Preview: West Virginia - Georgetown

West Virginia tries to win its third consecutive Big East road game when it challenges No. 22 Georgetown in Washington, D.C. tonight.


The opposing style and cutting offense faced this game will remind West Virginia of itself, minus the outside shooting ability – and reliance, at times. In typical Hoya fashion, Georgetown (18-5, 8-2 Big East) offers a huge front line. Center Roy Hibbert (7-2, 278 lbs., Jr.) leads the country in field goal percentage, connecting on 70.3 percent of his shots. Head coach John Thompson III relies on the inside points within his Princeton offense, and Hibbert, flanked by Jeff Green (6-9, 235 lbs., Jr.) and DaJuan Summers (6-8, 241 lbs. Fr.), provides them at a 13.1 per game clip. He also averages 6.4 rebounds per game and could prove a huge mismatch inside with putbacks, something WVU head coach John Beilein knows his team must avoid to have any chance of pulling an upset.

Add in Green and Summers, and Georgetown will be the tallest and most physical back line as a whole that the Mountaineers will play this season. Green ties for team-highs with his 13.1 per game average and plays 35 minutes per game. He will try the occasional outside shot, making 14 of 32 on the year in 10 conference games, but is mainly a slasher and post force. Summers, with a slightly bigger build, is the same type player. The outside shots (14 of 35) are almost identical over the same set of contests. The three man can hit the midrange jumper and has better quickness. The tandem is difficult to handle because, unlike past Hoya forwards, are not solely inside or drive-and-finish threats. They can shoot, and that, paired with size, makes it tough. Does WVU (19-5, 7-4) man up to them tight, risking a drive by, or back off for a jumper made more open by a free look at the hoop via a combined four-inch advantage? Best bet: make shots and get into the 1-3-1 zone, which has helped the Mountaineers lead the Big East in three-point field goal defense.

The backcourt of Jessie Sapp (6-3, 205 lbs. Soph.) and Jonathan Wallace (6-1, 188 lbs. Jr.) don't rack up incredible assist-to-turnover numbers like WVU's Darris Nichols and Alex Ruoff, but have provided a major point punch. Sapp (9.0 ppg) and Wallace (11.2 ppg) are steady, system players. They shoot well, but not spectacularly, and seem, even as second- and third-year players, respectively, to support the inside dominance. They average less than three three-point attempts per game within league play, though Wallace has drilled 47.3% from long range this year on 91 tries. Backup Jeremiah Rivers (6-4, 205 lbs., Fr.) has played about 12 minutes and averaged fewer than two points per game. He has 13 turnovers against five assists in his maiden league season.

The reserve forwards are Vernon Macklin (6-9, 227 lbs. Fr.) and Patrick Ewing, Jr. (6-8, 238 lbs., Jr.). They combine for 21 minutes and seven points per game on average. Macklin flashes a finer inside game, while Ewing, Jr. has better range. They are solid enough to not force Thompson III to steal minutes. Three-man Tyler Crawford (6-3, 205 lbs., Jr.) plays 10 minutes and is the typical swingman.

The depth within the lineup is the league's best outside of Pitt. Georgetown's efficiency matches that of West Virginia in regards to taking care of the ball. But the system should not be confused with Beilein's. It is a Princeton offense, which does not rely on the outside shot; Georgetown does benefit, however, from a very good inside game, one of the program's strong suit over the last quarter century. The most impressive facet is the level of player Thompson III has recruited while getting away from a purely pound-it-inside approach. Equalling the inside game with its outside, at least in points and effectiveness, will be the main test for WVU.


Georgetown is playing its third game in six days. West Virginia has its quickest turnaround of the season after beating then-No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. Both teams will be partially spent from the past two outings, the Mountaineers having had a 40-minute slugfest with the Bruins and the Hoyas having hosted – and beaten – then-No. 11 Marquette. WVU is lacking in guard numbers, and that lack of depth will be tested by a team that runs out nine players per game that see at least five minutes, and eight of which play at least 10.

Game Info
Mon Feb 12
8:00 p.m.

Verizon Center
WVU 19-5, 7-4
GU 18-5, 8-2
GU 23-20
Sirius Channel: 130
WVU - 37
GU - 26
But neither squad is known as a proficient running team that will get up and down. Rather, both like to get into their offense sets and work for good shots. That's amounted to a 53.9 shooting percentage from Georgetown. But the Hoyas will likely press West Virginia, both to slow the Mountaineers from getting into sets and try to force turnovers with its skill and quickness. This is a normal Princeton set – Thompson III was an assistant with the Tigers – but it is one routinely labeled as having athletes. That translates especially over to defense, where GU's length is formidable. Short jumpers and points in the paint could be difficult by which to come, so shooting becomes even more important for West Virginia. It will need to have its legs for this game, one in which Nichols, the point guard, will likely play another 37-plus minutes in a tough environment.

Also, how much the Mountaineers left on the floor after their upset of No. 2 UCLA remains to be seen. Can a much-shortened bench provide the needed points and minutes against another team with waves of players (Pittsburgh)? And will WVU continue to play with its hard edge that it amassed in practices after Pitt and prior to beating the Bruins, or will they settle for outside looks in the face of a huge inside team and relentless on-ball pressure? The teams rank 1-2 in the Big East in scoring defense, with Georgetown's 58.0 allowed ranking just ahead of West Virginia's 58.5.

The play of Rob Summers – who has been a rock over the previous 24 games – might be focused upon with his team playing the big front line. But a main aspect to watch isn't the center play, but the one through three spots. Nichols and Ruoff will need to avoid turnovers, something they should be able to manage, as GU has forced just 117 while committing 127, while also running the offense and getting West Virginia into its flow. Transition points will be at a premium, so shooting becomes magnified. And since Summers has yet to take trey this year, the eyes will be on Nichols, Ruoff and Young to provide that spark.

Also, with the size and solid overall defense of the Hoyas, especially inside, Joe Alexander must try to play more within himself. The sophomore was out of control on a few dribble drives against UCLA, but showed improvement from his drive-and-dunk or implode mentality versus the Panthers. He has struggled of late with the baseline jumper, but he is good enough from the spot that he should not be afraid to continue to hoist from there. It's often open within the sets, and the shots will eventually fall. It is, after all, probably at least as good as the 50-50 shots Beilein desires. But forcing going to the rim or trying too hard to beat a team one-on-one, the antithesis of the Beilein system – have odds much worse than a coin flip.


WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Probable, Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out.

Georgetown: None.


Georgetown and West Virginia meet for the 44th time tonight. The Hoyas lead the head-to-head series, 23-20. The Mountaineers have had the advantage recently, winning three of the last four meetings, with the margin of victory in the last eight games between the teams being 6.1 points, with the Hoyas holding a 5-3 advantage. Georgetown is 15-7 at home against West Virginia and has won five of the last six meetings at the Verizon Center. The teams met twice last year, with the Mountaineers winning both games, 68-61 in Morgantown, and then 69-56 at Verizon Center, ending a Hoya seven-game win streak.

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Georgetown has won its last seven by an average margin of 15.7 points, a huge differential when one considers the level of competition. Part of that is its inside dominance via Hibbert and the solid shooting percentage. Part is its defense, which is limiting foes and allowing the Hoyas to get into sets and operate it offense without worry about mounting a comeback. And part is the offense itself, which is a Princeton style with very good athletes. WVU will see a mirror image of itself, with cutting and backdoor attempts, though without the outside threats.

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Green is heating up. The forward has averaged 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists over the last five games, when the Hoyas have, not so coincidentally, been on a run. He was named to the Big East Honor Roll on Feb. 5. He had a career-high 24 points in a Feb. 1 win over St. John's and has been the much-needed added scoring threat that has allowed Georgetown to hit its stride.

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Georgetown's 1,420 all-time wins – it has won its last seven and can stretch that to a season-high eight with a win over WVU, the longest win streak since the 2003-04 team won the first nine games of the season – are just 73 behind West Virginia's 1,493. The Mountaineers should become a member of the 1,500 club next season, when it joins fewer than 25 other basketball programs. WVU is the winngest program of all-time without a national title.

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When Georgetown students were required to study Greek and Latin, all teams were referred to as "The Stonewalls." A student, using terms from both, started to cheer "Hoya Saxa," which translates into "What Rocks!" Thus, Georgetown's actual nickname is What, or the Whats. Who's on first?

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Finally, Georgetown has used a deflated basketball as a trademark since 1972, getting "players to understand that one day basketball will be over, be it four years from now when you graduate or 20 years from now when your NBA career is over," Thompson III said. "One day the air is going to go out of that ball, so you have to prepare yourself for life after basketball." The Hoya press release claims that the ball is relevant within academia, noting that 98 of the past 100 program players who stayed four years have graduated. Georgetown, by the way, does not offer academic scholarships – only athletic.

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