After yet another bad loss in Pittsburgh, the Pirates come back home for a couple games, the first of which is Tuesday against the previously sliding Georgetown Hoyas. Now we all remember the upset of the 15th-ranked Hoyas back in 2009 at the Rock, but the Pirates caught the Hoyas at the right time back then- at the beginning of a slide that would eventually land them in the middle of the pack in the Big East standings and without a top-25 ranking. This time around, the Hoyas are back on track, as they achieved victory over Rutgers on Saturday at the RAC.
Here's the report:
2010-11 record: 13-5 (2-4 Big East)
2009-10 record: 23-11 (10-8 Big East; 1st round NCAAs)
Key losses: Greg Monroe
Key returnees: Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Jason Clark, Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims, Nate Lubick (freshman), Jerelle Benimon
The Hoyas recently were on a rather shocking 3-game slide that saw them drop to a stunning 1-4 in Big East play before their aforementioned win over Rutgers, among those being losses to St. John's and West Virginia as well as a blowout loss to Pittsburgh at home.
But as usual, Big East Preseason Player of the Year Austin Freeman would not have a 4th straight loss. He slapped up a 25/9/4 (PTS/REB/AST) with 4 threes and a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line to lead the Hoyas to the ship-righting victory. Freeman is one of the best players in the conference and is continuing to put up some very impressive numbers this season. An efficient and prolific shooter and scorer, Freeman is averaging 17.9 PTS, 3.2 REB and 2.4 AST with some riDONKulous percentages (54% FG, 47% 3pt, 85% FT). Trying to stop Freeman is like trying to stop Jeremy Hazell, or any other similar perimeter scorer- force him into contested jump shots. Freeman, like Hazell, will make some of those shots, but that's the best way to contain him.
Part two of the Hoyas' Big 3 is Chris Wright. Contrary to what you may think, it is Wright that is the key to the Hoyas' success. When he plays well, Georgetown tends to win. When he struggles, they struggle. The starting point guard for John Thompson III, Wright is averaging 12.7 PTS and 5.5 AST a game with almost 2 STL per contest as well, but his percentages are ok, but not great (43% FG, 32% 3pt, 76% FT). Don't get me wrong- those are good, but with a player of Wright's skill, it seems slightly dissappointing. For more evidence of his importance to Georgetown, consider these numbers- in Hoya wins this year, Wright is averaging 14.3 PTS on 48% shooting. In Hoya losses? Just 8.6 PTS on a paltry 27% shooting. He has scored in single digits in 4 of those 5 losses.
Jason Clark is the third member of the Big 3, and the most underrated. This guy is one of the best open shot-makers I've ever seen, and he loves the corner threes. He's averaging 13 PTS and 4.1 REB on 51% shooting (37% from deep), and doubles as one of Georgetown's best perimeter defenders. If the Pirates leave him open, he will burn them almost every time. Every one of the Big 3 shoots a lot (559 combined attempts against 411 for the rest of the team), shoots the three a lot (at least 76 attempts each, with the next highest total being Hollis Thompson's 46), and plays over 30 minutes a game.
Rounding out the starting 5 are Julian Vaughn, a veteran big man who is crucial to the Hoyas' halfcourt sets (8.6 PTS, 6.5 REB- first on the team), and Hollis Thompson, who can score when called upon (8.1 PTS, 4.2 REB).
The Hoyas are deeper than they were last year, with Henry Sims and Nate Lubick backing up the post, and Vee Sanford, Markel Starks and Jerelle Benimon backing up the guards/wings. But the starting 5 still plays the bulk of the minutes, with every Hoya starter playing at least 22 minutes a game while none of the bench players have played more than 17 minutes per game (Lubick). JT3 is like Jim Boeheim in this sense- he has guys who he trusts, and will play them most of the time.
The Hoyas are a team with a system, involving a lot of timed cuts and pinpoint passes in the halfcourt, with the occasional Chris Wright fast break mixed in. The Pirates will need to be focused off the ball in this game, and watch out for Freeman and Clark spotting up for threes. Down low, it will be all about foul trouble. If the Hoyas get Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson into some foul trouble, it won't be good for Seton Hall. Conversely, if the Pirates are able to put Vaughn and/or Thompson and/or Lubick into foul trouble, it will be advantage Pirates as long as Pope and Robinson stay out of it.
The Big 3 merit a lot of attention, and they are going to get it from the Pirates' defense. The Hoyas like the 3-point shot, so I would expect the Pirates to extend their zone a bit to combat that shot-making ability. If the Hoyas are not making threes, then the Pirates' job on defense will be made a whole lot easier. At the same time, don't expect a performance from Clark, Freeman and Wright like the last time the Hoyas visited the Prudential Center; the current Big 3 combined to shoot 3-20 that day, with Wright making 2-11 and Freeman going 1-9.
Looking at the statistics, one thing that also sticks out to me is the fact that there are 6 Hoyas averaging 3 or more rebounds. Vaughn leads them at 6.5 REB, but they do a good job of "gang rebounding." This means that although the Pirates don't need to send everyone to the boards, they do have to box out everyone in range of the paint to ensure that they don't endure a night like they had in Pittsburgh, when they got murdered on the boards.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- They hold their own on the boards. Pretty simple concept, but you wouldn't think it after watching the game on Saturday.
- Hazell has a triumphant home return. It will be Hazell's first home game since November 14th against Cornell. The fans should be excited to see him, and he should be amped to be playing at home again. If the crowd gets up, so will Jeremy.
- They don't allow Georgetown to get many open looks from the perimeter. If the Hoyas make threes, they are tough to beat. They knock down the open ones. I don't have to spell it out any more, do I?
HOYAS WILL WIN IF:
- Chris Wright plays well. The litmus test for a Hoyas win is his performance.
- They get decent contributions from their bench.
- Austin Freeman has "one of those nights," in which everything he throws up at the rim seems to go in. Think Hazell vs Louisville in the 07-08 season.
Will it be a challenge? Yes. Is it winnable? Yes, especially considering the crowd will be excited to see Hazell again and because the students come back from break Tuesday. A good home court advantage like the last time the Hoyas visited the Rock should help the Pirates tremendously in this game. Let's just hope that advantage shows up.