Games That Matter - March 14, 2013 - Georgetown v. Cincinnati - BET Quarterfinals
ESPN / USA Today: 5
The Best Week Ever is Over
Hard to believe we'll ever have a week that is more glorious than the last week we just had (but talk to me again in early April). Otto Porter is the Big East Player of the Year; JTIII is the Big East Coach of the Year (fitting that he should win it after the last year of the Big East as we know it, considering his father won it in the first year of the conference); Chris Wright and Henry Sims were signed by NBA squads; the so-called "Catholic 7" schools won the rights to keep the "Big East" name and play postseason games at the Garden; I met Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery; Isaac Copeland decided to take his talents to the Hilltop; I took a picture with JTIII's mom; the Cardinals chose to elect a Jesuit; Jack the Bulldog retired in style; SNL killed it; we won the regular season title, the Jets signed David Garrard, and oh yeah, WE BEAT THE PISS OUT OF SYRACUSE IN THE LAST-EVER REGULAR SEASON BIG EAST GAME AGAINST THE ORANGE.
There's no need to recount the tales of your conquering Georgetown heroes once again. By now, you've probably heard them all. Before turning the page to Thursday's big game, let me just mention one of my favorite moments from March 9, 2013 (and by the way, we'll all remember the date of this game - March 9, 2013 is right up there with January 21, 2006 as two of the greatest days in the history of the program). After the game, I headed over to Penn Social for a nice little celebratory drink. Less than an hour after the game had ended, I noticed a group of twenty Syracuse fans sitting at a table. Instead of commiserating or starting fights, they were playing Jenga. That's right, Jenga. I laughed at them. Thirty-three years of this rivalry, two humongous victories by the Hoyas to close out the regular season, and these cats are playing Jenga. JENGA!
The Last Big East Tournament As We Know It
Alas, the best week ever is over. JTIII likes to divide the season into thirds: the preseason (we only had one loss, and it was in overtime to Indiana), the regular season (we won the Big East and beat Syracuse twice), and the postseason. So far, so good. Whether fair or unfair, however, Georgetown and JTIII have been saddled with a reputation as a team that typically finishes poorly. Each of the last five seasons has offered the Hoyas a chance to change that reputation, but for whatever reason, the Hoyas haven't been able to get over the hump.
In the next few days, Georgetown will have yet another opportunity to prove its toughness in the postseason, beginning with the last-ever Big East Tournament as we know it. Truth be told, the Thursday of the BET is one of my five favorite days of the year - the atmosphere of the Garden, the crowds, the rivalries, and the emotions are unmatched by any other conference tournament. The Big East Tourney offers some teams a fresh beginning, while other teams learn a harsh lesson regarding just how competitive this crazy conference can be.
Georgetown begins this BET as the #1 seed, a familiar place for a team that has historically been the one with the target on its back. The last two times Georgetown found itself in this position, it advanced to the championship game, with a victory in 2007 and a tough loss in 2008. This time around, to get to the top Georgetown will have to battle three very tough opponents: Cincinnati, either Pittsburgh or Syracuse, and then most likely Louisville. For the record, I hate our draw. The matchup with Cincy terrifies me, I don't want to play Syracuse a third time, and Pittsburgh beat us by almost 30 the last time we played. But whatever....if we are who we think we are, we should be ready to compete.
Preview of Thursday's Game: #1 Georgetown v. #9 Cincinnati (12pm)
The first challenge for the Hoyas is to overcome a rematch with the hated Cincinnati Bearcats, who have defeated Georgetown in four of their last five meetings, including in last year's Big East quarterfinals. Cincinnati, which is coming off an easy victory over Providence, has had a fairly up-and-down season. The Bearcats started off nicely, with wins over Iowa State, Alabama, Xavier and Pitt, but then hit a rut, in part because THE DUDE WHO BROKE CHRIS WRIGHT'S WRIST (aka Cashmere Wright) sprained his knee in mid-January and hasn't been the same ever since. Over Cincy's last ten games, it has four wins and six losses, with its best two wins coming against UConn and Villanova. Although the Bearcats may have already locked up a bid in the NCAA Tourney, they could certainly use one more victory against a marquee opponent. The Hoyas provide them with just that opportunity.
The Last Time These Teams Met
The last time these teams met - on February 15 at Fifth Third Arena - the Hoyas squandered a twelve point second half lead before rallying to win a squeaker over the Bearcats, 62-55. In that game, which was an absolute slugfest, four Georgetown players had four or more fouls, including Otto, Nate, Jabril, and Mikael (even Markel, who finished with three fouls, found himself in foul trouble early in this game). Markel led the Hoyas with 17 points (and five turnovers), while Otto had 16, and DSR chipped in with 14. The stat of the night was free throw shooting. Georgetown connected on 19 of 25 foul shots, while Cincy only made 17 of 30. Georgetown was outrebounded, 36-27 (which includes thirteen Cincy offensive boards).
Despite playing more physical and getting to the line more often, Cincinnati's undoing was its inability to hit shots. Cincy only made 4 of 24 three-point attempts and didn't get very much offensive production from its bigs. Sean Kilpatrick, Cash Wright and JaQuon Parker kept launching shots, but they just weren't falling. At one point, JaQuon Parker single-handedly brought Cincy back into the game, with an impressive 11-0 run, but in the end it wasn't enough.
For Georgetown, it was the first of many statement games, in which the Hoyas overcame adversity and defeated a tough opponent. This was the win that kept the Hoyas in first place in the league and may have been the night when most of us started to think "umm, wow, we actually have a chance to win this damn conference."
By now, you should know everything there is to know about Cincy. The Bearcats are a tough, physical squad that plays stingy defense. They rely on their trio of guards - Sean Kilpatrick (17.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Cashmere Wright (12.8 ppg, 3.1 apg) and JaQuon Parker (11.1 ppg, 4,8 rpg) to generate points, while guys like Cheikh Mbodj (4.7 rpg, 2.6 bpg) and Justin Jackson (5.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg) provide the muscle and rebounding in the middle. Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Sanders receive limited minutes in the backcourt, while Shaquille Thomas and the massively large David Nyarsuk occasionally spell Jackson and Mbodj up front.
Keys to the Game:
*If some of these look familiar to you, it's because they're very similar to the Keys I mentioned before our last game against Cincy. Also, I'm tired.
1. Defend the Perimeter: Cincinnati shoots more threes than any other team in the Big East (21.8 per game). This doesn't mean that the Bearcats shoot well from long range; it just means they shoot a lot. The tendency to shoot from the perimeter can be partially explained by Cincy's inability to score in the paint. Because Mbodj and Jackson aren't exactly offensive juggernauts, Cincy's guards feel more pressure to contribute. Kilpatrick and Parker are the Bearcats' best shooters. Cash Wright started the season hot, but has struggled since spraining his knee.
2. Win the Free Throw War: This goes without saying. There may very well be over 45 fouls called in this game. We need to make sure our key contributors don't pick up reckless fouls (I'm looking at you, Jabril and Mikael), and we also need to find our way to the foul line as often as possible, particularly if our shots aren't falling. In our last game against Cincy, Markel and Jabril were able to find open lanes in the second half. We'll need more of the same this time around.
3. Limit Second Chance Points: Cincy is one of the best rebounding teams in the conference, and the Bearcats are particularly good at pulling down offensive boards. Our guys in the paint need to step up and grab missed shots. We need to match Cincy's physicality every step of the way. Key stat: the Hoyas are undefeated when Otto has seven boards or more.
4. DSR: Call it a hunch, but I think we'll need DSR to play big in this one. DSR is one of our better rebounders and perimeter shooters. We know we'll need to rebound in this game, and we also know we'll need to hit some deep shots (because Cincy's interior defense is very good). He stepped up in our epic win against Syracuse. Can he do it again on the Big East's biggest stage? Welcome to New York, D'Vauntes.
It All Starts Now
A year ago, your Georgetown Hoyas were about to play in the BET quarterfinals against a tough Cincinnati team that was trying to cement a postseason bid; the winner of that game would likely have an opportunity to face off against Syracuse. In that game, Georgetown squandered a late lead, and despite a heroic performance by Hank Sims and two gut-wrenching overtimes, the Hoyas fell short.
On Thursday, the very same opportunity will present itself. Another chance to face Cincy in the BET quarterfinals, with the victor possibly squaring off against the Orange. This time around, things should be even more difficult for the Hoyas. As the #1 seed, and playing in the same session as Pitt and Cuse, anyone at the Garden who is not rooting for Georgetown will be loudly rooting for Cincy. Given the crowd factor, this may turn out to be another road game against the Bearcats.
This game undoubtedly means a lot to Cincinnati, which is trying to nail down a berth in the NCAA Tourney and add another strong win to its resume. But this game also means a lot to the Hoyas. This is the last BET as we know it, and Georgetown is poised to send one final R-rated message to the jerks that are leaving. And this is also a payback game for the Hoyas, who still probably retain vivid memories of last year's dramatic loss to Cincy (which, let's be honest, was really freaking miserable to stomach).
Our last game against Cincy was an important bellwether. When it was all over, that victory against the Bearcats signaled to the rest of the conference that Georgetown was capable of winning games against tough opponents, even when key players like Otto are in foul trouble. It also signaled that the Hoyas might just make a run at winning the regular season crown. This next game against Cincy is also a bellwether of sorts, because it will potentially show how far Georgetown has come since the last postseason, and whether this year's squad has the toughness to make a run at one or two postseason titles.
Georgetown's postseason run begins on Thursday. One final round of BET quarterfinals action with the teams we've all grown to know and hate. It's one of the best days of the year. Be ready, stay focused, play tough, and just find a way to get that first W.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Cincinnati.