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

This is a must-not-lose game for Xavier. Since it has to be played, the only option is to win it.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Connecticut
Surrender cobras have abounded in the nation’s capital this year, though they did beat DePaul.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball fans of a certain vintage - i.e., your author - remember Georgetown as a brand in the game. Coach John Thompson routinely put the team in the depths of the tournament and his players in the NBA. Allen Iverson became an icon for a certain style of play and the players who propagated it. Even under John Thompson III, the team was a national power, right up until the Dunk City Florida Gulf Coast team obliterated them on national TV. It has been more than a decade since that game. In that time, Georgetown has won 1 NCAA tournament game.

If the next one is going to come under Ed Cooley, it doesn’t appear that it’s going to be this year. The Hoyas are 0-8 in the top two quads and are carrying a Q4 loss against Holy Cross. They have one Big East win in six tries, and that was their home game against DePaul. They played Seton Hall tough before allowing an 8-0 run late to give the game away, but they’ve been otherwise uncompetitive in conference play.

Xavier is moving in the exact opposite direction. From having been extremely competitive in every Big East game bar one, they’ve finally started to pair results with their solid play. The metrics support the idea that the Musketeers should be in the tournament, but they torched a lot of resume-based goodwill with the disastrous stretch that saw them drop three consecutive home games in November. Whatever tenuous claim to at-large consideration Xavier has hinges on not accumulating any more bad losses; this is as must-win as a game in January can be.

Team fingerprint

Is Ed Cooley a good coach? If you love the flex offense, the answer is probably yes. The Hoays play exceptionally slowly, boasting the lowest tempo in the league. I’d be in no hurry to get a shot up in their position either; they’re last in the league with a dreadful 44.4% EFG% in conference games, and they also turn the ball over fairly frequently. They’ve been good on the offensive glass and in getting to the line, where they’re shooting a respectable 76.7% in league play. It all adds up to the #10 offense in the league, which used to be the worst you could do in the Big East, but no longer!

The defense is also 10th. They force a lot of turnovers, second in the league with an 18.9% TO rate. Everything else is bad. They’re 10th in defensive EFG%, 10th in DReb%, and 8th in FT rate. They don’t chase teams off the arc or defend the paint well. Aside from forcing turnovers, they’re a complete train wreck on the defensive end. I’ll bet they thank God every night that DePaul is in the league so they’re not last in everything.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Jayden Epps Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Sophomore Class Senior
6'2", 187 Measurements 6'0", 188
18/2.3/4 Game line 10.1/4.2/5.1
41.8/34.7/76.1 Shooting line 42.5/32.4/83.8
An Illinois transfer, Epps is the closest thing the Hoyas have to a reliable offensive option. He's a little bit of a flat-track bully, with his two highest scoring outputs coming in buy games, but he also put 24 on TCU and 30 on Seton Hall, both in losing efforts. He's an absolute volume scorer and his ORtg in conference games has been below 100, but he's the guy Georgetown throws the ball to (over and over) when they need to get something going.
Rowan Brumbaugh Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Freshman Class Senior
6'4", 183 Measurements 6'3", 200
8.4/2.6/2.8 Game line 17.6/4.9/1.9
36.8/30.8/80.5 Shooting line 44.3/42.9/81.1
Here's a guy with a weird statistical profile. He hasn't been scoring super well all year, but he was 20-37 from inside the arc in non-conference play before going 7-28 in Big East games. He also was a ball-hawking defender early on, with 18 steals in his first 9 D1 games. He has 1 total in the last 7, and it was against DePaul, so it barely counts. He has huge usage but an EFG% that suggests he has been playing with his non-dominant hand. X might be best served to just let him huck.
Dontrez Styles Small Forward Desmond Claude
Junior Class Sophomore
6'6", 212 Measurements 6'6", 203
13.5/5.7/0.9 Game line 15.8/4.8/3.7
44.3/39.1/78 Shooting line 42.7/25.9/74.7
A North Carolina transfer, Styles has been one of the more efficient players the Hoyas have. He can score at all three levels and doesn't turn the ball over much. He also doesn't distribute much, but that's hardly his job. He gets to the glass well for a wing and is pretty solid defender.
Ismael Massoud Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Senior Class Senior
6'9", 213 Measurements 6'7", 220
8/4.9/0.8 Game line 7.1/5.2/1.1
29.3/31.5/94.4 Shooting line 49/48.3/64.3
In one of the more confusing transfer decisions of the offseason, Massoud left a Kansas State program that made the Elite 8 for a Georgetown one that didn't even win 8 games. He's getting a little more run, but it's not clear that Cooley is putting him into better positions than he was getting in Manhattan. His efficiency is down 25 points and his shooting has dropped across the board. He can still rebound and get to the line - where he's nails - but I don't get why he decided to move.
Supreme Cook Center Abou Ousmane
Senior Class Senior
6'9", 229 Measurements 6'10", 240
11/8.2/0.4 Game line 8.5/6.8/1.1
63.5/0/57.9 Shooting line 51.2/25/50
Cook lives at the line, which isn't great, because Abou can be a little bit foul prone. Something to watch as the game goes on. He's a strong rebounder, especially on the offensive end, and he has shot more free throws than field goals in Big East play. He's also a very good defender who generally stays out of foul trouble. Of rotation players, only Wayne Bristol has a lower shots%; someone feed this guy.

Reserves

Georgetown gets 29.9% of their minutes off of the bench, which is a tick below the national average. All of those minutes come from three guys, the first of which is Jay Heath. Heath gets 27 minutes per game, mostly subbing in for Rowan Brumbaugh and playing starter’s minutes the rest of the way. He averages 8.6/3.3/2.3 on 35.5/30.6/70.6 shooting, numbers which are a big step back from what he was doing under Patrick Ewing. He has actually played defense in Big East games, which is probably why he’s taking Brumbaugh’s minutes.

Big man Drew Fielder is an intriguing player. Just a freshman, the 6’10” forward averages 5.5/3.6/0.8 on 47.2/42.4/66.7 shooting. He rebounds well on both ends and is a good defender. He also averages 5 fouls per 40 minutes; if he can get that sorted out, he could be a special player.

Wayne Bristol, Jr. is the rest of the bench. A 6’6”, 195-pound wing, he averages 4.1/2.8/0.7 per game. He’s a career 38% shooter from deep, but he’s only taking about one of them per game this season. He’s an excellent defender and reliable free throw shooter. Nobody else on the team has gotten more than 10 minutes total in Georgetown’s 6 Big East games.

Three questions

-What's up with Lazar Djokovic? You have to go back to the Bryant game to find the last time Lazar hit multiple shots in a single outing. He had 6 boards and 2 assists against Nova, but his playing time has generally been steadily decreasing as Coach Miller has tightened the rotation. Having been held out due to injury early and now struggling to find minutes, it will be interesting to see how the end of the season plays out for him. If Xavier can turn this into a boat race, he might get some badly needed run.

-How does Ed Cooley dole out the minutes? Particularly at the 2 and the 3, Cooley's starters are not as defensively capable as their immediate replacements. With Des Claude suddenly looking formidable on the offensive end and Quincy Olivari 9 of his last 17 from deep, Xavier is engorged with options on the perimeter attack. Georgetown isn't really in a position to sacrifice offense or defense, but they may have to pick their poison in the perimeter positions.

-Can Abou Ousmane stay on the floor (and what does Xavier do if he can't)? It's no secret that Abou fouls a lot, though he has cut back a bit in conference play. Supreme Cook, as mentioned above, lives at the free throw line. He leads the conference in both FT rate and fouls drawn per 40. Georgetown could do worse than throwing him the ball and seeing if he can draw a couple of early ones against Xavier's starting center. If he does, depth options at the five aren't the strongest for X right now. If Lazar Djokovic isn't in the circle of trust, Sasa Ciani and Abou Ousmane might combine for 10 fouls tonight.

Three keys

-Push the pace. Georgetown loves to play slowly, largely because more possessions equal more opportunities to get outplayed by better teams. It's no secret that Xavier has struggled to score in the half court, and even now with threes starting to fall, they're dead last in the conference in two-point percentage. A lot of the trickier parts of offensive strategy get ironed right out of you just zip down the court and shoot a layup before the other team can get back to get in your way; that's not a bad plan for X tonight.

-Win on the glass. Rebounding is one of the few things that Georgetown is actually good at on offense. On the other end of the floor, their defensive rebounding is really bad and Xavier's offensive rebounding is really good. Georgetown has a defense set up to force turnovers; Xavier can win back those extra possessions in rebounding to maintain control of the game.

-Play a complete game. Xavier beat Butler by 14 last time out in a game in which they were favored by less than half of that. Pretty comprehensive, right? WRONG. Xavier went from up 5-3 to down 17-11 in the first half and gave up a 13-0 run in the second half. Excise those walking naps from the game and the Muskies win by almost 40. We haven't yet seen this team playing its best ball. This Georgetown squad isn't exactly the late-90s Bulls, but that doesn't mean it's a bad place to start the habit of playing well from tap to horn.