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

Big East season is finally upon us, and Xavier opens with the worst program in the league.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Seton Hall vs Georgetown
Thumbs down indeed.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It was 7 years and 11 months ago that Xavier met Georgetown as a conference foe for the first time. Georgetown was a prominent brand - maybe the brand, nationally - from the Big East, and having them in Cintas with the promise of doing it every year with the conference perhaps in the balance had the arena rocking. The Hoyas were 11-4 coming in and looked every bit like the bully on the block, leading by 13 at the half and 17 with 15 minutes to play. Xavier closed on a 44-14 run, flipping the game on its head and providing, in Myles Davis's go-ahead three and resultant celebration, one of the signature moments of Xavier's entry to the Big East.

It's hard to imagine the two programs taking more different routes since then. I'm not going to belabor it, but Georgetown has been underwater for a while now. Patrick Ewing has never finished over .500 in the league and only saved his job with an improbable run to the auto bid two years ago. He followed that up by going 0-19 in the league last year. Somehow still employed, Ewing has led the Hoyas to a 0-6 record against teams better than 236th in the KenPom. Georgetown is a Q4 game home and away this year and will remain such until they move on from Ewing.

It's only that last line that is pertinent to Xavier. They didn't hamstring their resume in the non-conference, but they're hurting for high-level wins. They can't afford to add a bad loss to the resume, and that's exactly what X needs to avoid. It's vital for the Muskies to get out of the gate well if they want to be in the fight for the top of the Big East this year; taking care of business at Georgetown is the first step.

Team fingerprint

Let's start on offense. Georgetown doesn't shoot particularly well, floating around 200th in the nation from both inside and beyond the arc. They only take about 30% of their shots from three, focusing on the paint instead. They're above average in ball security and actually good in OReb%, the only of the four factors in which they're inside the top 100. They shoot 74% from the line, but they're not good at all at getting there.

Their defense is offensive. They don't foul much and they block a lot of shots. That's where the good news ends. They're horrible on the defensive glass - maybe because they're chasing blocks - and they don't force turnovers or bad shots at an above average rate. They're 343rd in the nation in percentage of shots against taken from mid-range; teams are only shooting threes and layups - notoriously the most efficient shot types on the floor - against Georgetown. All this combines for a 239th ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. That is, by almost 100 spots, the worst in the Big East.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Primo Spears Point Guard Souley Boum
Sophomore Class Senior
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'3", 175
17.2/3.5/4.9 Game line 17/3.7/4.2
44/25.9/82.4 Shooting line 53.5/51.2/86.6
Spears is a Duquesne transfer who has settled in pretty well at Georgetown. He's kind of a chucker when it comes to scoring, but he has a good assist rate and excellent ball security. He drives to pull up rather than get to the rim, which makes sense because he's a mediocre finisher with an excellent mid-range game. He's not a spectacular defender, but he doesn't foul much.
Jay Heath Shooting Guard Adam Kunkel
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 200 Measurements 6'4", 185
14.4/4.2/1.7 Game line 10.3/1.8/2.4
43.9/37.8/70.4 Shooting line 48.6/39.5/85.7
A DC native, Heath played 50 games at Boston College and another 28 at Arizona State before finding his way home this year. He doesn't really do much in terms of setting up plays; he's more or less just a scorer on offense. About half his shots career shots come from behind the arc, and he's 45% from two and 38% from three as a college player. He's a shooter.
Brandon Murray Small Forward Colby Jones
Sophomore Class Junior
6'5", 225 Measurements 6'6", 205
15.1/3.7/4 Game line 14.9/5.1/5.6
43/39/61.5 Shooting line 48/50/81.3
Murray is a playmaking wing, kind of a Diet Colby Jones by statistical profile. He's a good and verstaile defender, but he has had issues with foul trouble as he gains more responsibility at that end. Like Spears, he's not a great finisher but does have a solid pull-up game, though he doesn't use it quite as often.
Akok Akok Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Junior Class Senior
6'10", 205 Measurements 6'9", 225
6.8/7.6/1.3 Game line 13.3/7.5/3
44.8/30.3/71.4 Shooting line 60/60/65.7
A UConn transfer whose name probably isn't actually pronounced like the exclamation of an excited chicken farmer finding a male, Akok never quite cracked the rotation as a Huskie. He has done at Georgetown, and he's become an excellent defender and solid rebounder. He's an excellent finisher, albeit in low volume.
Qudus Wahab Center Jack Nunge
Senior Class Junior
6'11", 245 Measurements 7'0" 245
10.3/7.7/0.1 Game line 15.3/7.1/1.6
47.5/0/80.4 Shooting line 53.8/40.6/65.9
Wahab signed with Georgetown out of high school and played two years there before leaving for Maryland. After a year there, he came back; I wonder how he feels about that right now. Regardless of that, he's an excellent rebounder at both ends and a surprisingly poor rim protector. He also fouls almost 5 times per 40 minutes. He's a solid finisher, but he's taking more than half his shots from the mid-range right now, and he's not great from there. It adds up to 48% from inside the arc, which isn't good for a dude who's almost as tall as my garage door.

Reserves

Basically nobody. Got eligibility and a high tolerance for derision on the internet? Head down to Georgetown and walk on. They get just 22% of their minutes from the bench, 347th in the country.

USC Upstate transfer Bryson Mozone is a wing/small four that Ewing leans on off the bench. He averages 6.2/3.1/0.5 per game and is getting almost all of that from inside the arc. He is a career 38% three-point shooter, but he’s just 25% from deep at Georgetown. Wayne Bristol is another player out of the same mold and the only other bench player to feature in all of Georgetown’s game. He averages 2.6/2.4/0.3 and has turnover and foul problems. He’s a good offensive rebounder and is shooting 38.5% from deep.

After those two, you’ll get a smattering of Jordan Riley (3.7/3.0/0.0), a rebounding guard who hasn’t played since Thanksgiving, Bradley Ezewiro (3.2/1.8/0.0), a big man who rebounds well, shoots 50% from two, and is generally invisible, and... that’s about it. It’s a grim scene.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier get some bench production? Georgetown’s bench is useless, but Xavier’s has also been sneaky bad this year. Kyky Tandy isn’t doing much of anything, Desmond Claude followed up the dumbest foul this side of Jeff Robinson by posting a 43 ORtg against Southern, and Kam Craft’s line in Quad 1 and 2 games this season is 2/1/1. Jerome Hunter is the only consistent piece off the bench. Xavier needs someone else to give good minutes.

- Can Xavier keep Georgetown off the offensive glass? Were you to place the two teams side by side this might be the only place where it looks like Georgetown could gain a foothold. The Hoyas have a handful of decent offensive rebounders and Qudus Wahab, who is excellent. In a game that you should be winning, there’s no point in giving away cheap second chance points.

- Who will be Georgetown’s first Big East win? DePaul at home seems the best chance, but this question is laden with import. Xavier can’t afford a Q4 loss. No serious team can. The Hoyas of Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing the player, Allen Iverson, and even D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera are gone and only this sad sack operation is left in their place. 0-40 is a real possibility.

Three keys

- Hammer the paint: The Hoyas are good inside on defense, but a lot of that is built on Wahab. He is prone to foul trouble, though, and if he goes, only Akok Akok is left. If the Hoyas get in early foul trouble, they’ll be doomed.

- Don’t do anything stupid: Xavier should win this game. It’s the equivalent of a buy game on the road. Wash out the preseason assumptions and Georgetown is 181st in the nation. That’s essentially Montana. The Musketeers should walk away with this one, but they wouldn’t be the first group to head to Washington DC and lose their way.

- Make it rain: This runs hand in hand with the first key, not opposite it. The Hoyas surrender a lot of good looks from outside and they don’t defend them well at all. If Freemantle and Nunge get cooking, the opportunities for kick outs and open shots will be there. Xavier has the shooters to make Georgetown pay early and often.