Georgetown continues its three-game road swing Saturday when it travels to Indianapolis to face the Butler Bulldogs. Can the Hoyas pull off their first road win and salvage some dignity after Wednesday's embarrassing loss to Providence? Let's get to it.
The big picture. This is Butler's first season as part of the Big East, to which it was recruited based on its consistent excellence in lower-tier conferences over the past decade. That success was attained by a series of coaches, but the most recent, Brad Stevens, was without question part of the Big East's attraction to Butler. Then Stevens surprisingly jumped to the NBA in the off-season, leaving Butler without a coach and a new conference without one of its marquee names. As it has before, Butler promoted from within, naming former Bulldog player and assistant coach Brandon Miller to replace Stevens.
Butler also faced some challenges on the court this year. There, the Bulldogs would have to replace their two leading scorers, two of whom graduated while a third, Roosevelt Jones, suffered an off-season wrist injury that would keep him out of this entire year. Turnover on the roster and the bench is unusual at Butler, and the Bulldogs haven't had quite the success of years past. They have a couple of respectable non-conference wins, namely Purdue and Vanderbilt, and have avoided getting blown out so far, losing five games but just one by double digits. Still, Butler has yet to notch its first Big East win, dropping its first three contests, most recently a double-overtime home loss to DePaul Thursday night.
Roster rundown. At guard, the Bulldogs have one shining star, sophomore sharp-shooter Kellen Dunham (18.7 ppg, 42.5 3FG%). A top-100 prospect out of high school, Dunham was something of a recruiting coup for Stevens, and this season has fulfilled that promise. He's a threat from deep, where he buries three triples per game, and has size (6'6") to see over many perimeter defenders. At point guard is junior Alex Barlow (6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.1 stl pg). He's somewhat of a caretaker, not hogging tons of possessions and moving the ball quickly. Off the pine, freshman Elijah Brown (7.5 ppg, 1.6 apg) provides some volume scoring.
Up front, Butler turns o a trio of upperclassmen. The leading scorer of the group is senior Khyle Marshall (15.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg), a rugged wing who will attack the basket, drawing fouls and gathering offensive rebounds. unior Kameron Woods (9.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.2 stl pg, 1.3 blk pg) a blue-collar player on a team full of them; Woods cleans the defensive glass and protects the rim. Senior Erik Fromm (7.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) injects a bit of skill to the front court, stepping out to hit the occasional face-up jumper. In reserve is freshman Andrew Chrabascz (3.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who thus far mostly has made his mark as a rebounder.
When Butler has the ball.
- Bulldog to watch: Dunham. Dunham gets his points, and can get them in a hurry if an opponent doesn't close out effectively. Thursday, he hit 6 three-pointers (albeit in a 50-minute, double-overtime game) against DePaul. Georgetown needs to mark him.
- Hoya to watch: Jabril Trawick. Trawick has had an up-and-down season thus far, appearing to struggle both with his confidence on offense and with early foul trouble on defense. The Hoyas can scarcely afford to have the junior on the pine early against Butler, whose top two scorers, Dunham and Marshall, are natural defensive assignments for Trawick.
- Number to watch: three-point attempts. Georgetown has allowed a high volume of three-point attempts this season, preferring to contest those attempts rather than preventing them. While Butler does not shoot a ton of threes, Dunham is a huge threat, and Barlow, Brown, and Fromm all average around one made triple per game. If Butler stacks the perimeter with shooters, Georgetown could be in trouble.
- Feeling delusional because...Butler doesn't sport a terribly efficient offense and isn't likely to run Georgetown out of the gym. In the half court, the Hoyas have had a pretty good defense this year when not relying too heavily on a press or, God forbid, the 1-3-1 employed as a desperation tactic against Providence. Butler figures to struggle against a patient Georgetown defense; the Bulldogs have assisted on under 43 percent of made baskets one of the worst 25 marks in the country. A mix of standard man and zone schemes, with the occasional press to fluster Butler's undersized point guards, should keep the Bulldogs in check.
- Feeling cynical because...It's not easy to get Butler to make mistakes: the Bulldogs commit turnovers on under 16 percent of possessions, one of the better marks in the country.
When Georgetown has the ball.
- Bulldog to watch: Kameron Woods. Let's be clear: Woods's playing time isn't based on the fact that he turns the ball over nearly one out of every four possessions he uses. Rather, he is a beast on defense, where he gets more defensive rebounds than any two of his teammates combined and grabs boards at a top-25 rate nationally. Woods anchors a Butler unit that gets three out of every four opponent misses, one of the best 10 marks in the country. He also leads Butler in blocked shots at 1.3 per game.
- Hoya to watch: [insert big man]. Butler allows its opponents to shoot nearly 50 percent from two, meaning there should be plenty of opportunities inside for the Hoyas Saturday. But Georgetown will have to exploit those opportunities without Josh Smith, who is still clearing up an academic issue and so didn't travel with the team to Butler after missing the Providence game as well.
Georgetown official: Center Joshua Smith did not travel with the team to Butler due to clearing up academic issue. Didn't go to PC, either.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) January 10, 2014
- Without Smith, what can we expect from Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick, and Moses Ayegba? Hopkins had an effective if not quite balletic 12 points against Providence. For his career, that was just Hopkins's third double-digit scoring effort in conference play, though maybe Smith's absence will lead to development on that front. As for the other two, it seems too late to expect an offensive explosion but also unclear who else will replace Smith's production. And none of the three, even when scoring, command the attention that Smith does. In that way, Smith's absence affects the ability of the Hoya guards and wings to get open looks because those players' defenders won't bother to double Hopkins, Lubick, or Ayegba. If JT3 can't get offense from two bigs, will he go small? Might we see Reggie Cameron spacing the floor a bit?
- Number to watch: free-throw attempts. Georgetown gets to the line fairly often, and the Hoyas often can get points at the stripe even when they can't score elsewhere. Butler didn't foul much in non-conference play but has been a bit grabby since league play began, ranking near the bottom of the conference in foul rate. Add in the pro-Bulldog Hinkle crowd, and the whistles could be a big variable.
- Feeling delusional because...the game hasn't started yet? It's hard to feel too confident about Georgetown's offense these days. Still, a bounce-back game can be expected from several Hoyas, including Markel Starks, who made neither a free throw nor a three-pointer against Providence and generally can be counted on for better things.
- Feeling cynical because...Providence. Wednesday revealed that, not only does Georgetown lack enough players who create their own shots, too many Hoyas are unwilling or unable to take shots given to them. Particularly without Smith, too much of the shot creation and shot making falls to Starks and Smith-Rivera.
Conclusion. Georgetown is a combined -40 in its two road games this season, so it's not clear that there's a ton of reason for optimism. Still, Butler has struggled in conference play so far, and Georgetown is unlikely to play as poorly as it did at Providence. Expect a close, sometimes ugly game that Georgetown can win if it can cobble together some offense.