bench contesting a pivotal game late in February.

-Who guards DSR? Smith-Rivera is far and away the most efficient and consistent offensive threat Georgetown has, and he can put up a lot of buckets in a hurry if left to his own devices. His size and skill make him a tough matchup for Xavier, as he has three inches of height on Dee and weighs almost 30 pounds more than Semaj. He ripped through St. John's for 31 points on just 12 shot attempts earlier in the year; Coach Mack surely has something up his sleeve to make DSR's life hard tomorrow.

-Does Georgetown have anything left? There was a fairly clear consensus on Twitter last night that Georgetown would be plenty riled up for the game Saturday. What's less clear is whether or not they will be able to do anything about it. After reeling off four straight wins - including an impressive neutral-site victory over Michigan State - they have lost back-to-back road games by a total of 37 points. If they have a last gasp in them, coming home will certainly help, but this might be a team whose tournament hopes are irretrievably lost.

Three keys:
-Come out strong. Last time these two teams played, Xavier wallowed around ineffectually for 25 minutes while Georgetown built a 17-point lead. Xavier eventually came back to win quite handily, but they can't afford to do that tomorrow. Both teams need this game too badly, and Xavier has to avoid giving up big runs like they have made a habit of doing. The Muskies came out in attack mode against DePaul to seize control of each half as it began, and putting the home team on its heels from the word go would be a huge boost.

-Gang rebound. Of the 31 Georgetown misses that resulted in rebounds in the first game, Xavier collected 25 of them. Rebounding has been an Achilles heel for the Hoyas in Big East play, as they are 6th in the league in OReb% and 9th in DReb%. Xavier needs to kill Georgetown's possessions with defensive boards and extend their own with offensive boards from start to finish. Hopkins and Lubick can hold their own on the glass, but the rest of the Hoyas have enough trouble on the boards that a team effort from Xavier can overwhelm them.

-Get shots up within the offense. The goal of any offense is to put players in positions from which they can attempt to score. When the plan short-circuits before that point, possessions begin to return fruitless, as Xavier went out of its way to demonstrate against Marquette. At least when a shot - even a bad one - goes up, everyone has a purpose. The team knows who is supposed to run to the glass and who is supposed to cut off the fast break. This Georgetown defense will allow second shots or send you to the line if given the opportunity, but turnovers and sloppy play will derail the advantages Xavier should hold.

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