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Xavier v. Georgetown: preview, matchups, keys to the game

There’s a clear break between the top six and the bottom four in the Big East this year. This is a game between two teams on the wrong side of it.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Georgetown
“Do you practice that shot? When?”
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier and Georgetown mirror each other in a lot of ways. Both are programs with proud histories going through forgettable years. Both are transitioning to coaches that are both new and legacy at the same time, with Patrick Ewing’s ties to Georgetown going back to his playing days and Travis Steele’s having spent more than a decade on staff at Xavier. Both are preaching patience to fan bases that haven’t had to exercise that quality very much.

Georgetown is sitting at 1-1 in conference, coming off a loss to St. John’s in a game that the Hoyas led by 4 with 17 seconds left. That hasn’t been their only disappointment of the year, as they also dropped a game at hated rival Syracuse despite having led by 15 in the second half. They’re currently 11-4 on the year and, like Xavier, lacking any sort of tournament resume.

Team fingerprint

Georgetown plays attractive offensive basketball, working at the 13th-fastest tempo in the nation and sharing the ball very well. They’re a tick above average as a whole in terms of shooting, and they favor two-point attempts slightly more than the average team. Where they excel is the free throw line, getting there at an elite rate and converting on 73% of their attempts.

The defense is a step behind the offense thanks to two areas of failure: forcing turnovers and defending the arc. They’re easily in the top 50 in the country in DReb% and in not sending opponents to the line. The farther away from the basket you are, the easier a time you’ll have against the Hoyas. In their last three losses, Georgetown has forced just 30 TO in 227 possessions.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
James Akinjo Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Freshman Class Junior
6'0", 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
14.2/2.6/4.4 Game line 12.6/2.9/5.4
0.392/0.377/0.814 Shooting line 0.37/0.273/0.688
Akinjo can shoot it from outside a little bit and is excellent at the line, but struggles when he has to put the ball on the floor to score.
Greg Malinowski Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Sophomore
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'3", 200
7.6/3.7/2.1 Game line 12.8/4.9/2.9
0.531/0.489/0.821 Shooting line 0.517/0.447/0.791
Malinowski is a deadeye shot who picks his spots. If he gets free, like he did when he torched Butler for 26, he can do some real damage.
Jamorko Pickett Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Sophomore Class Senior
6'8", 205 Measurements 6'4", 193
5.5/4.5/1.6 Game line 4.5/3.1/0.6
0.342/0.347/0.6 Shooting line 0.421/0.217/0.679
Pickett is one of those guys who seems like he should be better. He's not though, and he's actually even less efficient than he was last year. He will erase some shots, though.
Josh LeBlanc Power Forward Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'8", 205 Measurements 6'7", 222
10.1/8.1/1.2 Game line 13.1/7.9/3.2
0.679/0/0.617 Shooting line 0.412/0.213/0.727
LeBlanc rebounds well, is very effective inside, and plays good defense. The Hoyas would do well to direct some of Akinjo's shots his way.
Jessie Govan Center Zach Hankins
Senior Class Senior
6'10", 255 Measurements 6'11", 245
18.7/7.5/1.7 Game line 9.7/4.6/0.7
0.535/0.408/0.774 Shooting line 0.711/0/0.659
Govan is a monster. He'll shoot inside, he'll shoot outside, and he'll hammer the glass. He's the best player on either team.

Reserves

If Mac McClung plays in this game, it’s likely off the bench. McClung is a gunner who dunks like a rim ran away with his daddy and broke up his family forever. In amongst all the swagger and savagery is a pretty good guard. Trey Mourning is also a doubt for the game off the bench in support of the post men. He’s finishing up a career at Georgetown demonstrating that it pays to be a legacy. Jahvon Blair figures to see time in his role as a three point shooter off the bench, and Jagan Mosley will come off the bench to do all the other guard things that Blair eschews to get buckets.

Three questions

-How much longer does Kyle Castlin start? I know his minutes are decreasing, but starting is still pretty cool, and it might be a valuable experience to let one of the younger guards start to do it. There’s a reason One Shining Moment begins with “The ball is tipped...” and not “It’s just after the first media timeout...” The future is now for Xavier, mostly because the actual present isn’t going that well.

-How does Steele handle Georgetown’s big men? Jesse Govan is an old-school post bucket getter who just happens to also be 20-49 from deep, and Josh LeBlanc is definitely not a stretch four. Both of those guys do good work in an around the paint. Does X zone? Double pivot? Stay small and make one of them account for Naji? Questions abound.

-Will Mac McClung play? McClung is 10 gallons of swagger poured into a 5 gallon bucket. If you loved JP Macura, you’re a hypocrite if you hate Mac McClung. Georgetown’s freshman guard has been out recently with an ankle problem, and it’s still not clear if he’s going to be full go for this game. At some point in time he’s going to do something good against Xavier and tell everyone in the arena about it and I’ll have to start hating him, but tonight might not be that night.

Three keys

-Pass to the right team. I know this seems simple, and I know Georgetown doesn’t force many turnovers, but Xavier has a knack for making even the most conservative defensive structure look like Nolan Richardson’s Forty Minutes of Hell. When the ball moves well, the Xavier offense is actually fun to watch and can be hard to stop. When it doesn’t... well, you know.

-Know your roles. Not you, the fan (your role should be pretty clear), but the players. Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall are second and third on the team in 3PA despite combining to make less that a quarter of their attempts from deep. Q is an elite ball distributor and Naj is an almost unique mid-range scorer. The two highest-usage guys on the team are playing to their weaknesses, and that is filtering down to undermine the entire offense.

-Find another shooter. Ryan Welage is carrying Xavier from behind the arc right now. Paul Scruggs has good numbers, but he’s a guy you want in full attack mode, not roaming the arc for space. If Keonte Kennedy or Eli Harden is going to make an impression from behind the arc, there’s no time like the present to go ahead and get started on that. This team is begging for another guy who can make teams pay for helping to the paint.