Games That Matter -- Georgetown v. Memphis Preview

Games That Matter - December 22, 2011 - Georgetown v. Memphis:


A Quick Reality Check:
Let's stay level-headed. Georgetown is 9-1 and looks to be in great shape entering Big East play. The freshmen are promising, Big Hank has made big strides and Hollis and Jason have carried the leadership mantle admirably in the first third of the season. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Hoyas have looked impressive, and certainly appear better than most prognosticators expected them to be, but we still have no idea just how far this Georgetown team can go. To be fair, expectations have changed since October, and that's a good thing, but expectations have been high these last few seasons too. It's the results that matter.

For all the positive vibes that we've been getting these last six weeks, let's put things in perspective. We have zero wins against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25. Our two marquee wins - against Memphis and Alabama - look much worse, as both of those teams have piled up some losses in recent weeks. Our RPI is #68, the second-worst RPI of teams ranked in either of the polls (Missouri is #69). And we still have plenty of questions that need to be resolved, most notably: will our lack of depth in the front court become an issue, especially when Henry gets early fouls?

Don't mistake any of the above for cynicism. A healthy dose of excitement is natural. But let's not forget that the 2011-12 Hoyas are a youngish team that still have a lot to prove. There's a long way to go before we flip the calendar to March.

More after The Jump:

A Long Rant About Our Scheduling:
RPI isn't the most important thing in the world. But it provides a reasonable indicator of where teams stack up. For those who don't know, RPI percentages are calculated along the following lines: 25% winning percentage; 50% strength of schedule; 25% opponents' strength of schedule. For winning percentage, road and neutral court victories are weighted higher than home victories. It's not the best formula, and you can argue convincingly that the Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings are better (because they probably are). No matter which system you prefer, however, you'd be hard-pressed to deny the importance of the RPI numbers with respect to placement in the NCAA Tournament. RPI matters.

The Georgetown staff has done a tremendous job of scheduling ever since JTIII arrived on the Hilltop. Our RPI numbers have been phenomenal these last few seasons and have helped us earn solid seeds in the Tourney (though perhaps our seeding has been a little too generous, based on results). If you have only a basic understanding of how RPI is calculated, you know it's easy to game the system. Play your fair share of road/neutral games and avoid playing the worst of the worst, and you should be in good shape. Which is why this year's schedule is such a disappointment.

Some of you will say, "Yeah, but this year's team is young, so we needed to schedule more cupcakes." I don't disagree. But is there really that much of a difference in competition between James Madison (RPI #161) and IUPUI (RPI #261)? We should beat both teams by 20, regardless of how many freshmen we play. For some reason, the staff decided to schedule games against the worst of the worst. Check it out:

American: RPI #121
NJIT: RPI #185
Savannah State: RPI #227
UNC Greensboro: RPI #322
Howard: RPI #324

*And this doesn't even include our game against Division II Chaminade, which doesn't count for purposes of calculating RPI (D-1 opponents only).

Granted, you can never really predict how good or bad an opponent will perform throughout the season. But you do know that certain conferences always fare poorly. Do we really need two games against MEAC schools?

For all the complaining we do about Syracuse's less-than-ambitious scheduling, Syracuse has actually done a solid job this year of taking advantage of little quirks in the RPI. To date, Syracuse has only played one game outside of New York, but still has the #1 overall RPI. The only four noticeable games they've played: v. Virginia Tech (MSG), v. Stanford (MSG), v. Florida, and at NC State. When you compare these games with our games, I'd say our schedules match up pretty evenly; I'd probably argue that our non-conference slate has been tougher. If that's the case, then why is Syracuse's SOS #9 and Georgetown's is #218? Because, whether intentional or not, Syracuse has done a better job of gaming the system this year.

Syracuse's non-conference games against "lesser" opponents include: Marshall (RPI #46), Bucknell (RPI #84), GW (RPI #130), Manhattan (RPI # 150), Albany (RPI #153), Tulane (RPI #170), Eastern Michigan (RPI #192), Colgate (RPI #203), and Fordham (RPI #264).

By scheduling games against mediocre teams, while avoiding the worst of the worst, Syracuse has put itself in great shape. Georgetown has done the opposite. Some may argue that Georgetown needed these games against weaker opponents to develop team chemistry and get more minutes for younger players; others will say that RPI doesn't really matter this year because we're not even predicted to finish in the top half of the Big East. To these arguments, I would say two things: (1) Couldn't the younger guys still get quality minutes against teams like GW and Tulane?; and (2) Isn't RPI that much more important when you are predicted to be an NCAA bubble team? Will a bad RPI hurt Georgetown's seeding?

Poor nonconference scheduling will negatively impact our seeding. A lesson for the future.

(I promise this will be the last time I complain about RPI this season. And again, I'm willing to give JTIII a free pass because our scheduling has been exceptional these last five years.)

Georgetown v. Memphis, 7pm:
With a rematch before January, Memphis and Georgetown are doing their best to encourage the Big East big wigs to add Memphis to the conference. It makes sense. Just get it done, people. And send an invite to Temple too. (Quick Note on Conference Realignment Nonsense: Houston and SMU were invited to join the Big East in all sports, purportedly so the Big East could break into the Dallas and Houston television markets. That's like adding Fordham and La Salle to the Big 12 in order to break into the New York and Philly markets. I'm exaggerating, but you get my point. Houston football is about to lose Case Keenum and its head football coach, and will clearly be in rebuilding mode. And SMU is only along for the ride because Houston needed a Texas partner. All of this makes perfect sense.)

This game terrifies me. Memphis is an extremely talented team that has yet to defeat any of its "quality" opponents. With losses to Michigan, Georgetown, Murray State and Louisville, Memphis is desperate for a quality win. The Tigers will be all too happy to secure a solid win against the Hoyas and exact some measure of revenge in the process.

Memphis is led by do-everything guard Will Barton, a 6'6'' sophomore, who leads the Tigers in scoring (20.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg). Barton is a well-rounded player, and when Memphis really needs a basket, the ball usually goes through him. He scored 28 and had 16 boards in Memphis's most recent loss against Louisville. Barton's two greatest strengths are getting to the free throw line (he shot 19 free throws against Louisville) and pulling down offensive rebounds (he leads the team in that category). Georgetown would do well to keep him on the perimeter.
If there's a second go-to guy, it's probably 6'1'' guard Joe Jackson (13.9 ppg). Jackson is Memphis's lead ball handler and second-best distributor (3.2 apg); when Georgetown and Memphis last faced each other in Maui, he contributed 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists and was a key player for the Tigers down the stretch.

Two players that have started to see more time on the court for Memphis are Adonis Thomas (10.2 ppg) and Chris Crawford (7.6 ppg). Thomas is a 6'6'' freshman who has steadily improved over the course of the season; he has a decent mid-range game and can put the ball on the floor, but he's still a little tentative and often defers to guys like Barton and Jackson. Still, don't be surprised if Thomas plays a key role in this game. With a poor assist-to-turnover ratio (7 assists, 13 turnovers), the Hoyas should go after him a bit and hope he gets rattled. Crawford is a 6'4'' sophomore who does a little bit of everything. He scores, rebounds, shoots threes and distributes the ball effectively (he leads the team with 4.0 apg). He's probably the X factor in this game. Even if Georgetown can slow down Barton and Jackson, Crawford may find openings.

In the middle for Memphis are 6'8'' sophomore Tarik Black (8.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .58 FG%) and 6'9'' senior Wesley Witherspoon (6.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Black was used effectively against the Hoyas in Maui as "the guy who caught alley-oop passes and dunked the ball". Cool Whitt, Jason and Markel will have to do a better job preventing Jackson and Crawford from penetrating, so that Henry and Nate don't need to provide help as much; and our interior defenders just need to communicate more and work on rotating, so that Black isn't always open. Witherspoon is a bit of a mystery for Memphis. As Crawford and Thomas have seen more minutes, Witherspoon's minutes have declined; against a bigger team like Georgetown, though, we can expect Witherspoon to see more action (he led Memphis with 8 rebounds against the Hoyas in Maui). Witherspoon isn't a major scorer, but he's long and could create problems on the defensive end. Still, he only played three minutes in Memphis's last game against Lipscomb, so Pastner may prefer to bench Witherspoon in favor of a smaller lineup.

Guards Charles Carmouche, a 6'3'' senior (8.3 ppg), and Antonio Barton, a 6'2'' sophomore (6.8 ppg) are role players. Barton is a decent three-point shooter who probably shouldn't be left alone. Both are athletic players who aren't afraid to push the tempo. Carmouche has missed the last six games with a knee injury and it's uncertain whether he'll even play.

What We Learned From Maui:
The last time these teams played, Jason Clark led all scorers with 26 points in Georgetown's exciting three-point overtime win. Henry Sims proved, for the first time all season, that he was a truly dominant force who could not be contained by mere mortals like Tarik Black. Hank had 24 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and Georgetown just kept feeding him the ball down the stretch, especially after Black fouled out. Nate Lubick had his worst game of the season, with zero points on 0 for 6 shooting. Memphis left Nate alone at the top of the perimeter and basically dared Nate to shoot or put the ball on the floor. Hollis Thompson scored 12 points, despite not even attempting a three-pointer. For the Tigers, Will Barton and Jackson led the way with 22 points and 20 points, respectively. Both teams shot very well from the charity stripe. The difference was probably the turnovers; Georgetown committed 9 (Hank had 4), while Memphis committed 17.

Keys to the Game:
1. Control the Tempo: Memphis doesn't shoot as poorly from the perimeter as Alabama does. But they rely heavily on transition baskets, a fast-paced tempo, and slashing to the basket. Georgetown needs to control the pace, refuse to engage in a track meet, and make Memphis perform well in its half-court sets. The Tigers are not as undisciplined as they were in November, but they're still erratic and don't always take the best shots. Georgetown needs to make Memphis work for every shot and force Will Barton, Jackson and Thomas to beat them from the perimeter. Watch out for the quick first step and make the guards shoot contested threes.

2. Get the Damn Ball Inside: Hank Sims was a beast in the last game against Memphis. I'm kind of excited to think about Pastner basing his entire game plan on how Memphis can limit Hank's touches. Should we double him? Should we draw him to the perimeter? I don't care what Memphis does, and neither should Hank. If they double him, he'll find open cutters. If they don't, he should be able to school Black and Witherspoon. Either way, the Hoyas need to take advantage in the paint. Memphis rarely has a player on the court taller than 6'8'' and guys like Will Barton have to fill in on the glass. The Hoyas should keep pounding the ball inside and drawing fouls. I love Hank's passing ability (he now leads the team with 3.9 apg), but against a smaller team like Memphis, he needs to impose his will in the paint.

3. Keep Memphis Off the Line: Against Louisville, Will Barton and Jackson combined to shoot 28 free throws. Jackson, in particular, shoots the ball extremely well from the line (84%). Both have an uncanny ability to draw contact and get to the stripe. The Hoyas cannot give Memphis easy points by playing careless defense.

4. Find a Role for Nate: Smartly, Memphis didn't guard Nate on the perimeter in the last game. As a result, Nate saw extended time on the bench. JTIII either needs to use Nate more effectively or give his minutes to Porter and Hopkins in this game. Nate should find some room in the paint and do his best to draw fouls and get the ball to shooters along the perimeter; he can't stand 20 feet from the basket like he did in the last contest. I expect Nate to be fired up for this game. I just don't know if he'll be effective. Hopkins didn't get any run in the last game against Memphis. Although still a little raw and unfamiliar with the system, I think he's athletic enough to play against Memphis. If Henry picks up fouls, or Nate struggles, Hop might see some time.

5. Turnovers: We need to be smart with the basketball. Henry committed four turnovers in the last game against Memphis. Jason Clark leads all Hoyas with 2.4 turnovers per game and has the worst assist-to-turnover ratio on the team (13 assists, 24 turnovers). His ball handling has definitely improved from when he was a scared freshman, but he still needs to do a better job staying under control.

This is not the same Memphis team we played in early November. Guys like Adonis Thomas and Chris Crawford are starting to get more involved. Memphis is hungry for a quality win and desperately wants to avenge its earlier loss to the Hoyas. For Georgetown, this is the final challenge before conference play begins. Memphis was probably a little overrated in Maui, and now the Tigers are probably a little underrated. Make no mistake about it, though. Memphis is a talented, NCAA Tourney-caliber team and this would be a solid win for a still-growing Georgetown squad. Let's take care of business at home in what should be the first meaningful game at the Phone Booth of the season.

Let's go Hoyas. Beat Memphis.

Stay Casual, my friends.