Amid all the hype about this fast-kicking, low-scoring phenomenon known as "soccer," let's get in a few hundred quick words about your Georgetown men's basketball team, which has its own aspirations for this season. Your hoops Hoyas come off a nationally televised shellacking of the Texas Longhorns with a Saturday matinee against the Towson Tigers at the dimmer-switch-free Verizon Center. The game is the first of four of the Hoyas against lighter competition before the beginning of conference play. This stretch is a last chance to smooth over some rough spots, get some extra run for role players, and build a little confidence. But only if Georgetown takes care of business, something that hasn't been a given against weaker opponents.
It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Like many high-profile basketball programs, Georgetown follows up its marquee non-conference entrees with plenty of locally sourced cupcakes, fleshing out the national fare with farm-to-table staples Mount St. Mary's, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Loyola. Even so, the Hoyas have feasted on the Towson Tigers just once during the JTIII era, a 69-41 devouring early in the season that took Georgetown all the way to the Final Four. Since then, the Tigers have ranged from bland to rancid, bottoming out recently with forty-one consecutive losses bridging two seasons.
Goodness I'm hungry. Anyway, the Tigers' slide caused some turnover, with coach Pat Skerry, an assistant at Pitt and before that Providence, taking over as the new head coach. After a so-so first season, this year has brought an encouraging 4-4 start that includes Wednesday's win over a positively respectable Vermont team. The Tigers were rewarded by ascending above 300 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings for the first time under Skerry.
Tigers to Know. An infusion of fresh blood has accelerated Towson's progress toward mediocrity: six of the eight regulars are freshmen or transfers didn't suit up last year. Befitting his pedigree, Skerry has brought in three Big East exiles, foremost Jerrelle Benimon (16.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.4 stl pg, 1.5 blk pg), once woefully out of place in Georgetown's offense, now Towson's leading scorer and rebounder. The Benimonster is coming off a career night against Vermont in which he tallied 29 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Other transfers include Towson's leading sniper, ex-South Florida Bull Mike Burwell (9.9 ppg, 37.8 3FG%), and its second-leading rebounder, onetime Providence Friar Bilal Dixon (7.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 blk pg). Forward Marcus Damas (8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), the lone returning starter, rounds out a Big East-sized, if not quite -quality, front line.
The Tigers' back court still could use some shoring up. Freshman Jerome Hairston (9.5 ppg, 2.3 stl pg) is what passes for a point guard on Towson, leading the team with 2.5 assists per game but doing so with horrific efficiency (3.4 TO pg, 37.7 FG%). Off the bench, junior guard Rafriel Guthrie (5.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg) brings energy and physicality, while Kris Walden contributes a mild scoring threat.
When Towson Has the Ball.
- Tigers' strength: offensive rebounding. The Tiger offense thrives on the offensive glass, where Towson gathers more than 41 percent of its own misses, the 14th-best mark nationally. Benimon and Dixon each average three offensive rebounds per game, while four other Tigers gather at least one of their teammates' misses per contest. While these impressive numbers were racked up largely against undersized competition, keeping Towson off the offensive glass will keep the slim chance of an upset at bay.
- Hoyas' strength: forcing bad shots. Georgetown has managed the seventh most-efficient defense in the country despite not having an elite strength (or, for that matter, a debilitating weakness): the Hoyas rank between 35th and 60th in the country in several defensive indicators. The common element of JTIII's defenses has been limiting opponents' open looks; Towson, with an effective field goal percentage toward the bottom third nationally, may find itself next in an alphabetical list of victims (after Tennessee and Texas) of a stifling Hoya defense.
- Three things to watch:
- Free throws. Towson gets to the line at an elite rate, hoisting nearly 25 attempts from the charity stripe per game. But the Tigers shoot free throws with some of the worst accuracy in the country, making barely 60 percent of their attempts. They'll need a few more makes to keep things close on Saturday.
- Press. Georgetown used a full-court press to begin the game against Texas, inducing several Longhorn turnovers that led to easy baskets. Towson commits turnovers on more than 23 percent of possessions, putting the Tigers in the bottom quarter of the country, and its lead guard Harrison particularly struggles to hold onto the rock. A Hoya press could help build a sizable early advantage.
- Zone. Towson struggles to hit the three (30.6 3FG%) and to move the ball, assisting on just 38.5 percent of made baskets, one of the ten worst marks in the country. With little outside shooting and less passing, the Tigers seem susceptible to the Hoya zone.
When Georgetown Has the Ball.
- Hoyas' strength: working the ball inside. Georgetown's offense has been just so-so this year. The Hoyas' struggles can be attributed in part to young personnel still finding their way in the offense, and in another part to missing one of their two best facilitators (Otto Porter, Nate Lubick) for the better part of three games. Even with these bumps, the Hoya half-court attack has been best inside the arc, whether on dribble drives or operating out of the high post.
- Tigers' strength: defensive rebounding. Towson is fine but by no means elite at defensive rebounding, ranking well below Georgetown in the same category. But the Hoyas have scarcely grabbed any of their own misses this year, as only Greg Whittington has nabbed double-digit offensive rebounds so far (and he's at 10). Facing a decently-sized Towson front line, Georgetown shouldn't expect many second chances Saturday.
- Three things to watch:
- Getting to the line. Towson gives as good as it gets, having sent its D-I opponents to the line nearly 25 times per contest. Georgetown hasn't exactly paraded to the charity stripe this year, and has struggled from the line, shooting under 64 percent.
- Transition points. Even when the Hoya half-court offense has looked less than stellar, the transition attack has been effective, as Georgetown has turned opponents' turnovers into easy baskets.
- Greg Whittington and Mikael Hopkins. Both sophomores struggled Tuesday, with Whittington looking a bit nervous (as one commenter suggested, perhaps because NBA scouts were in the stands) and Hopkins battling foul trouble and rapidly spreading allegations of espionage. A bounce-back game from each would help put this one away early.
Prediction. There's a bit of rumbling on the horizon with this game. On the one hand, it's Towson, not even a year removed from an historic losing streak. On the other hand, Georgetown hasn't put away any of its lighter competition early this year, and Benimon has put up eye-catching numbers coming into a game for which he should be suitably motivated. Throw in Towson's ability to extend possessions with offensive rebounds and the Hoyas' occasional offensive struggles, and it's easy to imagine this one being too close for comfort well after intermission. But this is all a worst-case scenario. The most probable outcome is that a typically solid Hoya defense will shut down Towson for long stretches, while some transition baskets will push the lead to double digits, where it will remain. Georgetown 70, Towson 51.