Games That Matter: Tennessee at Georgetown

Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

NYHoya drops knowledge ahead of tonight's game between the Vols and Hoyas.

Rankings:

ESPN / USA Today: 25
AP: 20
RPI: 31

A Few Quick-Hitters:

Side Effects of Conference Realignment: Is anyone else finding it incredibly difficult to watch non-Georgetown basketball games this season? I typically struggle to watch sporting events unless I have at least some rooting interest, even if it's a minor one. In years past, this hasn't been a problem. I've tended to abide by the following rooting principles: root for teams that Georgetown competes against because it helps our strength of schedule; root for Big East teams, sans Syracuse and occasionally one or two others, in their non-conference games; root against teams that I traditionally hate, like Duke. This year, with the after effects of conference realignment still stinging, I'm growing increasingly confused. It's no longer a matter of just rooting against Syracuse and Pitt because they're causing the demise of the Big East. Now it has become more complex. Notre Dame v. Kentucky. Who to root for? Almost equally bad options. Duke v. Louisville. Normally a no-brainer, but that was before Louisville joined the dark side. Who cares about conference pride when your team's conference is crumbling? Why root for Big East teams against the SEC when most of those teams won't even be in the Big East next season? People have commented on the causes and effects of conference realignment ad nauseam, so there is no need to discuss how the erosion of traditional rivalries will impact the game, because much of it is obvious. But thus far into the 2012-13 college basketball season, I can say unequivocally that this season just hasn't been as much fun for me to watch. Maybe it's because I have less time than usual (I now have a kid), or maybe it's because I've become jaded by realignment; either way, as of the last week of November 2012, one thing is clear: I don't care as much about college basketball as I used to. And that is a very sad thing.

How to Cope with Conference Realignment: I think the remedy is simple: root for Georgetown and screw everyone else. Everyone else is doing what's best for them. We just need to win games and worry about ourselves. If that means extending the middle finger to every other team, particularly those with DI-A football teams, so be it. I'm comfortable being the bitter old guy (a la Nick's character from "New Girl") who roots for everyone to lose, while reminiscing about the glory days of 2010, when there existed a basketball conference called the Big East, and dammit, it was something special. The conference I care about now is a conference of one: it's called Georgetown, and everyone else can go home.

· Lack of Depth: It's become clear that our lineup consists of seven guys. Surprising, yes (especially after hearing JTIII tell us in early October that this was one of the deepest and most athletic teams he's ever had). But is it a problem? Maybe. Our starting lineup is fairly solid, and Jabril and DSR will continue to improve. We should be fine. But I continue to believe we won't be truly great unless we get at least one more guy to enter the regular rotation. Maybe it will be Stevie Domingo. Maybe it will be one of the bigs. Still too early to tell. While it may be true that we boast one of the tallest starting lineups in the country, the reality is that we have very little frontcourt depth. When Hopkins or Nate gets into foul trouble, as they inevitably will, especially against bigger teams, we'll be in trouble. This will continue to evolve. If Markel can go from zero to hero in one week, and DSR can sort-of do the opposite, then who knows? Maybe there is hope for John Caprio.

· Mikael and Nate: We just need one of these guys to perform well each game. That's what it comes down to. If they both struggle, it will be tough for us to win. And if they both get into foul trouble, we probably lose. There are aspects of each player's game that I really like, and aspects that I really don't. Nate plays with a chip on his shoulder, has improved his rebounding, provides leadership, and is arguably our best passer (he certainly understands the offense). But he still doesn't have much of a mid-range game, and he insists on chucking threes even though half of the alumni cringes every single time it happens. Against UCLA, we tried having him flash to the foul line to break the zone, but it didn't work because Nate still isn't a threat to hit that foul line jumper. So Otto had to play that role instead (and he was effective). And as much as I loved Nate's left-handed sky hook against Shabazz Muhammad (a little Kareem against Kareem's old team), I hated when he tried it against Cody Zeller. Nate plays hard, but still needs to cut down on turnovers and cheap fouls. As for Mikael, let's all take a deep breath. His turnovers are frustrating to watch and he needs to do a better job of catching the ball and not getting stripped underneath the basket. He also needs to work on his mid-range game. That said, the kid is a young sophomore who is already averaging double figures and is clearly athletic enough to play. He's more athletic than Julian Vaughn and more skilled than pre-2012 Henry Sims. We would all prefer a true center who stands at least 6'11'', but that's not Comrade Mikael's fault. Let's hope he continues to get better because he's one of the real keys to this season. (Note: At least one person I know calls Hopkins "Comrade" because of his Russian-sounding first name. I think the nickname is absolutely horrible, and yet, somewhat amusing. If you have strong opinions either way, let me know. If Hop plays well on Friday night, the vodka will be flowing like the Volga River.) One other thing worth noting: if Hopkins doesn't foul out against Indiana, we have a great shot to win that game. He wasn't always perfect, but he played much better against Indiana than he did against UCLA (the opposite was true for Nate).

· The Barclays Center -- Food Options: The Brooklyn brisket banger is overpriced and not very good, but the Fatty ‘Cue sandwiches are delicious. And never bother to stop by the Buffalo Wild Wings or Applebee's (across the street from the Barclays Center) for pregame. They are both overcrowded and terrible. Applebee's, in particular, is just the worst. The apple chimi cheesecake used to be one of my late-night staples, but now, I can't really see myself going there ever again. It's disgusting, unhealthy and dirty. (And this is coming from someone who considers himself to be a connoisseur of fast food and suburban eateries.)

· Jabril Being Jabril: I hope you all saw the play in the second half of the UCLA game when Jabril knocked into a player and then stared at him when they were both on the ground. Instead of helping him up, he just walked away. A guy in my section shouted, "I'm sorry. Do you want an effing valet service? Go back to LA. This is Georgetown, bitch." I enjoyed that.


Preview of Friday Night's Game: Georgetown v. Tennessee:

In what is easily Georgetown's most marquee home game of the season, the Hoyas roll into the Verizon Center after six days off and play their first game as a nationally ranked team. Tennessee, for its part, comes into this game with four wins against middling competition and one embarrassing 17-point loss to Oklahoma State. The Volunteers are still in search of their first signature win of the season, and a road victory against the Hoyas would certainly provide them with that.

A year removed from Bruce Pearl's inglorious departure, the Vols haven't missed a beat under Cuonzo Martin. The players have really bought into Martin's defense-first philosophy and, despite some early injuries, including to senior big man Jeronne Maymon, the Vols look pretty good thus far, and are sure to provide some stiff competition.

With Maymon still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, the Vols are led by Jarnell Stokes (15.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Trae Golden (12.4 ppg, 5.2 apg). Stokes, a 6'8'' sophomore, is Tennessee's best player. He's a wide load in the middle of the paint and the focal point of the offense, at least until Maymon returns. He will be a difficult assignment for Mikael and Nate, especially since he is adept at drawing fouls and getting to the line (where he fortunately only makes 54% of his attempts). Stokes will need to be watched at all times, particularly on the offensive glass. Trae Golden, a 6'1'' junior, is the team's biggest playmaker. He's equally comfortable putting the ball on the floor and penetrating or stepping back to attempt perimeter shots. He still takes too many bad shots (and shoots only 40% from the floor), but he's a very good passer and, like Stokes, knows how to get to the line. The Hoyas need to keep him away from the basket and force him to shoot over the top.

Jordan McRae (10.0 ppg), a 6'5'' junior, is arguably Tennessee's most efficient scorer, while Josh Richardson (8.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), a 6'6'' sophomore, is one of its best defenders. Rounding out the lineup are 6'9'' senior Kenny Hall (7.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg), one of Tennessee's best rebounders, and 6'3'' senior Skylar McBee (7.6 ppg), who is without question the Volunteers' best perimeter shooter. Someone needs to watch McBee all night. Let's not turn him into the next Jordan Hulls. Please enjoy the "Skylar McBee's Mustache is Jealous of My Girlfriend's Mustache" facebook page. Still no word if/when Tennessee's Skylar will go the way of New Mexico's Skyler and sleep with Ted Beneke.

Keys to the Game:

1. Free Throws: I'm still disgusted by the free throw disparity in our game against Indiana. That can't happen against Tennessee. The Vols do a very good job of getting to the line. And we don't have a lot of depth. Nate, Mikael and Otto need to be careful. If we need to foul, then it makes sense to foul Stokes, who is terrible from the line, but otherwise, we have to watch out.

2. Guarding Stokes: To win, Tennessee needs Jarnell Stokes to play well. Georgetown needs to focus on him, deny him the ball, and everything else should follow.

3. Winning the Rebounding Battle: This Tennessee team is all about defense and rebounding. The Hoyas have been doing alright on the glass this season, but the Vols will present a real challenge. We'll need to get after it.

4. The Zone: Oklahoma State pummeled Tennessee because they shut down Jarnell Stokes and used a 2-3 zone for most of the game and forced the Vols to beat them from over the top. I expect Georgetown to do the same. Tennessee has a number of talented bigs, but only one true perimeter threat (McBee). By forcing perimeter shots, while keeping a close eye on Walter White's wife, the Hoyas should have the advantage.

5. The Princeton Offense: We've seen flashes of the offense, but we still haven't seen the real deal. I know this team is really young, but with six days off, I expect to see a few more successful cuts to the basket. Tennessee is wedded to its stingy man-to-man defense. And you know what happens when teams stick to man against Georgetown and try to extend the defense? They get burned when they're too aggressive. Now's the time to unleash the O. I expect Nate and Otto to each have at least four assists in this one.

Tennessee should be an NCAA Tourney team this year, so this won't be easy. But Georgetown needs this game, if only to show that last week's performances in Brooklyn weren't a fluke. We'll be at home, in a rare Friday night game, and we need to take care of business. Not because it's the Big East - SEC showdown and we feel some sort of Big East pride, but because we're Georgetown, and everyone else can suck it.

Let's go Hoyas. Beat Tennessee.

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