Games That Matter -- Georgetown at Syracuse Preview


ESPN / USA Today: 11

AP: 12

RPI: 13

Before examining The Rivalry Game to End All Rivalry Games, please enjoy this picture of a Georgetown fan kicking the Syracuse Orange in the balls.

The Ghosts of Georgetown's Past

Two weeks ago, I cautioned against comparing this year's team to the last couple of squads we've had. And why it is foolish to assume that this year's team will experience the same sort of collapse as our teams from the last few years. Why am I so confident? Our defense. This year's Hoyas play with the sort of defensive swagger that we haven't seen since the ‘80s.

If you don't believe me, just look at the last two games. The Hoyas held South Florida and Connecticut to a combined 34 for 111 from the floor (30.6%) and an average of 44.5 points. And before you say, "Yeah, well, those teams aren't playing very well right now," consider this: the Hoyas have already held SEVEN opponents to under 50 points. That total matches the same mark that our beloved 2006-07 Hoyas put together for the ENTIRE SEASON.

All of this got me thinking. If this year's Hoyas squad doesn't resemble the last few teams, then which team comes closest?

It has to be THESE GUYS.

See the resemblance? This year's Hoyas are shockingly similar to the 2007-08 Hoyas, also known as the team that won the Big East regular season crown, lost in the conference championship game, and then lost to some dude named Steph in North Carolina (remind me why we had to face Davidson in Raleigh again?).

Don't believe me? Look at the numbers.

On a per game basis, the 2007-08 Hoyas averaged 70 points, 35 rebounds, 16 assists, seven steals, five blocks and 13 turnovers.

The 2011-12 Hoyas are thus far averaging 71 points, 36 rebounds, 14 assists, seven steals, five blocks and 13 turnovers.

The only real difference is in shooting. The 07-08 Hoyas shot better from the field (49% v. 47%), including from three-point range (38.4% v. 36.4%), but the current Hoyas are better from the free throw line (70.5% v. 65.4%). In terms of depth, both teams look fairly similar - the 07-08 team went with 10 guys (but only after Chris Wright got healthy), while this year's team runs nine guys. There's also a disparity in experience, with the 07-08 Hoyas playing four seniors and two freshmen, while today's team has two seniors and four freshmen.

Both teams have had their fair share of ugly wins too. Remember when Jonathan Wallace hit two game-winning free throws against Nova after getting fouled 70 feet from the basket? The same thing happened this year when Georgetown eked out a disgusting win over Rutgers after Otto Porter did the same.

I can do a player-by-player comparison and say things like "Roy was a much more consistent interior scorer than Henry currently is, but Henry is a better passer and long-range shooter." Or "Greg Whittington reminds me a little of Patrick Ewing Jr." But I'll stop right there.

What does all of this mean? I have no idea. But the similarities make me excited for this team's upside.

A Quick Word on Nate

Relax. This won't be the typical "shoot Nate start?" conversation.

During the 2007-08 season, I remember watching the steady improvement of Big Vern Macklin, a 6'8'' sophomore who dazzled us with his elegant hook shots and terrible free throw shooting (he only made 12 of 48 free throws). Back then, I would wait, in earnest, for something I liked to call The Big Vern Special. For a Big Vern Special to occur, Macklin would need to hit a running hooker in the lane and two free throws. I think it happened only once or twice during the season (and ironically, one of those times was during our loss against Davidson).

This year, we have a new 6'8'' sophomore to root for, and his name is Nate Lubick. For Nate, I usually like to see a thunderous dunk and two made free throws. "The Big Lube Special" just sounds dirty, so we need a new term. Any suggestions are welcome.

But with Nate, there needs to be something more. Something that captures his hustle and tendency to dive on the floor for loose balls. That word pretty much has to be LUBIQUITOUS. (I can't take credit for this word. All the credit belongs to a guy who attended each of the last two Giants-Pats Super Bowls in person. During the first game, he was in jail. Thank you, good sir.)

If you're confused, take a look at this picture. LUBIQUITOUS.

Preview of Tonight's Game:

And it's time. The Rivalry Game to End All Rivalry Games, or An Appetizer before Rutgers plays Seton Hall. Thank you, ESPN and Syracuse for ruining everything that we love about this week, this game and this sport. No more Missouri-Kansas, no more Texas-Texas A&M, and no more Georgetown-Syracuse. Really looking forward to that huge USF-Central Florida game in a couple of years. Buy your tickets now!

A Statistical Look at Syracuse

Syracuse is really good. Scratch that. I'll just go ahead and say that this is the best Syracuse team Georgetown has ever faced. Here's why:

  • Syracuse leads the Big East in field goal percentage (48.2%) (#15 in the country).
  • Syracuse leads the Big East in two-point field goal percentage (54.4%) (#12 in the country). In their last three games, the Orange are shooting even better from two-point range (60.2%).
  • Syracuse is #4 in the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage (37.4%).
  • Syracuse is #3 in the nation in blocks per game (7.3).
  • Syracuse is #3 in the nation in steals per game (10.1).
  • Syracuse is #2 in the Big East in assists per game (16.8) (#9 in the country).
  • Syracuse is #12 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (10.5).
  • Syracuse has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country (1.593).
  • Syracuse only commits 15.5 fouls per game (#22 in the country).
  • Syracuse is #4 in the Big East in opponents' points per game (60.8).
  • Syracuse is #12 in the country in opponents' field goal percentage (38.5%).
  • Syracuse is #13 in the country in opponents' two-point field goal percentage (42.3%).
  • Syracuse leads the Big East in transition points per game (19.3).

In summation, Syracuse is really good on offense and really good on defense. I will now take a five-minute break to vomit. If you're reading this in the bathroom (and let's be honest, some of you probably are), feel free to do the same.

A Quick Look at Syracuse's Talent

(And I'm not talking about Laurie Fine.)

Everyone knows that Syracuse is a deep team. Ten guys average at least 12 minutes per game. And the Orange have a perfect blend of youth and experience. Here's a quick look at the players:

The Guards

Dion Waiters, a 6'4'' sophomore (12.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, 2.2 spg), is the cream of the crop, even though he's technically Syracuse's sixth man. Waiters is a shifty player, who leads the team in steals and has the ability to penetrate or step back and hit an open jumper. He shoots a very respectable 49.1% from the floor.

Scoop Jardine, a 6'2'' senior (8.5 ppg, 4.8 apg), is a veteran leader whose scoring has decreased this season, but who is still the Orange's best facilitator. He's very good at the top of Syracuse's 2-3 zone, and he's one of the best at turning steals into quick transition buckets. He still commits too many turnovers (2.0 per game) and he's a poor free throw shooter (51.1%), but he's improved his decision-making tremendously. He shoots an excellent 50.3% from the floor.

Brandon Triche, a 6'4'' junior (10.0 ppg, 3.0 apg), has emerged as more of a playmaker this season. He's the closest thing to a pure shooter on this team (38.4% from three), but he now has the ability to penetrate and find open guys. He's a little less one-dimensional than he was last year.

The Forwards

Kris Joseph, a 6'7'' senior (13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.9 apg), is arguably the best player on this team. He reminds me of Wesley Johnson. He can score inside or outside, and he's a nuisance on defense. You've all seen him play. He's the only guy on Syracuse who averages at least 30 minutes per contest.

James Southerland, a 6'8'' junior (7.6 ppg, 47.7 FG%), and C.J. Fair, a 6'8'' sophomore (8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), are basically the same player. They're both long and athletic. Very effective in the 2-3 zone. They both come off the bench and they both struggle to hit perimeter shots (Southerland takes a lot more threes, and averages 32.9% from beyond the arc; Fair prefers baseline jumpers). They're indistinguishable. Except that Fair has slightly more potential and is a better dunker.

Michael Carter-Williams, a 6'5'' freshman (3.3 ppg, 2.4 apg), has made his presence known a little more regularly in the last few games, so don't be surprised if he plays more than his current average of 12 minutes per game. Carter-Williams stands tall at the top of Syracuse's zone (he usually defends the guards at the top) and, surprisingly, has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team (48 assists and only 15 turnovers). He's still raw, though, and tends to shoot too many long-range shots.

The Big Guys

Fab Melo, a 7'0'' sophomore (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), is a disruptive presence in the middle of Syracuse's zone. He's second in the conference in blocks (3.0 per game) and shoots 57.6% from the floor because most of his shots are lay-ups and dunks. He's still much more polished on defense than offense, though, and he struggles from the free throw line (60%).

Rakeem Christmas, a 6'9'' freshman (3.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), and Baye Keita, a 6'10'' sophomore (2.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg), are very similar players. They defend and rebound very well, but they rarely shoot the ball outside the paint. Keita shoots an incredible 76.5% from the floor (26 of 34). Christmas is the guy who considered coming to Georgetown before deciding to go to upstate New York because of Syracuse's proud tradition of developing big men. Please take another minute to purge.

Why We Have a Chance to Win

Because we have a pretty freaking good team too. And we're not afraid of Syracuse. We beat them at their place last year and we can do it again this year. Here's a few fun facts about your Georgetown University Fighting Bulldogs:

  • Georgetown is #1 in the Big East against the zone this year (47.2%). (And yes, I got this stat from ESPN's bottom line last night.)
  • Georgetown is #2 in the Big East in field goal percentage (46.5%).
  • Georgetown has a much more talented team.
  • Georgetown is #1 in the Big East in opponents' points per game (58.5) (#14 in the country).
  • Georgetown is #17 in the country in opponents' field goal percentage (38.8%) and #8 in the country in opponents' effective field goal percentage (43.2%).
  • Georgetown has a much more attractive team.
  • Georgetown is #1 in the Big East and #7 in the country in opponents' three-point field goal percentage (27.1%).
  • Georgetown is #1 in the country in heart. Get serious.

Syracuse's two best wins are home wins against Florida and Marquette. Have they really played anyone yet?

Recap of Last Year's Win at the Dome

For the Hoyas, it was the high point of the season. We displayed poise, balance and just enough fire to embarrass the Orange in their gym. Julian Vaughn had 12 points and 8 boards and outplayed Rick Jackson in the middle. Hollis chipped in with 11 points, including three gigantic threes. And Chris Wright did a little of everything - six points, five boards and nine assists. He worked his way into the middle of the 2-3 zone and moved the ball around to guys who could make shots. We won the game for two reasons: we took away the paint and we successfully used a combination of players to get into the middle of the Orange zone.

Keys to the Game:

1. Force Perimeter Shots: Syracuse is a decent three-point shooting team (34.4%), but the Orange score the vast majority of their points on two-pointers. In fact, Syracuse is #2 in the Big East in its percentage of points that are scored off of two-point field goals (58.2%). Syracuse doesn't rely on the deep ball and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't really get to the free throw line that often. The Orange are #316 in the nation in their percentage of points scored at the charity stripe (16.9%). None of this is surprising because Syracuse likes to get out in transition and score on dunks and lay-ups. What it means, however, is that if Georgetown can clog the middle and force Syracuse to go over the top, things could get interesting. Keep in mind that Brandon Triche is Syracuse's best three-point shooter (38.4%). He should be given a little extra attention on the perimeter.

2. Limit Fast Break Points: This goes without saying. Syracuse's bread-and-butter is transition. With its length on the perimeter, Syracuse gets a ton of steals (especially from Waiters and Jardine) and pushes the pace in a hurry. Georgetown has done a relatively good job this season of limiting transition baskets, but the Hoyas haven't faced a team like Syracuse this season. The easiest way to prevent fast break points? Limit turnovers in the backcourt. If we are careless with the ball, we could get blown out.

3. Break the 2-3 Zone: There are three ways to break the zone. Put a man at the foul line, exploit the short corner or shoot over the top. Last year, we changed it a up a little bit by putting Chris at the foul line and having him shred the defense with solid passes. We also got some impressive three-point shooting from Hollis and others. This time around, I think we'll see a mix of Henry and Otto at the foul line, with Markel, Hollis and Jason shooting over the top. Otto is also a good candidate to catch the ball in the short corner because he loves taking those little seven-foot baseline shots.

4. Attack the Glass: Syracuse gives up a ton of offensive rebounds (11.6 per game, #325 in the nation). The reason seems obvious. Syracuse sometimes tries to run a little too often, and has no problem sacrificing an offensive rebound here or there. Seems like guys like Otto and Whitt should be able to get second chance points if they go after it on the offensive end. The trouble with this approach, though, is that it could make Georgetown more vulnerable to transition baskets. So pick your battles wisely.

5. Oh Henry: We can't win this game unless Henry is on the court and plays really well. We need Henry to hit the foul line jumper, find open cutters and clog the middle. We also need Henry to eliminate the turnovers. If he commits more than three in this game, we're in serious trouble.

6. Out-Syracuse Syracuse: Everyone knows that Syracuse runs a very solid 2-3 zone. It's kind of what they do. But we've been employing a pretty serious 2-3 zone of our own. And we've got the requisite length and depth that are required to make it successful. Is it possible that people will be talking about our zone after this game? Yes, yes it is.

We don't like them. They don't us. In Georgetown's battle royale against the three teams that think they're better than the Big East, the Hoyas currently stand at 0 and 2, with losses to Pitt and WVU. (It's a shame we don't get to play any of these teams at home this year. It's also completely absurd that we don't play Syracuse twice.)

At the end of the day, though, there are many games that matter over the course of a season, but this is the only game that really matters.

It's Georgetown and Syracuse. Perhaps for one last battle at the Dome. It's time to introduce a new group of freshmen to the rivalry. Lego.

Let's go Hoyas. Beat Syracuse.

Stay Casual, my friends.

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