Georgetown (9-2) cruises into LA Saturday afternoon for a date with 15th ranked UCLA (8-2) at Pauley Pavilion at 1 PM (the game will be broadcast on CBS).
The Hoyas are ranked #20 in the country in the AP poll, featuring two fearsome frontcourt players in Michael Sweetney, 6-8 260 SO PF (18.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.5 bpg, 1.8 spg, 64.2% FGs) and Wesley Wilson, 6-11 235 JR C (15.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.9 bpg, 61.5% FGs). Georgetown has been pulverizing opponents with a victory margin of 29.3 ppg, almost as good as John Wooden's team during Bill Walton's SO year. How can the Bruins possibly compete with such brutes?
Well, to be perfectly frank about it, 8 of the Hoyas' 9 wins have come against Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, Coastal Carolina, Marymount (VA), Grambling, Towson and Bethune-Cookman. I'm not sure any of those teams could compete with Columbia. Georgetown's only win against a solid team was a 2-point victory over South Carolina, whom UCLA met earlier in the year and shot 78% against. The Hoyas have only played two really good teams, Georgia and Virginia, and lost both games by 14 and 6 points, respectively.
In addition, although the Hoyas shoot a "low end" respectable 33.3% from 3 as a team, that's also misleading. Kevin Braswell, 6-2 190 SR PG (14.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3.4 spg) is hitting 42.2% from 3. Drew Hall, 6-2 170 FR PG (6.1 ppg, 2.9 apg, 1.7 spg), is hitting 47.6% from 3. The rest of the team is hitting 21.9% from 3. And remember what their competition has been like. The rebounding stats of Georgetown's big men have been inflated somewhat by how bad the rest of the team shoots the ball. Georgetown's best shot is often a missed shot: Sweetney and Wilson average 6.5 offensive rebounds per game between them.
Braswell is a very nasty customer, a great one-on-one player who can break you down off the dribble or hit the trey. UCLA must contain him and keep him out of the paint. In addition to Braswell and Hall, Georgetown can also boast of Tony Bethel in the backcourt. Bethel, a 6-2 160 FR SG, was averaging 8.6 ppg, 3.4 apg and 2.6 spg and making 33.3% of his 3s before being sidelined by mono, but he is back for this game. He's a quick player who plays excellent defense, as is Hall, and they are both dangerous from the outside. Braswell is an even better defender. A lot of Georgetown's game depends on the defense played by their backcourt.
The other frontcourt players for Georgetown include dueling starters Gerald Riley, 6-6 205 SO SF (9.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 spg) and Victor Samnick, 6-8 210 JR PF (7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.1 bpg). Riley is a very athletic player with an inconsistent outside shot and a penchant for either making great moves along the baseline or really bad moves along the baseline. Samnick is a slender, but very athletic perpetual motion machine from Africa who lives off garbage (i.e., loose balls and offensive rebounds). He lacks refined skills, but he goes and gets that ball wherever it is and what more do you want? Courtland Freeman, 6-9 220 JR PF (5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Harvey Thomas, 6-8 210 FR PF (4.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 spg) are two more tough inside players. Freeman was supposed to be a swingman, but hasn't displayed any wing skills yet. Thomas is a guy I like, a very quick post player who moves up and down the floor like a guard. He was in NCAA jail over some technicality and missed a lot of practice, so he hasn't come close to playing his best ball yet.
Georgetown plays great defense. They are holding teams to 36.1% shooting from the field, and they cause 21.6 TOs per game. Even Virginia made 25 turnovers and barely shot 40% from the floor against the Hoyas. The guards get in your face, and if you get past them, the big men are waiting to swat your shot away. Georgetown will sometimes apply fullcourt man pressure, then trap at halfcourt. Defensively, they play in your jockey shorts man defense. A big key to the game will be UCLA's ability to maintain a flow to their offense and make 4-6 good passes on each possession, minimizing their turnovers and maximizing their high percentage shots.
The other big keys for UCLA, obviously, will be defense and keeping Sweetney, Wilson & Company off the offensive glass. Defense means sticking with Braswell wherever he goes, keeping a hand up on Hall and Bethel, and keeping the ball away from Sweetney and Wilson when they get good position inside. We'll probably see the Bruins play both man and matchup zone. Man would allow them to keep track of the big men better and keep them off the glass. Zone would theoretically keep Braswell out of the key. A lot will depend on how well Georgetown is shooting it. If they brick it, UCLA will pack it in until they start hitting their 3s. The Bruins might press, and trap Braswell midcourt, to get the ball out of his hands. Every game is a chess match (er, actually, every game is basketball, but you know what I mean).
UCLA needs a big game from Dan Gadzuric. Obviously. Sort of. Nobody else has the size to play with these guys inside. TJ had better be ready to crash the boards and get physical inside. Matt and Andre will be ready, but at 6-8 235 and 6-6 and ½ 195, being ready might not be enough. OTOH, the Bruins were tested inside by a superb, tall, physical Alabama frontline and they performed quite ably even without Gadzuric playing a high quality game, so it's best to remember that it's a team game, not a question of simple matchups, and if UCLA's zone is working well, that could negate a lot of the Hoyas' size advantage inside. Keeping the ball out of Braswell's hands will also keep the ball away from Sweetney and Wilson when and where they like it.
TJ does have the ability to pull Georgetown's defenders outside with his ability to nail the 17-footer. Matt and Andre are noticeably quicker than the Hoyas' big men. Kapono, Thompson and Knight present some tall challenges for Georgetown's opposing guards and wingman Riley, who have never faced so many tall guards/wings before, except maybe against Virginia. Rico Hines will be asked to stay nose to nose with Braswell for long stretches of time, no matter what kind of defense you call it. Given Georgetown's quickness, no doubt Ryan Walcott will see his usual 5 minutes.
Cedric Bozeman will not play against Georgetown.
If UCLA beats Georgetown, a lot of people will say that for some reason UCLA always seems to get up for the big games. Of course, they've been blown out in quite a few big games, so we know how much that kind of analysis is worth. UCLA does have to play better than they played against UC-I, Washington, WSU and Columbia if they want to beat the Hoyas, but Georgetown is a team with definite weaknesses as well as strengths, just like the Bruins, and the question is what team will impose its will upon the other at the most important parts of the game. The Bruins showed against UC-I and the Washington schools that they can play at the other team's whim and then turn it on for 9 great minutes and win. Columbia tried to show UCLA the same thing Thursday night, but it didn't work out. Probably because UCLA was just better than Columbia, so it didn't matter.
Neither UCLA or Georgetown has played all that impressively this season, so it's hard to say who has the better team from the talent standpoint. So, this game will come down to a combination of execution and coaching. The Bruins showed against Alabama that they have both. At least, once every ten games. It's time to do it again.
Prediction: UCLA 79, Georgetown 68.