Preview: West Virginia - Georgetown

A second chance for a major Big East win arrives as West Virginia plays at Georgetown in a nationally-televised contest Thursday at 7 p.m.

SCOUTING THE HOYAS

There are concerns surrounding WVU entering this game. The Mountaineers are establishing a pattern of building leads through halftime or early in the second period, then allowing them to dissipate by the 10-minute mark as contests go undecided into the final minutes. As one article on MSNsportsNet.com showcases, West Virginia has better shooting percentages, rebounding numbers and scoring against all foes combined this season. But within the Big East, the Mountaineers, 2-2, are shooting 39.1 percent to foes' 43.3, and averaging four fewer rebounds and eight fewer points. The points come largely from the blowout defeat at Marquette, but the rebounding numbers are a concern both because it's a focus of Bob Huggins and staff and because WVU allowed Marquette and South Florida to crash the boards effectively.

That will happen again if West Virginia doesn't put forth a strong effort against No. 12 Georgetown. The Hoyas have a major size edge, essentially equaling Connecticut in physicality and raw ability if not overall experience. And head coach John Thompson III has lessened the reins on the offense, allowing for more of a free flow and style to the system, which has enabled his team to more effectively run sets even when opponents disrupt the initial sequences. Led by 6-8, 236-pound forward DaJuan Summers, who averages 15.5 points, GU has four starters in double figures. Summers scored 21 points in a 76-67 loss at Duke, which was the third loss in five games for the Hoyas. But this team is a legit Elite Eight or better contender, and is looking to West Virginia to halt the slide and regain momentum. Summers, who isn't a major rebounder for his size, is making 54 percent of his shots from the field and a frightening 44.8 percent from three-point range on 58 attempts. That means the junior is good for about 1.5 threes per game, making defenders guard him beyond the perimeter. He tallies 4.4 rebounds per contest, but the vast majority of those are defensive and he will turn the ball over.

Center Greg Monroe is hitting for 13.2 points per game, and at 6-11, 250 pounds, will be a load for Devin Ebanks. Monroe's making everything, canning 57 percent from the floor while mixing and matching drop-step lay-ins and head fakes and hooks. Although he is no three-point threat, the freshman averages 6.3 rebounds per game and has been amazingly steady for his experience level. He has 45 assists and 36 turnovers with 29 blocks and, somehow, 29 steals. It's a solid line that shows the level of players and program Georgetown has both now and for the future. Two guards, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, average 13.4 and 12 points per game, respectively. Freeman, an off guard, is converting more than 50 percent of his shots, but struggles from deep range. The 6-4, 239-pounder is a grinder, a player bent on getting physical and muscling up more than settling for select shots. He and GU's system are among the reasons the team's shooting percentage is a solid 48.8. Freeman gets into the lane and to the rim, forcing defenders to collapse for on-ball defense. The sophomore then dumps off to the frontcourt or kicks outside to the shooters. And because of the Hoya patience within its motion and cuts, defenders are forced to work through the entire shot clock – often against bigger, stronger and more talented players.

Wright, 6-1, 201 pounds, mans the point. His 32 minutes per game are more than any other Hoya, but Georgetown does have an effective back-up, meaning WVU will again play shorthanded in the man-on-man match-ups. Wright missed all of the Big East regular season last year with foot issues, but did play in the conference tournament and postseason. He assumed the full-time starting role this year and has handled it well. The D.C. native has 59 assists to 33 turnovers with 19 steals, and he is efficient on the defensive glass and, shocker, makes more than 50 percent from the floor. The fifth starter is a familiar name in Jessie Sapp, an athletic, 6-3 212-pound guard who has been with Georgetown for three-plus seasons now. The senior has started since his freshman year and, though his numbers are down a bit, is scoring seven points and contributing four boards per game. The lone upperclassmen to start, Sapp hasn't shot as well as his counterparts but is on the floor for decent defense and his ability to create steals and transition well.

Key reserves Jason Clark and Omar Watted are playing 18 and 12 minutes per game, respectively. Clark, a 6-2, 176-pound guard, is starting to develop within the system and though he doesn't handle the ball as well as he could, is beginning to see increased time as the season moves into late January. The freshman isn't flashy, but can get the Hoyas into the offense and provide rest for the backcourt. Watted, 6-5 and 225 pounds, is a guard/forward combo who gives Thompson III options. The sophomore started one game in place of Sapp and is serviceable in spurts. Julian Vaughn (6-9, 246-pound sophomore forward) and Henry Sims (6-10, 225-pound freshman center) could also see time depending upon the game situation. Vaughn is an Oak Hill Academy (Va.) product who transferred from Florida State. He plays about 10 minutes a game with two points and two boards on average. Simms is still getting a feel for the interior contact and his averages are about the same as Vaughn's.

OUTLOOK

Georgetown shows flashes of great play, then stretches of being pretty average but getting away with it because of skill and size. The Hoyas knocked off Connecticut – which of late seems susceptible to tough, efficient play – and beat also-ran Providence and Syracuse within the Big East. League losses are to Notre Dame and at home versus Pitt in a game in which the Hoyas rallied to tie at 41-41 only to be outscored 29-13 over the final stretches. Unlike West Virginia, GU has the ability to make mistakes and play through them due to raw ability. There will likely be errors made by the home team. But unless the Mountaineers do absolutely everything correctly in a tough road contest, the chances are slim and none of leaving D.C. with a win over Georgetown for the third time in league play.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Thurs. Jan. 22
7 p.m. EST

Verizon Center
Records
WVU 13-4, 2-2
Georgetown 12-4, 3-2
Series
Georgetown 26-20
TV
ESPN
MSN Radio
RPI
WVU - 26
Georgetown - 6

WVU needs to show some life. It didn't box out well against South Florida, and even approaching that against the Hoyas will result in a major thumping. West Virginia must get physical, seal opposing players off from the rim and execute well on both ends, getting the ball into the hands of their scorers – who must stay on the floor. Da'Sean Butler should have a size advantage, or at least a stalemate, and be able to get shots off. Staying out of foul trouble and avoiding the hack-and-grab 30-plus feet from the hoop will be huge. That, some decent shooting from Alex Ruoff and Truck Bryant not wondering off mentally and physically for stretches loom large. The size and Hoya sets can become smothering at times with its relentlessness and efficiency. Unlike Connecticut, Georgetown won't settle for simply attacking the lane and rim and tossing up a shot when players are not positioned well on the floor. GU instead sets up certain shots and/or gets the ball in the hands of specific players with which it feels it can operate best.

The flow doesn't truly resemble that of West Virginia under former coach John Beilein. But there are similar philosophies at work: movement, backcuts, pick-and-rolls, searching for the best – not the first – shot and making far more than one misses. There will be few rebound chances against a team converting almost 50 percent from the field. If WVU allows Georgetown to get routine boards on the offensive end, it might as well not show. All info indicates this game as being more difficult, because of player personnel, location and styles, than was the home contest against the Huskies. Even with Joe Alexander, the Mountaineers never really competed with GU last season. It won't get easier now, though a loss to Georgetown usually isn't a quick kill. The Hoyas slyly pull away, methodically knocking one out like slow suffocation.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder). Jonnie West, out (broken foot).

Georgetown: None.

FAST BREAKS

Georgetown's schedule strength tops the list at RealTimeRPI.com, boosted by games against top-rated Duke and No. 2 Pittsburgh. The Hoyas are sixth in the RPI overall and have also played games against the 13th and 14th rated teams, winning both.

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This begins a stretch in which West Virginia plays seven of its next nine games against teams ranked in the Top 25. After facing Georgetown on the road, WVU plays host to Pitt, then faces St. John's (not in the Top 25) at home, Louisville and Syracuse on the road, Providence at home (not Top 25), plays at Pitt and finishes in the Coliseum against Villanova and Notre Dame. Buckle up. The Mountaineers have won seven of their last nine, but it was nothing like what's to come.

* * *

WVU beat Arizona and Duke in the first and second rounds, respectively, of the NCAA Tournament last year at the Verizon Center. If the Mountaineers can somehow pull the upset in this game, Huggins will tie Cam Henderson for 27th place on the all-time Division I coaching wins list with 630.

* * *

This is expected to be the 10th straight game missed by former starting point guard Joe Mazzulla.

* * *

Georgetown is 9-1 at the Verizon Center this year. Thompson III, a Princeton graduate, is 84-34 in four years with the Hoyas. He is 152-76 overall as a head coach, including 4-2 against the Mountaineers. Huggins is 0-2 against GU.

* * *

West Virginia is 6-16 against Georgetown since joining the Big East. The Hoyas beat WVU last year in the Big East semifinals after snapping the school's 15-game home winning streak during the regular season by blocking the final shot of regulation on a play some fans and pundits felt was a goaltend.


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