Xavier started to save the season with Saturday’s win over Creighton. There is almost no overstating how much the Musketeers needed to get a marquee win to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament. Even with that accomplished, Xavier isn’t home and hosed. Two games are left in the regular season. Win those two and X has just about punched their ticket. Lose either and the Big East Tournament will suddenly carry even more significance than it usually does.
Xavier won their game by playing defense (finally) and taking 17 more twos than threes. The bench actually produced in the time they were allotted, the coaching staff came up with a gameplan that everyone bought into and executed, and the team had a great deal more energy. A lot of that comes from the motivation of taking on a ranked team in an obviously huge game. How that will translate to a gloomy evening in Washington DC remains to be seen.
And Georgetown won’t be a pushover. Since dropping to 3-8 in a start that essentially doomed their season, the Hoyas are 5-3. In their recovery stretch they have beaten Providence, Seton Hall, and Creighton. An 18-0 run out of the half in their most recent game, a win over DePaul, showed how quickly the Hoyas can score even without Jahvon Blair. That offense hasn’t been there all season, but it has shown up frequently enough to net Georgetown some big wins.
The Hoyas offense goes in fits and spurts. They scored 81 to beat Seton Hall and then, on only three fewer possessions, scored 57 their next time out against UConn. 97 carried them past St. John’s, they got 48 in a loss to Creighton. Inconsistent doesn’t begin to describe it. That’s how you end up 118th in the nation in offensive efficiency. The Hoyas are 63rd in the nation with a 36% mark behind the arc, but they really struggle to put the ball into the bucket from the interior. They will mitigate some of their misses by being excellent on the offensive glass, but only 23 times in the nation turn the ball over more frequently. This is how you have an offense that alternates between good and awful.
Defensively Georgetown is willing to let you have the ball in order harass shooters. If they were good at getting after shooters or collecting misses or blocking shots at an elite level, this would be a viable strategy. Instead, the Hoyas are their for the taking on the defensive end. They can block shots, but they do precious little else. They are 80th in the nation on defense solely on the strength of contesting those two point shots. When that doesn’t work, they have no plan B.
|Dante Harris||Point Guard||Dwon Odom|
|6'0", 170||Measurements||6'1", 180|
|Forced into the lineup when Jalen Harris took a leave of absence from the team, Dante Harris has been logging huge minutes ever since. He is not an effective shooter - though he's nails from the line - and has some turnover issues that really limit his effectiveness. He has played solid defense without getting into foul trouble, which allows Patrick Ewing to ride him at the point in the absence of other options.|
|Jahvon Blair||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'4", 190||Measurements||6'4", 196|
|Blair missed Georgetown's last game for ambiguous reasons, but Coach Ewing has said he's good to go tonight. The Hoyas would hope so, as he's the team's leading scorer, leading assist man, and most frequent shooter. He hasn't been an efficient scorer, but he's playing both guard spots on offense. Like Harris, he avoids foul trouble, makes his free throws, and rarely comes off the floor.|
|Chudier Bile||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|6'7", 195||Measurements||6'5", 195|
|A Northwestern State transfer in his sole season at Georgetown, Bile is making quite an impression. He's a big wing or stretch four depending on who else is on the floor, and he's a deadly shooter when left alone. His pull-up game isn't great and he's not a special finisher; the top line of the scouting report on him is to make him use his dribble. He's a very good offensive rebounder.|
|Jamorko Pickett||Power Forward||Jason Carter|
|6'9", 206||Measurements||6'8", 227|
|Pickett works a lot like a three on offense when paired with Bile. He spends a lot of time around the arc, where he has been a consistent threat in his four years at Georgetown. He's not much on the offensive glass, but he's a good defensive rebounder who blocks his share of shots. Turnover issues and low usage are the only things keeping him from having an even more impressive line.|
|Qudus Wahab||Center||Zach Freemantle|
|6'11", 237||Measurements||6'9", 225|
|As you might imagine from a man this size, Wahab is an excellent rebounder on both ends and blocks a ton of shots. He is obviously a good finisher at the rim, but he has solid range that extends beyond just layups and dunks. He can be drawn into foul trouble, averaging almost 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes of play.|
Georgetown is 327th in the nation in bench minutes. If they don’t get it from their starters, chances are it isn’t being gotten.
Donald Carey is their long bench weapon. He’s a 6’5” senior wing who started every game until the beginning of February. He averages 8.3/3.1/1.8 on 46.3/43.7/87.5 shooting and has hit 31 threes on the year. He’s not a high usage guy; his role in the offense is largely to catch the ball and subsequently shoot the ball.
The big man bench minutes are split by Timothy Ighoefe and Jamari Sibley. Ighoefe is a seven-footer who vacuums the glass at both ends, blocks a ton of shots, and commits a ton of fouls. Sibley is a mere 6’8”, 200; he has yet to distinguish himself in any statistical category aside from turnover percentage, and that not in a good way.
- Can Xavier carry the momentum? The win over Creighton was arguably a more impressive team effort than the demolition of Oklahoma so many months ago. Xavier had no chance to build on that win as they immediately hit an 11 day Covid break. Coming off this latest win they have a chance to capitalize, but they cannot afford to let down at all. A loss and it’s back to bleak prospects.
- Is the coach ready to trust the bench? Xavier has to find a way to get production with Nate Johnson now done for the season. Against Creighton Adam Kunkel was at his best, full of energy and scoring. CJ Wilcher also demonstrated why he was so highly rated. After those two though, Xavier got 16 minutes from Bryan Griffin and Kyky Tandy. Griffin and Tandy combined for 4/2/2 in that time. X’s backup big man had all four of those points, some more minutes to go with them would be good.
- Will Xavier push Georgetown’s offense? The Hoyas like to shoot from outside and are reasonably proficient at it. They also turn the ball over at an incredible rate. Xavier can be shot out of their packline and eviscerated by a team running basic offense (hello, Providence) so it may behoove them to come out to Georgetown’s guards on defense. Sitting back is playing into what the Hoyas want to do.
- Make outside shots: Thanks to mostly to Qudus Wahab and the attentions of other lesser shotblockers, Georgetown can occasionally make scoring inside a chore. Outside they can be had to some extent and they will struggle against quick ball movement. Xavier excels at one of those things and is pretty miserable at the other. Shoot the ball passingly well from behind the arc and the Musketeers will be in good shape.
- Feed Freemantle: Qudus Wahab is a good defender and Xavier’s best offensive option is a big man. It doesn’t seem a recipe for success, but the Musketeers are far, far better when they start their offense with touches for Big Frosty. Since his 30 against UConn, Freemantle has been on a role. It’s incumbent upon Xavier to make the Hoyas stop him before they try anything else.
- Gameplan: There have been reasonable questions asked about Xavier’s coaching this season. Against Creighton, though, Travis Steele outcoached the Big East’s best coach. Patrick Ewing isn’t bad, but he’s not Doug McDermott. If Steele and his staff are prepared as well as they were on Saturday it will go a long way toward giving the Musketeers a chance to win this game.