Finally! Your Georgetown Hoyas get their season rolling Friday night. And what a tip-off! A top-10 opponent, in prime time, on a battleship, in some sweet camo unis to honor the troops. The faithful (ok, I) have lots of questions about the season ahead, and Friday we'll start to get answers. Of course, we'll rush to judgment, swing from mass delusion to cynicism and back again, probably all in the span of a 40-minute game. And speaking of that game, let's get to it.
It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. It's been over six years since the Hoyas lost to the Gators in the 2006 Sweet Sixteen. Since then, Florida's arc has been a more exaggerated version of Georgetown's. After consecutive championships, the Gators missed the tournament entirely twice in a row. A return to near-glory has come in the last two seasons, when Florida has fallen in the Elite Eight in last-minute heartbreakers. While much of last year's roster is back, the guard-heavy rotation has been thinned by the departures of Brad Beal and Erving Walker.
Gators to Know. Leading this year's attack is senior guard Kenny Boynton (15.9 ppg, 2.7 apg, 40.7 3FG%), whose efficiency finally caught up with his volume (over 7 three-pointers attempted per game) last year, as his three-point percentage jumped nearly eight points. Flanking Boynton will be a trio of guards: junior Scottie Wilbekin (2.6 ppg, 1.6 apg, 45.7 3FG%), a caretaker elevated to starting point guard; freshman Braxton Ogbueze, who may eventually supplant Wilbekin as lead guard; fifth-year senior Mike Rosario (6.6 ppg, 33.7 3FG%), formerly a Rutgers Scarlet Knight and still a gunner.
Up front, coach Billy Donovan will start junior big man Patric Young (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 61.8 FG%), a load who may give the Hoyas early problems down low, and senior Erik Murphy (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 42.1 3FG%), a big man who can step out to the perimeter. Off the bench, junior forward Will Yeguete (4.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg) will provide energy and rebounding.
Junior wing Casey Prather reportedly will miss the game after suffering his second concussion in as many weeks. Florida may miss Prather on defense, where he is the Gator who perhaps matches up best with Otto Porter.
Update: Donovan reportedly has decided not to play Wilbekin Friday, reportedly shifting Boynton to the point. The fifth starter (in addition to Boynton, Rosario, Young, and Murphy) could be Yeguete (allowing for a bigger lineup), Ogbueze (Wilbekin's most natural replacement, but an untested freshman), or any other untested freshman.
When Florida Has the Ball.
Gators' strength: shooting. Florida amassed the third most efficient offense in the country last year by doing two things exceedingly well: shooting and protecting the ball. A change at the point may temporarily disrupt ball protection, but the return of Boynton, Murphy, and, on pick-and-rolls and in the interior, Young should ensure the Gators are a strong-shooting bunch.
Hoyas' strength: length. Georgetown has similar or greater height throughout the lineup, but the Hoyas especially will enjoy greater length on the wings. Greg Whittington likely will be tasked with obstructing the looks of Boynton, who will have a six-inch deficit, while Porter should be able to disrupt Rosario, five inches shorter than his defender. In addition to blocking the sight lines for Gator guards, the Hoyas' length also should help on the defensive boards, where Georgetown gathered a Big East-leading 70 percent of misses in conference play last year.
What to watch: the weather. I frankly have no idea what the conditions will be like on the USS Bataan, but I'm willing to guess that they won't be amenable to long-distance shooting. (The sample size of one game-last year's Carrier Classic, in which North Carolina and Michigan State combined to shoot 6 of 32 from three-suggests it might get ugly.) At minimum, like the Venice Beach courts frequented by Sidney Deane and Billy Boyd, you might expect shots to sway six or eight inches one way or another. While some previous Hoya squads would have felt these effects of the outdoor game disproportionately, last year's squad took fewer threes than the year before and, more importantly for Friday night, fewer than Florida figures to take. Keep an eye early on whether either team can figure out the odd air flow, lighting, and background created by the outdoor setting.
What to Watch #2: Mikael Hopkins and Nate Lubick. Young and Murphy each present match-up challenges, with the former's strength on the offensive glass and in the post and the latter's shooting range posing problems for defenders. Like the rest of the Hoya line-up, the Georgetown starting front court will get a stiff test Friday night.
When Georgetown Has the Ball.
Hoyas' strength: trust the offense. Georgetown should have time to get open looks, as Florida ranked in the bottom half of its conference in steals and blocks last year. The Gators don't figure to be more aggressive with a suddenly thin roster Friday night. That should open up driving lanes for the Hoya guards. The Hoyas also would be well served to exploit the size advantages of Porter and Whittington, both of whom have shown comfort near the basket.
Gators' strength: not fouling? Florida was a middling defensive outfit last year (71st in the country in defensive efficiency), a shortcoming the Gators generally overcame with stellar offense. However, that flaw proved season-ending when the Gators yielded 23 points over the final 10 minutes in a spectacular collapse to lose their Elite Eight tilt against Louisville. Of all defensive categories, Florida's best mark came in not fouling.
What to watch: foul trouble. Georgetown should press that issue Friday night. Both the outdoor environment's uncertain shooting conditions and the Gators' short rotation suggest that the Hoyas should attack the rim in an effort to get one or more Florida players, particularly the Gator bigs, in foul trouble.
What to watch #2: offensive rebounding. When the shots weren't falling last season, the Hoyas proved able offensive rebounders (the game at St. John's comes to mind). While Yeguete, Young, and Murphy all are capable rebounders, Whittington and Porter may enjoy match-up advantages that allow for a put-back or two. Generating a few extra possessions may be enough to put the Hoyas over the top.
Prediction. Friday night will be an early measure of the young Hoyas' off-season growth. They'll face a veteran-laden and extremely talented squad, albeit one thinned by circumstance. There are a few factors working in the Hoyas' favor. Florida's long-range marksmanship might be thrown off by the unfamiliar conditions, which favor Georgetown's defensive prowess. When Georgetown has the ball, Porter should get a favorable match-up to back up the preseason hype. I expect a nip-and-tuck, low-scoring affair, but the Hoyas to win narrowly. Georgetown 59, Florida 57.