Pregame Party: Georgetown at Providence

Your Georgetown Hoyas come back from a six-day layoff refreshed for a critical five-game stretch that begins Saturday, when they head to Providence to take on the Friars. Big East road games are never easy, and Providence, despite an unimpressive 2-12 conference record, remains feisty, with plenty of scoring firepower. And with March drawing ever closer, the Hoyas scarcely can afford any misstep. Here's what you need to get yourself ready.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Providence's first year under head coach Ed Cooley has been like many new tenures, with fresh optimism balanced by plenty of frustrating losses. Cooley has been an early success on the recruiting trail, but those reinforcements won't arrive until the fall. In the meantime, the spirit has been willing, but the flesh has been pretty weak. Despite continued hard play in the face of mounting losses, the Friars enter Saturday's contest with sole possession of the Big East cellar.

One the losses propelling the Friars into last place was their first match-up with the Hoyas, a nigh-unwatchable affair on December 31 in which the teams combined to make just 28 percent of their field goals. Georgetown held the Friars in check long enough to build a double-digit lead, but gradually let Providence into the game. The second half was a neck-and-neck battle of offensive ineptitude until the final minute, when Georgetown pulled away to win, 49-40. At the time, watching the clumsy offenses made me wonder if the teams were preemptively hung over from ringing in 2012; since then, we've seen enough of the Hoyas shutting down an opponent only to struggle to score to recognize a pattern. Still, as we'll see later on, there's reason to think the Hoyas could rack up points more easily this time around.

In the New Year, Providence has lost 10 of 12, sometimes in excruciating fashion. One week after losing by three at South Florida, the Friars dropped an overtime decision to West Virginia. A two-point loss at Villanova followed, as did a fall-from-ahead defeat in the return game against the Bulls. Is this a sign of a team poised to pull an upset or just a flawed team that can't quite break through?

Friars to Know. MarShon Brooks won't be haunting your dreams anew this year, as he's now plying his trade for the not-yet-Brooklyn Nets, but the Friars remain a perimeter-oriented team. A trio of guards, junior Vincent Council (16.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, 4.1 rpg) and sophomores Bryce Cotton (14.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg) and Gerard Coleman (13.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg), combine with freshman forward LaDontae Henton (13.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg) to score more than eighty percent of the Friars' points. Council is adept getting to the rim and creating opportunities for his teammates, while Cotton and Henton are the principal outside threats. Coleman won't shoot much from outside, but gets to the line better than any of his teammates.

This quartet rarely sees the bench, as each plays 33 minutes or more per contest, with Council and Cotton each sitting for less than 2 minutes per game. At 6'6″, 200-lb., Henton is the biggest of the bunch, frequently making Providence resemble undersized Hoya lineups from early last season in which Hollis Thompson was the power forward. Inside, the Friars platoon sophomore Kadeem Batts (6.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg) with junior Bilal Dixon (4.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

When Providence Has the Ball.

  • Friars' strength: getting to the line. In the first match-up, Providence's offense started to click (as much as an offense that scores 40 points in a game can, anyway) when the Friars penetrated into the Hoya zone, drawing several fouls leading to a total of 20 free throws. Had Providence made more than 11 of those tries--or, more specifically, had Coleman made more than one of his eight foul shots--the game might have been even closer. And Providence tends to get to the line, taking take more than 22 foul shots per game which, adjusted for pace, places them third in the conference. Once at the charity stripe, they generally (Coleman's aberration aside) are accurate, making nearly 73 percent of their foul shots, the fourth-best mark in the Big East.
  • Hoyas' strength: zone. Georgetown held Providence scoreless for more than eight straight minutes during the first meeting, thanks in equal parts to lousy Friar shooting and an effective Georgetown zone. The 2-3 look frustrated the Friars into several sloppy turnovers and a number of lazy jumpers, none of which fell. While the Hoyas will have to contain guard penetration and keep an eye on Cotton on the perimeter, a zone should work again on Saturday.
  • Looming question: three-point shooting? Strength v. Strength, here. The Friars lead the conference in three-point percentage, making nearly 39 percent of their 13 tries from behind the arc per game. But the Hoyas are third-best in the Big East at defending the three, allowing opponents to make less than 29 percent of their threes. Of particular focus for Georgetown will be Cotton, who makes 40 percent of his nearly 6 three-point attempts per game.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: extra possessions. Providence is last in the conference in forcing turnovers, and third-worst in defensive rebounding. Despite Georgetown's occasionally sloppy ball-handling, the Hoyas committed just seven miscues in the first Providence game, and grab offensive rebounds at a healthy rate, particularly against teams (St. John's, DePaul, Syracuse) that struggle to box out. All those extra possessions should allow the Hoyas to work out any shooting kinks that arise.
  • Friars' strength: dare the Hoyas to make an outside shot. Unfortunately, those kinks were plentiful in the first game. Providence simply sagged off the Hoyas, denying Georgetown's back-cuts and yielding the perimeter to protect the lane. And the Hoyas failed to keep the Friars honest, making just 3 of 17 three-pointers. Georgetown has struggled of late from three, making just 30 percent from beyond the arc over the past six games. No particular Hoya shoulders all of the blame for the recent brick-fest. Still, it'd be nice to see a hot hand from Hollis Thompson, who has cooled off from his scorching start, making just one-third of his three-pointers over that same six-game stretch. Providence has conceded the outside shot throughout conference play, rating 15th in opposing three-point percentage. Expect more open perimeter looks on Saturday.
  • Looming question: foul trouble?​ After sometimes struggling to get to the line over the past two seasons, Georgetown ranks second in the conference in getting to the line overall this year (as a ratio of field goals attempted). Providence has a short bench, often playing just six players double-figure minutes. Forcing the issue inside could give the Hoyas an early and decisive advantage.

Prediction. ​The Hoyas' first game against the Friars was strange. Providence has struggled defensively this year, ranking last in defensive efficiency in the conference. And, while Georgetown's offense has been hit-or-miss, being held under 50 for the only time this year by such a toreador defense was a bit perplexing. There are signs that this game could be a struggle as well. Despite dropping to the bottom of the standings, Providence remains spirited, especially at home, where the Friars recently have hung with South Florida, West Virginia, and Marquette and have beaten Rutgers. Still, Georgetown is rested from a week off; the Hoyas certainly seem to be locked in and feeling optimistic, sentiments that are sometimes hard to come by in late February, when fatigue starts to set in. Expect a bit more offense than the first time out, but still a nip-and-tuck battle that leans toward the Hoyas in the waning minutes. Georgetown 68, Providence 61.

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