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Previewing Georgetown: Seton Hall is up against the ropes

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Turning Georgetown over and speeding things up offensively are two keys to a Seton Hall victory on Tuesday night.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In need of a win more so than any other point this season, Seton Hall will clash with an opponent that is also looking to turn things around.

Georgetown (15-8, 7-5) is safely in projected NCAA fields right now, but the Hoyas are reeling a bit after losing three of their last four games including nearly identical losses to Xavier at home (66-53) and Villanova (69-53) on the road. A primary culprit for Georgetown's struggles is turning the ball over. John Thompson III's team has committed at least 10 turnovers over the last five games and have coughed the rock up 15.6 times in their five Big East losses. The Hoyas rank 9th in Big East play at protecting the ball and their offensive production has taken a dip as a result.

Even more rabid for a win, Seton Hall (15-8, 5-6) is on the brink of slipping out of the NCAA field after dropping five of their last seven and six of their last nine. With their steady erosion well-documented since beating both Villanova and St. John's, the Hall's primary fault is also on the offensive end. Turnovers and inefficient offense have been allowed to degrade their defensive ability.

"It's really hard when you're turning the ball over early in the game to get in a good offensive rhythm," pinpointed Hall coach Kevin Willard after losing to Marquette on Saturday. "We were just a little bit loose with the basketball where we had been pretty good for most of the year. We just could never get in a rhythm offensively."

Senior forward Brandon Mobley (9.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) agreed.

"Naturally everybody picks up defensively when they score, which it should be the other way around," he said Saturday. "Whenever we can get stops and get out on the break and get easy buckets we can get ourselves going, but when we're not playing well offensively that gets stuck in our head like ‘Oh man I just missed a shot' then it affects us defensively."

While it seems clear that Seton Hall's downfall has seeped into the heads of their players, Willard thinks dictating the tempo on Tuesday and beyond is one key to turning things around.

"We're not creating enough tempo right now," he said of his team, which is 7th in the conference in tempo. "We have to work for everything in the half court. We have to try and get back to trying to create enough tempo to get easier shots. Against [Marquette] last time and against Xavier we were able to create a good tempo."

Seton Hall has won two in a row against Georgetown, sweeping the Hoyas last season for the first time since 2002-03, with the last four games in the series all decided by 10 or more points including three wins for the Pirates.

Scouting Georgetown:

Neck-and-neck with Seton Hall for the best freshman class in the conference, the Hoyas play a fairly conventional lineup with Big East preseason Player of the Year D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera (15.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.3 apg) leading the team in scoring at one-guard and strong 6-foot-5 slashing senior Jabril Trawick (8.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg) at two-guard. Smith-Rivera is the JT3's go-to guy down the stretch and like Sterling Gibbs has the ability to make clutch shots. Smith-Rivera is by far Georgetown's biggest threat from beyond the arc (47-123, 38%). Talented freshman wing L.J. Peak (9 ppg) has started every game but one this season but has only reached double figures twice over his last nine games.

At power forward, 6-foot-9 senior Mikael Hopkins (4.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg) isn't much of a scoring threat having reached double figures just twice this season, but is a force around the rim with the 56th-best block percentage in the nation. Hopkins plays alongside mercurial behemoth Josh Smith (11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), who struggles to get up and down the court but is one of the hardest post forwards to stop in the country. Smith also sports the 17th-best offensive rebounding percentage in the nation and only trails Daniel Ochefu at attacking the glass in conference play.

Senior Aaron Bowen (6.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and freshmen Paul White (5.5, 3 rpg) and Isaac Copeland (5.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg) come off the bench to man several forward positions while freshman Tre Campbell (3.1 ppg, 1.1 apg) is the first guard off John Thompson III's bench. The group have provided plenty of points off the pine including 10 from Bowen against Villanova and 10 apiece from Copeland and Campbell against Providence last Wednesday. Copeland has emerged from the bunch in Big East play and is averaging 9.7 over his last 8 games compared to 4.1 ppg over the first 14 of the season.

As a team, Georgetown is 282nd in the country in percentage of points from three with Smith-Rivera as their only player who has attempted more than 52 this season. To compare, Seton Hall has four players who have done so including Isaiah Whitehead, who missed over a month of action. Further, the Hoyas are 300th in the country in having fouls drawn against them (FTA/FGA) and are below-average at defending the three. Big East schools have shot 41 percent from three in the five conference games that Georgetown has lost.

Three things to watch:

Stopping Josh Smith. If Seton Hall gets into a slow-paced slugfest tomorrow night, they'll be in for a real challenge on the interior. Ramping up the pace will be especially important here as Smith just isn't physically capable of running the court without getting gassed and can be easily taken out of the game this way. If they're not able to do so, Chier Ajou and Rashed Anthony will most likely be called upon to pick up some fouls and provide Angel Delgado a rest.

Defending the two. Yes, this is yet again at the forefront for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard admitted post-Marquette that he needs to figure out the interior defense that has "killed" the team and called it an Achilles heel. As identified above, the Hoyas are not a perimeter-oriented team and will look to make a living from within it (slashes, backdoor cuts, mid-range jumpers). Seton Hall opponents have scored 58.6 percent of their total points from two-pointers, which is the 8th-most nationally.

Body language and a fast start. We should be able to identify if Seton Hall has started to mend things behind the scenes by the first media timeout. The body language of Isaiah Whitehead, Sterling Gibbs, Brandon Mobley and the bench will be indicators of team morale with all four displaying troubling signs against Marquette.

Last 10 meetings (6-4 Georgetown):

Feb. 20, 2014, SETON HALL 82, Georgetown 67, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 18, 2014, SETON HALL 67, Georgetown 57, Washington, D.C.

Jan. 30, 2013, Georgetown 74, SETON HALL 52, Washington, D.C.
Feb. 21, 2012, SETON HALL 73, Georgetown 55, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 18, 2011, Georgetown 80, Seton Hall 75, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 14, 2010, Georgetown 85, Seton Hall 73, Washington, D.C.
Jan. 25, 2009, SETON HALL 65, Georgetown 60, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 2, 2008, Georgetown 73, SETON HALL 61, Washington, D.C.
Jan. 19, 2007, Georgetown 74, SETON HALL 58, East Rutherford, N.J.
March 9, 2005, Georgetown 56, SETON HALL 51, New York, N.Y.

KenPom says: No. 53 Seton Hall 67, No. 25 Georgetown 66 (52%)

Projected Georgetown starters:

G - D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera (15.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.3 apg)
G - Jabril Trawick (8.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg)
G/F - L.J. Peak (9 ppg)
PF - Mikael Hopkins (4.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg
C - Joshua Smith (11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

When: Tuesday, 7pm

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: 970 AM

Opening line: Seton Hall -1