Pregame Party: Providence v. Georgetown

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hoyas seek second straight win without Greg Whittington in return to the Phone Booth.

Uncertainties abound as Georgetown prepares to face Providence Wednesday night? Will the Hoyas be able to find offense in transition as they did against St. John's? How will they perform without sophomore star Greg Whittington, who reportedly will miss his second straight game after being suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules? We'll answer what questions we can to get you ready for the showdown with the Friars.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. In the last few years, there has been substantial coaching turnover in the lower tier of the Big East. St. John's, Seton Hall, Rutgers, DePaul, and then Providence all changed regimes. Each of these programs has made the transition, and one or two may have even attained momentum, most notably St. John's, with its tournament appearance and successful recruiting classes. But none yet have truly reached escape velocity from the cycle of losing or, at best, mediocrity, that had caused the coaching change in the first place.

Of these coaches promising to bring energy into stagnant programs, Providence head man Ed Cooley appears to have a model most like Steve Lavin at St. John's, rebuilding through personal charisma and recruiting chops. What he lacks in Lavin's big-city setting Cooley makes up with his hometown loyalty, himself being a product of Providence. This strategy has worked fairly well so far, as Cooley has landed a number of high-profile recruits. But, as with St. John's, not all of those recruits have panned out: one of the jewels of this past year's class, Ricky Ledo, has been ruled academically ineligible.

Ledo was just one of several Providence players that were unavailable to start the season for one reason or another. As a result, the Friars had a short bench, and the early results were mixed. The non-conference slate had no signature win, though bragging rights over in-state rival Rhode Island count for something. There were a few hiccups along the way, with losses to Boston College (they still play hoops?) and that other fierce in-state rival, Brown just before Big East play began. The struggles continued into the conference schedule, which the Friars began by losing to Louisville, DePaul, and Syracuse (the last, in decently close fashion), stretching their losing streak to five before winning convincingly last weekend at Seton Hall.

Friars to Know. It seems that Providence has been young, thin, and undersized since at least Ryan Gomes's day, if not Austin Croshere's. This year presents some modest improvement in the last characteristic, as a previously perimeter-only attack has become more balanced. The lead back-court option, recently returned from injury, is senior Vincent Council (9.0 ppg, 6.3 apg, 30.9 FG%) who is likely to lead Providence in assists for the fourth straight year, though he hasn't yet found the shooting touch to threaten to repeat as scoring leader. Fellow guard Bryce Cotton (21.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 43.1 3FG%) has upped his scoring by nearly half this season, putting him atop the conference in points per game. Council and Cotton are studies in contrast, with the former's high-volume role to set up teammates a stark difference from the latter's more limited but high-efficiency ability to score, draw a foul, or find an open teammate seemingly every time he touches the ball.

Up front, sophomore LaDontae Henton (15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.7 stl pg) is repeating his stellar freshman year, which itself was a surprise given his light recruitment. Henton is active around the basket, though, as a small forward pressed into service at the four, he may find himself singing the Ballad of Hollis Thompson. Anchoring the middle is Kadeem Batts (15.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who as a junior is finally using his 6'10", 240-lb. frame for good (he's increased his shooting percentage by over 10%) and not ill (he's learning how not to foul so often).

Cooley also starts freshman guard Josh Fortune (8.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg), who takes lots of three-pointers, though to call him a specialist would be to ignore his 30% mark from out there. Coming off the bench is Fortune's McDonald's All-American classmate, freshman guard Kris Dunn (5.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg), who is still trying to find his spot in the rotation after recovering from an injury that kept him out for the first month-plus. Also newly in the lineup is transfer Sidiki Johnson (3.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), who is a physical presence down low.

When Providence Has the Ball.

  • Friars' strength: offensive rebounding. Providence grabs more than 13 offensive rebounds per game, with Henton and Batts leading the way with a combined 5 second chances. Georgetown generally has protected the defensive boards boards well but must redouble those efforts Wednesday.
  • Hoyas' strength: protecting the paint. Georgetown's strong defense continues to defend from the lane out, allowing opponents to shoot just 41.5 percent from two and stifling opposing offenses not named Pitt. The Friars have struggled to score inside the arc in conference play, shooting just 43 percent from two-point range.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Cotton and three-point shooting. Jabril Trawick has had a baptism by fire upon entering the starting lineup, facing back-courts featuring the top two scorers in the Big East in his first two starts. The Hoyas, including Trawick, locked down D'Angelo Harrison Saturday, but Cotton boasts larger range and higher efficiency than Harrison, making him a different match-up challenge. If Cotton or any other Friars get hot from the outside early, Georgetown's lane-packing defense might get stretched.
    • Press. Georgetown has employed the press better than in seasons gone by, forcing turnovers and creating easy points in transition. Despite its veteran back-court, Providence has proven vulnerable to pressure, committing a combined 39 turnovers in losses to DePaul and Louisville. Will we see the Hoyas guard full court Wednesday, even with Whittington, the point man on the press, out?
    • Foul trouble and lineups. Mikael Hopkins was whistled for fouls early and often against St. John's, thereby giving extra minutes to Moses Ayegba and, when the Hoyas went smaller, Aaron Bowen. Will fouls force Georgetown into different looks Wednesday? Will the Hoyas seek them out these different lineups?

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: pace. Let's not overstate Georgetown's offensive achievements against St. John's. The Hoyas scored 67 points on 72 possessions, a scoring rate below their season average. But the competition has improved of late, and the performance against the Red Storm was a vast step up from the previous two eyesores. One thing that was particularly pleasing about Saturday's uptick in pace was the Hoyas' ability to find open shooters, particularly their most talented ones.
  • Friars' strength: defending the three. Without wading into the weeds on whether opponents' three-point percentages are within a team's control, Providence's opponents have shot terribly from three this year, making just 26 percent of threes on the season, a top-five mark nationally. For their part, the Hoyas haven't been particularly sharp from deep, making barely 32 percent of threes.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Bench scoring. After going scoreless in the narrow Marquette loss, Georgetown's bench has scored 15 or more points in the last two games. While most of the scoring against Pitt was in garbage time, the points against St. John's, particularly from Bowen, Ayegba, and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, came with the game still at issue. Points off the bench will be a necessity going forward, particularly with Whittington's next appearance an open question.
    • Forward play. After inaccurately predicting a breakout game from Otto Porter against Marquette, I won't saddle him with my lousy prognostications again. Instead, I'll just point out what forwards in Providence's last three games have been able to do: Syracuse's C.J. Fair had 23 points and 11 rebounds; Cleveland Melvin of DePaul tallied 23 points and 9 rebounds; and, on Seton Hall, Fuquan Edwin had 17 points and 7 rebounds.
    • Free throws. After getting to the line just 12 times against Marquette, the Hoyas have shot a total of 49 free throws over the past two games. For a sometimes offensively challenged team, the line presents a potentially easy source of points. Can Georgetown get to the line early and often against Providence? If so, will the Hoyas, who have struggled to make their foul shots this year, convert?

Prediction. After a modestly encouraging non-conference slate, Georgetown's outlook has become less promising over the past few games, first with losses to Marquette and Pittsburgh and now with the uncertainty surrounding Whittington. Still, Providence is a beatable team, and an opponent Georgetown must beat at home. Expect the Hoyas to understand the urgency of the opportunity, as they did Saturday at St. John's, key in on defense, and punish Friar mistakes. If they put forth the same effort, the same result should be within reach. Georgetown 60, Providence 52.

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