Toughness. I might as well bring it up early and often, as this one simple word will likely be the key for tonight's game. They don't come much tougher than Georgetown, and this year's squad brings back images of John Thompson's legacy teams that were built around hard-nosed defense and spread-it-around balanced scoring. However, although the defensive results are similar, there is definitely a difference in philosophy. John Thompson III preaches a position-oriented defense rather than the gambling, steals-oriented pressure that his father favored.
Georgetown is not the type of team that beats others by putting up huge scoring totals, they lull you to sleep with a ball-control offense and do their best to contest every shot and pass. They managed only 38 shot attempts against Pitt in their recent 61-53 victory, but made them count, hitting on just under 50%. They also got to the line for 29 attempts and made good on 22 of them.
Asking Syracuse to compete tonight will be asking quite a lot, considering how limited the Orange are in terms of personnel. The biggest blow will be in the frontcourt, where Terrence Roberts has been unable to log major minutes due to a lingering knee injury. SU could really use his size, rebounding, and interior defense against the huge Hoyas. Matt Gorman, the primary backup at PF, has seen his minutes shrink due to ineffective play, as has Josh Wright. It would be helpful if Boeheim could get positive contributions from one or both of these players, but given their recent performances, it's rather unlikely.
That really only leaves the Orange with about 5 and half players making significant contributions. Fortunately, that five and half has been remarkably solid recently as each player seems to have settled into a defined role within the offense.
Of course, the Hoyas are not particularly deep themselves, but it has actually turned out that their loss of depth has made them a better team. Earlier in the year they struggled to develop team chemistry, losing 3 of their first 6 games. Once SO G Marc Egerson announced his intentions to leave the program, JT III regrouped his team and focused down the rotation to a solid 7 or 8 men. The results have been outstanding and the Hoyas have reeled off 11 straight wins.
Georgetown's lack of depth is really only an issue in the backcourt. Up front, they have great size with Jeff Green (6-9 SF), Roy Hibbert (7-2 C), and DuJuan Summers (6-8 PF). They also bring a pair of 6-9 forwards off the bench in freshman Vernon Macklin and junior Patrick Ewing Jr. Neither has been a big time contributor, but they are both capable of spelling the starters for limited minutes without a huge dropoff in quality. In the backcourt, however, they really only have 3 legitimate players. Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp are the starters, and freshman Jeremiah Rivers gets minor minutes backing up the PG and SG slots.
The real danger for the Orange is that their decimated frontcourt may be worn down by the bigger Hoyas. Freshman Paul Harris is going to log extended minutes up front, but will he be able to rebound effectively against the size that Georgetown will throw at the glass? Harris expends a huge amount of energy on the court, so playing him more than say 28 effective minutes may be stretch against a tough, physical team like the Hoyas. However, Harris has been his best when he's been in physical games where he can throw his body around and "get after it". Will we see more of that tonight?
In the middle, Darryl Watkins needs to continue doing what he's done best – defend the goal and focus on rebounding. The double digit scoring total against Providence was very nice, but what he really needs to do against Georgetown is stay out of foul trouble. The Hoyas can be devastating on the offensive glass, but Pitt actually outrebounded them over the weekend, so there is hope for the Orange. The most important thing will be to not allow Hibbert position on the inside when the shot goes up. Green, Macklin, and Summers can all do damage on the offensive glass as well.
Look for Georgetown to try to limit Demetris Nichols by putting Jeff Green on him. Green might be the best player in the Big East. Although his numbers may not be too flashy (14 pts, 6 reb, 3 ast, 1 bs), he is capable of dominating a game with his smart play, precision passing, and tough defense. Syracuse cannot allow Green to find the seams in the zone because he is capable of destroying it with a barrage of mid-ranged shots.
With Green on Nichols, that would likely leave Summers to guard Paul Harris. Look for Boeheim to use Harris as a point forward to initiate offense, much as he has in the past two games, particularly when Harris was guarded by UConn's Jeff Adrien. Harris will be giving up several inches to Summers, but will have a distinct quickness advantage and if the Orange can effectively spread the court, Harris may have an advantage putting the ball on the floor. The key will be whether Hibbert can rotate over quick enough. After all, Hibbert is much more seasoned than UConn's Hasheem Thabeet.
This game has all the makings of a classic SU/Georgetown battle. Syracuse has afforded itself a bit of breathing room with the recent 4 game win streak, but a win tonight would all but ensure the Orange of an at-large bid. Given the urgency that SU needs to play with, this should be a close, physical, and potentially heart-stopping game. If the Orange can stay out of foul trouble, keep the Hoyas off the offensive glass, and spread the floor on offense, there is no reason to think that can't compete.