Pregame Party: Pittsburgh v. Georgetown

Jamie Dixon: down, not out.

Georgetown begins Big East Tournament play Wednesday with a chance to avenge an embarrassing mid-season loss when it faces the Pittsburgh Panthers. But REVENGE for a January drubbing won't be the only thing at stake under Madison Square Garden's bright lights. The Hoyas also are waged in a nebulous seeding battle with teams spread across conference tournaments nationwide, and could use a bit of momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. But mostly, we'd just really like some REVENGE. For Pitt, which finished thirteenth in the conference, well, there's the long shot, five-wins-in-five-days chance at a place in the big dance, which worked out well last year. Whether you're watching court-side, on a lousy online feed from work, or from your mother's basement, there's precious little time to get ready for Pitt. So let's get to it.

More pregame prognostications after the Jump.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Barring a miraculous week in New York, this season will be Pitt's first under Jamie Dixon in which it hasn't won 20 games and made the NCAA Tournament. In his previous eight seasons at the helm, Dixon's squads averaged 27 wins and lost 10 games just once. But this year has gone poorly, as early season home losses to Long Beach State and Wagner were a prelude to an 0-7 start to conference play. A brief mid-season revival, highlighted by wins over your Hoyas and at rival West Virginia, hinted that a rally might be in the works. But a scuffling finish of six losses in seven games foreclosed all but one hope of dancing. So amid all this losing, how did the Panthers manage to beat the Hoyas? The short answer is that Georgetown played horrible defense and its starters sleep-walked through the first half offensively. We'll get to the details as we go along.

Panthers to Know. Pitt's strength starts on the perimeter. Ashton Gibbs (15.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.3 apg), while never fulfilling his Big East preseason Player of the Year accolades, remains a scoring threat, particularly from the perimeter. But point guard Tray Woodall (11.5 ppg, 6.1 apg, 37.2 3FG%) was the real menace the first time these teams met. Woodall missed several games with a sore groin, leading to several early Pitt losses. His return coincided with a four-game winning streak, including dropping 10 dimes on the Hoyas. Woodall makes Pitt's offense tick by finding open teammates, whether in transition or out of the pick-and-roll. In the first game, those teammates were forward Nasir Robinson (11.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and guard Lamar Patterson (8.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 41.6 3FG%), each of whom notched a season high against the Hoyas. Robinson shot a perfect 9 of 9 from the field, made easier by the fact that eight of those shots were lay-ups, and four were assisted by Woodall. For his part, Patterson made six of eight shots thanks to a trio of lay-ups, a dunk, and, you guessed it, four assists from Woodall. The duo also combined to make 10 of 11 free throws. Man, that game was terrible.

When Pittsburgh Has the Ball.

  • Panthers' strength: ball movement. Woodall isn't the only distributor on the Panthers, who assisted on 18 of 25 made baskets the first time against the Hoyas, and 15 of 23 buckets yesterday against St. John's. Georgetown's defensive communication was noticeably lacking in the first game, and its rotations were a step slow. They'll have to be better Wednesday.
  • Panther to watch: J.J. Moore. After Woodall, that is. The sophomore swing man scored in double figures in five straight games before arriving in New York, getting buckets going to the hoop while also stepping outside for a three-pointer per game.
  • Hoyas' strength: zone. To effectively contain the dribble-drives, the Hoyas may look to their two-three zone. Pitt makes just 30 percent of its three-pointers, and only Patterson counts as a real zone-buster. But Georgetown will need to bring more defensive intensity than it did the first time around.
  • Hoyas to watch: Greg Whittington & Jabril Trawick. The Hoya freshmen stepped up defensively in the waning minutes of the first half in the first Pitt game. They'll need to do the same on Wednesday. (I'll take Otto Porter's contribution as a near given at this point.) A lineup including four of Woodall, Gibbs, Patterson, Moore, and Robinson gives Pitt a quartet of quick, mobile players, and the Hoyas will need to fight fire with fire.
  • Looming question: transition defense? In the first match-up, while the Hoyas were still wiping the sleep out of their eyes, Pitt rattled off several early transition baskets. Getting back on defense must be a priority Wednesday.
  • Looming question #2: rebounding? Georgetown is tops in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, but the Hoyas will have their work cut out for them against the Panthers, who grab 40 percent of their own misses, the second-best mark in the conference. Robinson leads the team with nearly three offensive rebounds per game, while posts Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor each grab more than two apiece.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Panthers' Strength: defensive rebounding. As they do on offense, the Panthers clean the defensive boards effectively, yielding less than 34 percent of opposing misses as second chances. A Georgetown team that occasionally has flocked to the glass will need to redouble its effort against Pitt.
  • Hoyas' strength: establish the low post. Pitt is a porous defensive bunch, rarely forcing turnovers and yielding plenty of open shots. Most of that weakness is inside, where the Panthers have given up more than 50 percent of opponents' two-point shots, and have blocked barely 6 percent of opposing shots, the worst number in the conference.
  • Hoya to watch: Henry Sims. In the first match-up, the Hoyas shrunk the lead after intermission from 13 to 5. The offensive part of that surge largely came by working the ball into the post, specifically to Sims who scored three buckets and assisted on another during that encouraging stretch. More of the same will be in order to get Georgetown in an offensive rhythm in the rematch.
  • Looming question: free-throw shooting? ​This will be a looming question until it isn't. The Hoyas probably would not have beaten Marquette even with better free-throw shooting, but making just 56 percent of their tries didn't help.

Prediction. One silver lining of the Hoyas looking so bad in their first match-up with Pittsburgh is that tomorrow almost certainly will be better. Their defensive rotations probably will improve and, in any case, Robinson and Patterson likely will each cool off a bit. Having put together one decent offensive half, the Hoyas are more likely to replicate what worked. Finally, both because of that first defeat and because it's March, the Hoyas aren't likely to come out as dead-legged as they did in Pittsburgh. Expect a more spirited effort by the Hoyas, a close game, and survival to see another day. Georgetown 65, Pittsburgh 60.

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