Pregame Party: Georgetown at Syracuse

Cerberus, Hydra, and Boeheim: the multi-headed beasts of mythology.

Greetings, fellow Hoyas. OverTheHilltop here, back with game preview. My prediction of Saturday's seven-point victory over South Florida was so preposterous prescient that my new-found overlords here at CasualHoya couldn't help but invite me back to prognosticate about the Hoyas' trip to everyone's favorite armpit of the Empire State, Syracuse. Some might think this game a bit of a rivalry, what with not-so-friendly wagers, decades worth of match-ups, and the return of a fruiticidal* Demon Jack. Others might wonder why they need rivals when they have doormats BC? That latter demented group are colored orange, and we despise them. But this might be our last trip up to the Canadian border for a while, so let's get you ready for tonight's showdown with the second-ranked Orange.

* Not a word, it turns out.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Since last year's split series, the Orange lost 35-year-old big man Rick Jackson, but kept everyone else while adding several more pieces, giving rise to high off-season expectations. Those hopes were put on hold while the Orange dealt with allegations of domestic violence, sexual abuse, conference realignment skulduggery, and, practically a given when coach Jim Boeheim is involved, taking the high road. But there's little off-court controversy that staying home for the first two months of the season (save one-game jaunts to Raleigh and MSG) can't fix, and Syracuse rode that favorable early slate to a 20-0 start. The Orange immediately commemorated this mid-season accomplishment by printing commemorative T shirts, then just as immediately lost their next game at Notre Dame. Those suddenly irrelevant Ts are now being worn by some poor child who previously swore allegiance to the Super Bowl XL Champion Seattle Seahawks. But the Orange bounced back from the South Bend court-storming, rattling off three straight wins to run their record to 23-1, including a 10-1 conference mark that puts them two games clear of the pack.

Orange to Know. Syracuse is a deep squad this year, playing ten players ten minutes or more apiece, seven of whom score more than seven points apiece per game. Their leading scorer is senior swingman Kris Joseph (13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 stl pg), who has scored in double figures in nine of ten games since laying a goose-egg against Seton Hall. The Orange's most pleasantly (for them, that is) surprising development has been their second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Dion Waiters (12.3 ppg, 2.2 stl pg) who has a name that sounds like an obscure R&B singer and has evolved into a thief on the perimeter of Boeheim's 2-3 zone and an effective finisher in transition. While Waiters comes off the bench, the starting back-court is the familiar duo of senior Scoop Jardine (8.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 1.4 stl pg), the Orange's leading distributor, and junior Brandon Triche (10.0 ppg, 3 apg, 38.4 3FG%). Clogging the middle is sophomore center Fab Melo (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3 blk pg), who, between recent academic troubles and the aforementioned criminal allegations, seems like a prince. Personal issues aside, the Orange rely heavily on Melo, having slogged through his three-game absence with a loss and two wins by a combined nine points. Flanking Melo is sophomore forward C.J. Fair (8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg).

When Syracuse Has the Ball.

  • Orange's strength: versatility. The Orange have the most efficient offense in the Big East, rarely turning the ball over, sharing the ball well, and shooting a sparkling 54.7 percent from two. They are most effective converting turnovers into fast-break points, as can be seen here (warning: Magoo-like substance. Viewer discretion advised). While getting them in the half-court is necessary to beat the Orange, they move the ball well, regardless, racking up nearly 17 assists per game.
  • Hoyas' strength: three-point defense. Georgetown has closed the three-point line for much of conference play, giving up less than 28 percent of opposing threes. And Syracuse doesn't exactly stroke the ball from deep, netting just 30 percent of its threes. Of course, the Hoyas will have to do more than just deny the three to prevail Wednesday night.
  • Looming question: rebounds? Georgetown also will need to win the battle of the boards. The Orange beat up their hapless non-conference foes on the offensive boards, but have been decidedly middle-of-the-pack in the Big East, grabbing just 34 percent of their own misses. Meanwhile, your Georgetown Hoyas are leading the conference in defensive rebounding, grabbing nearly 69 percent of opponents' misses (which have been plentiful, given the Hoyas' effective shot-prevent defense). Wednesday, against Melo, Fair, and the like, the Hoyas will need to continue to prevent second chances.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: offensive rebounding. More like the Orange's weakness. Syracuse has struggled to keep its opponents off the boards, ranking in the bottom 20 nationally and next-to-last in the conference in opposing offensive rebound rate. In the Big East, the Orange have given up nearly 39 percent of opponents' misses as second chances. Some of these struggles are attributable to the Orange's 2-3 zone, which can make boxing out a bit more difficult, while some struggles can be chalked up to Melo's three-game absence. The two teams that have been most successful against Syracuse in conference--Notre Dame, which beat the Orange, and West Virginia, which came within two--each grabbed nearly half their own misses. The Hoyas have been just so-so on the offensive glass this year but have taken opportunities presented to them, grabbing more than half of their own misses in wins over Rutgers and DePaul. They'll need to control the boards again Wednesday.
  • Orange's strength: forcing turnovers. The Orange use their zone to force turnovers, particularly by selective trapping and on attempted skip passes over the zone. Five Syracuse players average a steal or better per game, and on the whole the Orange take the ball away on nearly a quarter of opponents' possessions. Georgetown has had butterfingers throughout the year, committing at least 15 miscues in 6 conference games. While the Hoyas managed to win four of those contests, protecting the ball will be essential Wednesday night.
  • Looming question: zone busters? Teams beat the Orange zone by finding its seams (generally, in the middle of the zone at the free-throw line and behind the zone by patrolling the baseline) then hitting the mid-range jumper, kicking out to wing shooters, or penetrating to the basket. Last season, the Hoyas counter-intuitively ran Chris Wright, their smallest player, through these various spots, and Lumpy succeeding by finding open spots and teammates. This year, Otto Porter and Henry Sims both have the shooting range and passing chops to be able to cycle through those positions, though Sims's ball-handling has been a bit jittery recently.

Transition. Get back on D. As noted above, the Orange try to turn all those turnovers into transition points. Georgetown has sometimes struggled to adjust to the faster pace, giving up a slew of early baskets against Memphis and yielding a number of fast-break points to DePaul (both, admittedly, in eventual wins). While the Orange don't play at quite that break-neck pace, the Hoyas will need to maintain a delicate balance of assaulting the offensive boards while protecting themselves against transition points.

Prediction. Games at the Carrier Dome are the worst. The stadium has all the charm and geographic convenience of the trophy piece arena of a Central Asian dictatorship and, in a desperation for recognition that would be right at home in such an international scofflaw, is constantly setting dubious attendance records. To make things worse, the Hoyas haven't exactly had the run of the place over the JTIII era, firing blanks for nearly a decade until last season, when Georgetown finally broke through for an eight-point win. And this season, save for a minor bump in the road, has been the Orange's to date. So will Wednesday night be a repeat of last trip to Upstate New York, or of the several trips before that? I'm going with my heart, not my head. Georgetown 64, Syracuse 62.

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