(All Stats for Conference Games Only Unless Otherwise Noted)
Any Marquette fan who has watched Georgetown play recently understands just how tough Saturday's game will be. The Hoyas not only have some players that are very difficult to match up with individually, but they play extremely well as a team.
On offense, Coach John Thompson lll brought his Princeton-style offense with him from Princeton. How effective has it been? Well, Georgetown leads the league in field goal percentage at an incredible 54.8% and ranks second in three-point field goal percentage at 41.3%.
On the defensive end of the court, Georgetown's active zone has allowed an average of 58.0 ppg, which is second in the conference.
Combining the Hoya's offensive efficiency and defensive proficiency has led to a scoring margin of +11.1 ppg, which is tied for first in the conference with Pittsburgh. (MU ranks a distant third at +4.8 ppg.) More importantly, Georgetown has won six straight games after losing two of its first three conference game and currently stands third in the league at 7-2, a half game behind Marquette.
It's almost impossible to not admire the way the Hoyas run Coach Thompson lll's offense. The players are constantly moving as Georgetown runs series after series of off-the-ball picks at the same time they continuously pass the ball to set up excellent passing angles. The players' patience as they work the ball around is rare in today's college game. In fact, it often appears as if the opposing team's defense is doing a solid job of containing the Hoyas' offense until suddenly a Georgetown player makes a sudden back-door cut and a teammate makes a perfect pass, resulting in an uncontested lay up or dunk.
The other component necessary for Thompson lll's system to work is perimeter shooting. This was a major question mark prior to the season since Ashanti Cook and Darrel Owens – the Hoyas' two primary outside threats last season - had graduated. Sophomore Jesse Sapp had not shown much of a perimeter shot as a freshman (20.5% on treys for the season), and Jeff Green had been inconsistent from behind the arc a year ago as well (31.5%). Returning point guard Jon Wallace did make 40.8% of his three-pointers last season, but he seldom looked to score (7.9 ppg). Consequently, the way to beat the Hoyas appeared to be to play either zone or a sagging man-to-man and pack the lane, which would make it difficult to get the ball into 7'2" center Roy Hibbert and would cut off driving lanes for multi-talented forward Jeff Green, thereby forcing Georgetown to shoot three-pointers.
The Hoyas, however, have literally shot down that defensive strategy. In conference games, Wallace is shooting an impressive 48.5% on treys, while Green is shooting 42.9%, Sapp 37.5%, and freshman DaJuan Summers 37.5%. Combined, these four starters are nailing 41.8% of three-pointers (51 of 122). As for the fifth starter – Hibbert – he hasn't taken a single three-pointer in 22 games this season. However, he's made an incredible 79.0% of his shots ((49 of 62) in conference play and has had games in which he made 5 of 6, 7 of 8, 8 of 9, 9 of 10, and 11of 13 shots from the field. In essence, Hoya opponents have to choose their poison.
It will be interesting to see how Coach Crean approaches this problem. Marquette's strength defensively has been its aggressive on-ball pressure, combined with overplaying the passing lanes. The risk with that approach, however, is Georgetown's ability to execute its backdoor cuts. What makes Georgetown's system especially dangerous this year, besides its excellent outside shooting, is that all five starters are at least decent passers. A possible solution might be to continue on-ball pressure in an attempt to make it more difficult for the Hoyas to make good passes, but be more conservative than usual off the ball.
It is also possible that Crean may employ a zone at times to try to disrupt Georgetown's rhythm. But there are so many good passers and good shooters on Thompson lll's squad that it is difficult for a zone to work.
Another question is whether MU will double team Hibbert when he gets the ball on the block. Watching Georgetown, one gets the impression the 7'2" junior could score 25 ppg if the coach wanted him to as he has been virtually unstoppable in the paint. The Hoyas could simply post him up every time down the court. But they don't. His points come within the flow of the offense. It is an equal opportunity offense, not one based on a single individual, which is why the team has such balanced scoring (four starters in double figures and the fifth averaging 9.1 ppg).
On the other end of the court suffice to say that Georgetown plays zone the way Providence Coach Tim Welch and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim can only fantasize their teams could play. The anchor is Hibbert, who, despite averaging a pedestrian 2.0 blocks per game, is an intimidating presence and forces opponents to alter their shots. However, the other four starters are quick and athletic, and the two forwards - Summers and Green - are 6'8" and 6'9", respectively, which poses even more problems. Marquette fans should not expect to see its perimeter shooters get as many open looks as they did last Saturday against Providence; nor should they expect MU's guards to penetrate the gaps in the zone for kick-outs as easily as they did.
As has been the case before this season, if Marquette relies primarily on three-point shooting, it will probably lose. MU has to somehow get the ball inside and attack the basket, forcing Georgetown's defenders to make plays.
MU must also be effective on the boards. However, that won't be easy as the Hoyas rank third in the league in rebounding margin at +5.2 per game.
Here's a closer look at Georgetown's key players.
Point guard Jonathan Wallace is averaging 11.4 ppg but only 2.6 apg. However, he has become a deadly three-point shooter. Wallace does not get the recognition he deserves as he is the glue that holds the team together. Expect James to guard Wallace and pressure him when he has the ball as he seldom drives to the hoop.
Off guard Jesse Sapp has been a key to the Hoyas' success. He is averaging 9.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and 3.2 apg. He is shooting 47.6% from the field and 37.9& on threes. Sapp is also an active, athletic defender in Georgetown's zone. He sometimes forces ill-advised shots, but he's not afraid to drive the lane. He also likes to run the court as, contrary to popular myth, the Hoyas will fast break and push the tempo when the opportunity arises. Expect to see McNeal on Sapp.
At small forward freshman DaJuan Summers has been a steady contributor. His inexperience shows occasionally, but he's averaging 10.4 ppg. He is very quick and an excellent jumper who can play inside or out. At 6'8", he is a difficult match-up for MU. Most likely Matthews will guard Summers.
Jeff Green, the 6'9" power forward, plays almost like a "point forward." He leads the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg, but he also leads it in assists at 3.9 apg. One of the most versatile and most talented players in the league, Green is an incredibly tough match up. He has improved his outside shot (42.9% on treys), but he is so quick and athletic that he can get his shot almost any time he wants anywhere on the court. MU contained him at the BC last year, but that's unlikely to happen again this year. No one on MU's team can handle him one on one though Hayward, Fitzgerald, and possibly Burke will all get a chance to try.
At center, Hibbert, who is averaging 13.7 ppg and a somewhat surprisingly low 6.0 rpg, is hard for almost any team to defend, as his shooting percentage illustrates. He is not only tall, but he is also relatively quick for his size, and he has an excellent touch around the hoop. Barro will certainly have his hands full. He has to make Hibbert work for each shot, but he also has to avoid foul trouble. If Barro spends considerable time on the bench, as he did against Wisconsin, this game could get out of hand.
The Hoyas two top reserves lately have been Patrick Ewing, Jr. in the front court and Jeremiah Rivers in the backcourt. Ewing, Jr. has been playing well lately and is now averaging 4.7 ppg in 13.8 mpg. Quick and athletic, he likes to stay on the perimeter though recently he's shown an ability to score around the hoop as well. Rivers, son of Doc, has also seen more time recently – 13.0 mpg. He doesn't look to score (1.1 ppg), and he's not a very good shooter (22.2% from the field), but he is smart and has handled himself well.
The bottom line is that as well as MU has played during its eight-game winning streak, a win in D.C. will definitely be an upset. Still, Marquette went into Pittsburgh and outplayed the Panthers. It will take almost a perfect game to do the same against the Hoyas.
**Eric Silver, "Silver Warrior" of MarquetteHoops.com is also a contributing writer for CHN, College Hoops Network.