While a competitive loss to Maryland on the road Tuesday is understandable, Georgetown – picked to finish second in the Big East conference – lost its season opener to Radford in overtime, making the Hoyas winless as they enter Friday afternoon’s contest against Wisconsin in Madison Square Garden. Like Wisconsin, Georgetown is going through some growing pains of breaking in three new starters.
The game against Georgetown will clearly be the toughest challenge to date for Wisconsin, even though both teams are on a learning curve and learning how to coexist with each other on the court. Wisconsin struggled against the Hoyas’ physicality last year in a three point win in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament semifinals.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to win against Georgetown
Lay up: Elevating its play
It is a difficult stretch when you have to play three games in a five day span, and the effects of the early season grind were starting to show on Tuesday night against North Dakota, especially with the freshmen showing signs of fatigue. Wisconsin will have the “luxury” of two days off before squaring off with Georgetown, which hopefully is enough time for Alex Illikainen, Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas to get re-energized before having to take on a team that is shooting 47.7 percent from the field on 54.5 shot attempts a game.
With Georgetown wanting to push the ball at times, Iverson, Thomas and Illikainen will need to be disciplined and not fall for shot fakes. If any of the three get in foul trouble in the first half, it could test the depth. For the most part the trio have done well not committing fouls, as all three average less than 2.6 fouls a game.
The good news for the trio as they continue to get their feet wet is that Georgetown is also breaking in a new rotation in the frontcourt, as the three will be defending someone who, like them, are seeing their first significant playing time. Wisconsin’s youth should be able to find a way of matching up with Georgetown’s frontcourt on the low block and prevent easy baskets. If Iverson, Thomas and Illikainen continue to play smart basketball like they have through the first week of the season, they will be able to help keep Wisconsin in the game against Georgetown.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin win the turnover battle?
Part of the reason to Georgetown’s 0-2 start is they have committed 14.5 turnovers a game, including 17 against Radford. Wisconsin has done well in three games of finding ways to create turnovers, forcing opponents into 12.3 per game.
If Georgetown continues to make miscues, Wisconsin will need to find a way of capitalizing on mistakes, which could help the offense get into a rhythm. Over three games Wisconsin has been able to convert opposing team’s turnovers into 41 points. There could be instances where Wisconsin can get some easy points in transition off of a Georgetown mistake.
In particular, Bradley Hayes (six turnovers) and Isaac Copeland (five) have struggled taking care of the ball. If either are being careless with the ball, Wisconsin will need to capitalize by either poking the ball away or by cutting off a passing lane to help create an extra offensive possession.
While the Hoyas have been sloppy with the ball, Georgetown has been able to find ways of force 24 turnovers in two games. The bad news for the Hoyas is that Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over, so they will have to work hard on defense in order to force UW into making a mistake. Wisconsin only coughs the basketball up 6.7 times a game, which ranks fourth in the NCAA.
It is unlikely that Wisconsin will go perfect in the game from a turnover standpoint, so the Badgers will need to recover well against a Hoyas team averaging 10 points off of team turnovers. Wisconsin allows only eight points off of its own miscues, so limiting mistakes and playing aggressive defense could give Georgetown some difficulty of getting into a rhythm on offense.
3-pointer: The play of Wisconsin’s frontcourt
Hayes has been Georgetown’s leading scorer through two games, using his 7-foot frame to be effective around the rim, averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 68.1 percent from the floor on an average of 11 shot attempts. Those are impressive stats when you consider he averaged 4.1 minutes a season ago.
With Wisconsin not having a consistent rim protector, it has become an adjustment and a struggle to make sure teams don’t consistently find ways of getting the ball down low for easy points. The Badgers have allowed it to be too easy at times, allowing opponents to score at least 30 points in the paint. For the most part that is where half of the team’s scoring comes from.
Georgetown has been able to run its offense at times through Hayes and the other frontcourt players to help set up scoring opportunities. The Hoyas are averaging 31 points in the paint, making it important that Vitto Brown and the rest of the Badgers frontcourt play strong defense that prevents easy opportunities. Although Wisconsin will need to be ready for Hayes, they will also need to be aware of where Copeland is on the floor, as he’s averaging 12 points a game, and 7-0 freshman Jessie Govan, who’s averaging seven points a game.
With Georgetown having a clear height advantage, it will be important that Wisconsin doesn’t get caught out of position when fighting for a rebound, as it will make Georgetown’s life easier and could lead to an easy putback. Wisconsin will need to win the rebounding battle but more importantly limit the Hoyas to only one shot per offensive possession. Through two games Georgetown is averaging 7.5 offensive rebounds a game.
More opportunities for the Hoyas means more chances for D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to run the offense. Able to score 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting against the Badgers last year, Smith-Rivera is averaging 4.5 assists this season and is second on the team in scoring with 14.5 points. If he’s not finding one of the Hoyas frontcourt players, he could be finding the driving lanes to challenge Wisconsin.