Georgetown seeks to break its three-game losing streak Saturday when it makes its first trip to play Creighton in Omaha. Will the Hoyas find the cure for their woes against the scorching hot Bluejays? Let's get to it.
The Big Picture. Coach Greg McDermott has helmed the Creighton program for four years, the same amount of time he spent at previous stops at Northern Iowa (where he coached the squad that lost in the 2006 NCAA Tournament to Georgetown) and Iowa State. In 2010, he departed Ames with his star son Doug for Omaha.
The McDermotts' tenure at Creighton has been successful: after a year one appearance in the CBI, the Bluejays have appeared and won one game in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments. With a slew of other veterans returning this season, Creighton expected to be dancing again, and Doug McDermott figured prominently in the All-American discussions. But there also were uncertainties: Creighton lacked a veteran post and would be changing leagues from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. Would lack of size plus sizable opponents overpower the Bluejays?
Creighton has answered any questions emphatically so far, overcoming a shaky pre-conference tournament by winning six of their first seven in the Big East and vaulting to the top of the conference standings. McDermott is living up to expectations and Creighton has decided to overcome its lack of bigs by largely playing small, overpowering slow, oversized opponents with outside shooting. Monday, the Bluejays scorched the nets at Villanova, routing a probably overrated but still very good Wildcats team in its own building by 28.
Roster rundown. With just one true center playing significant minutes, Creighton often will feature three-guard lineups. The starting back-court trio is Jahenns Manigat (8.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 stl pg, 45.8 3FG%), Austin Chatman (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.2 apg, 45.2 3FG%), and Avery Dingman (3.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg) though Devin Brooks (8.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9) produces more off the pine in greater minutes than the starter Dingman. Manigat and Chatman are both savvy veteran guards that can do a bit of everything and can be lethal when left open by defenses that are preoccupied with trying to stop McDermott.
Of course, McDermott (24.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is the main attraction. The Bluejay star can shoot it, making 2.5 threes per game on 44 percent shooting from behind the arc. But he's not just a spot-up sniper: he posts up smaller defenders, works to get buckets in the lane, and earns nearly six free throws per game. The sniper on a team full of them is fellow forward Ethan Wragge (12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 50 3FG%) who shoots nearly 8 threes per game and makes exactly half of them, a figure that has held up during league play. And, as Luke Winn has documented, Wragge is comfortable (perhaps more so) taking a step or three back from the line, as he did burying 9 threes on 14 attempts at Villanova earlier this week. Off the pine, Creighton turns to their lone big, Will Artino (6.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg) for about 13 minutes per game.
When Creighton Has the Ball.
- Bluejay to watch: McDermott. At this point, his importance and excellence is self-evident. So what do the Hoyas, who have struggled to find consistent wing play and can scarcely afford to go zone against such a sharp-shooting team, do?
- Hoya to watch: Aaron Bowen. Bowen logged just 13 minutes against Marquette, his lowest total in Big East play and a mystifying personnel move by JT3, given the injuries and lack of development that have hampered Georgetown's wing rotation. By contrast, Moses Ayegba played 30 minutes against the Golden Eagles' oversized front line. Saturday, Ayegba can't be counted on to chase McDermott or Wragge around the perimeter, and isn't offensively adept enough to punish the smaller Bluejays on the other end of the floor. As a result, Ayegba should see fewer minutes and Bowen more in Hoya lineups that are smaller.
- Number to watch: three-point percentage. This game could get ugly, quickly, especially if Creighton lights it up from outside. The Bluejays are tops in the country in offensive efficiency thanks to two factors: they shoot the three very, very well and they shoot the three very, very often. Creighton ranks first in the country in three-point percentage, at 43.7, and ninth in the country in the percentage of their field goal attempts that come from three. Add in the fact that the Bluejays don't turn the ball over often (first in the Big East in turnover rate at 13.7), and Georgetown may be left praying for misses.
- Feeling delusional because...um, foul trouble shouldn't be an issue? McDermott draws fouls at the second-highest rate in the Big East, and Brooks brings some slashing off the bench, but the rest of the Bluejay regulars stick to the perimeter, where the Hoyas are unlikely to hack.
- Feeling cynical because...the Hoyas also are unlikely to stop the Bluejays' perimeter shooting attack.
When Georgetown Has the Ball.
- Bluejay to watch: Manigat. One answer here also would be McDermott: Creighton's defense is sound, if not stingy, because the Bluejays rarely foul and rarely allow second chances. McDermott is most responsible for the latter, cleaning up the defensive glass with plenty of help from Wragge. But percentage of defensive rebounds doesn't tend to gather much attention; steals, on the other hand, do, and Manigat averages 1.3 per game.
- Hoya to watch: Option #3. Georgetown's lack of a third scorer was obvious before the second half against Marquette but then became bold font, all caps, exclamation point obvious as Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera nearly ran themselves into the ground creating offense against five Marquette defenders who were rightly keyed only on those two Hoya guards. Saturday, can Reggie Cameron find his stroke from deep? Will Mikael Hopkins or Nate Lubick find some opportunities down low against a smallish Creighton front line? Bueller?
- Number to watch: three-pointers made. Two of the three teams to beat Creighton this year have put up more than 80 points in doing so. Georgetown has eclipsed 75 six times this season. There hasn't been a magic formula for obtaining those points, which depending on the game have from from free throws, two-point field goals, and behind the arc. But without Joshua Smith, who JT3 confirmed Friday is out for the season because of academics, the Hoyas are a different team, one that doesn't get to the line as often or shoot as well from inside the arc. Without Jabril Trawick, Georgetown also has been playing more of Cameron, who has shown flashes of his reputed sniping ability. Against Creighton, they'll need plenty of points from deep to beat the Bluejays.
- Feeling delusional because...the Hoya guards shouldn't have to work as hard as they did Monday to score. Marquette is a sweltering defensive squad, particularly inside. Creighton doesn't make mistakes on defense but also allows opponents plenty of room to operate, forcing very few turnovers and yielding lots of attempts from beyond the arc.
- Feeling cynical because...I'm not sure that any scoring outburst is going to keep up with the Bluejays' offense.
Conclusion. It's been a rough couple of weeks. Georgetown lost a couple of heartbreakers to Xavier and Seton Hall, in games I couldn't watch while on a beach in Mexico (ok, that part wasn't rough) and couldn't bring myself to watch once I watched the meltdown via twitter. Monday, the Hoyas seemed to have salvaged some home dignity, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They lack scoring punch, wing depth, and occasionally warm bodies. Plenty of games remain, as do plenty of opportunities for salvaging a potentially lost season. Those opportunities will be more difficult for the next three games, which include Saturday's road tilt at Creighton, Monday's home game against Villanova, and next week's trip to New York to face Michigan State. I expect a game effort against the Bluejays but am not quite delusional enough to hope for a victory.