Georgetown continues its road trip Thursday night when it visits the Seton Hall Pirates. A win would keep the Hoyas' dim NCAA Tournament hopes flickering, while a loss would push Georgetown to the wrong side of the bubble entering a brutal closing stretch.
The Big Picture. In January, Seton Hall won its first game at Georgetown since the Craig Esherick era. While that win was par for the course during the Hoyas' mid-season swoon, the Pirates' win was a peak in a strange up-and-mostly-down Big East campaign. Seton Hall actually has played .500 ball on the road in conference, also leaving the Garden State to beat NCAA Tournament hopefuls Providence and Xavier. But the Pirates have been miserable in the near-empty Prudential Center, managing more double-digit losses (3) than wins (1). They'll be looking to bolster the latter figure Thursday against revenge-minded Hoyas.
Roster Rundown. Seton Hall has lots of perimeter shooting, modest ball-handling, but not much else. At guards will be do-it-all lead guard Sterling Gibbs (14.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.1 stl pg) and freshman point Jaren Sina (6 ppg, 2.4 apg). On the wing is stalwart Fuquan Edwin (14.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 stl pg, 35.4 3FG%) a menacing defender and streaky outside shooter that torched Georgetown for 24 points and 5 three-pointers in the teams' first match-up. Rejoining Edwin on the wing is senior swingman Brian Oliver (12 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 43.8 3FG%), a three-point specialist who was suspended for the Pirates last game for reported attitude problems but has been reinstated for Georgetown. Wing Haralds Karlis (1.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg) apparently lacks Oliver's questionable attitude and so may steal some minutes in reserve.
Also returning from a one-game exile is big man Gene Teague (10.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 60.8 FG%), the team's leading rebounder and post threat. Wide body Patrik Auda (9.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and long, lanky Brandon Mobley (8.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 blk pg) also provide some skilled production up front. Don't be surprised to see some of Aaron Geramipoor off the pine (2.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg) as Willard shuffles the lineup.
When Seton Hall has the ball.
- Pirate to watch: Sterling Gibbs. Much of the credit in the first match-up appropriately went to Edwin, who buried the Hoyas from deep. But Gibbs set up plenty of looks for Edwin and the other Pirates, finishing with 9 assists to go with 11 points. To turn off the Pirate attack, the Hoyas need to bottle up Gibbs off the dribble.
- Hoya to watch: Aaron Bowen. Bowen continues to be a disruptive defenders, using his length and athleticism to jump passing lanes. Against a more perimeter-oriented Seton Hall attack that eschews the offensive glass, will Bowen continue to see time as a small-ball power forward?
- Number to watch: three-point percentage. Seton Hall lets it fly from deep, hoisting more than 26 three-pointers per game. Oliver is a large source of those long balls, and Gibbs, Edwin, Sina, and Mobley all fire away as well. While the Pirates jack the triple at one of the highest rates in the country, how many of those threes will fall?
- Feeling delusional because...Outside the Pirates' shooting, they're a below-average offensive team. Seton Hall ranks seventh in the conference at getting to the free-throw line, second-to-last in protecting the ball, and dead last in offensive rebounding. If Georgetown can contest Seton Hall's looks, the rest should sort itself out.
- Feeling cynical because...A team that relies on the three ball can get hot at any time, and Georgetown has been prone to some dispiriting defensive lapses this season. A few early triples from Seton Hall could make things ugly in a hurry.
When Georgetown has the ball.
- Hoya to watch: Markel Starks. Starks will be looking to bounce back from two down games, both the loss to Seton Hall in January (3-of-12 shooting, 9 points) and Sunday's loss to St. John's (4-of-14 shooting, 13 points). But does he have enough left in the tank to kick-start the Hoyas' stretch run?
- Pirate to watch: Fuquan Edwin. Edwin is perhaps the defender to watch in the entire Big East, and certainly to watch on this Pirate squad. He averages 3 steals per game, placing him in the top 10 nationally in steal rate. Georgetown's ball protection has been shaky generally but briefly recovered during its winning streak; can the Hoyas keep Edwin's sticky fingers at bay?
- Number to watch: points in the paint. Georgetown has struggled on offense this year, but has had modest success by attacking the rim over and over. Seton Hall has given up 52.5 percent from two in conference play, and fouls at a high rate. Georgetown's forays in to the paint should pay dividends Thursday.
- Feeling delusional because...Bowen and Trawick have formed an enjoyable energetic forward duo, creating offense in transition and by attacking the rim. In a season with too many depressing story lines, their late-season energy has been infectious.
- Feeling cynical because...There may not be enough other offense to go around. Mikael Hopkins is just 5 of 18 over the past four games, and Reggie Cameron has made just one three-pointer over the same stretch. Nate Lubick has stepped up his offensive aggression but still rarely produces double figures, and Starks is wearing down. The Hoyas have been too thin for too long, and it's starting to show.
Conclusion. Everyone knows this is a must-win. Even on the road, a must-win against Seton Hall has some appeal. The Pirates can get hot from deep, but they struggle elsewhere. They probably won't take advantage of the Hoyas' tendency to foul, or pound Georgetown's undersized lineups on the glass. Edwin, Gibbs, and others could force a slew of Hoya turnovers, but Georgetown should be able to pound its way to the basket. Count me as cautiously optimistic that the Hoyas live to see Xavier on Saturday.