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Pregame Party: Liberty v. Georgetown Game Preview

Can the Hoyas wrap up their busy first week by staying undefeated?

Georgetown plays (or at least starts) its third game in a week Wednesday when it hosts the mighty Liberty Flames in the second game of the pre-Legends Classic Legends Classic. In their first-ever meeting, each team will seek to build some confidence: the Hoyas come off of a shaky win Sunday night over Duquesne, while the Flames try to rebound from two disastrous losses to start their season. Wednesday will be Georgetown's last tune-up before a pair of high-profile match-ups next week in Brooklyn, the first against UCLA and the second, potentially, against top-rated Indiana.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Liberty is accustomed to tough times over the past few years, having become a weigh station for younger brothers of NBA guards (Seth Curry, younger brother of Stephen, transferred to Duke; Evan Gordon/Eric/Arizona State). In the first week of the season, the men's hoops team has been upstaged by the football team, which drew a feature in the Sunday New York Times, and also by each of their opponents. The Flames have been beaten by more than 20 points in each of three of the four halves they've played this season. After being doubled up 84-42 by Richmond on opening night, Liberty suffered a defeat nearly as humiliating Monday night. Leading William & Mary by 15 at the half, the Flames gave up 48 points in the second half, eventually losing the game by 12. Ken Pomeroy and the ghost of Jerry Falwell are equally unimpressed.

Flames to Know. Liberty lost four-year starting point guard Jesse Sanders from last year's squad, but returned nearly everyone else, and imported a couple of transfers. Through two games, junior guard Davon Marshall (12 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2 apg), one of the juco arrivals, has been leading a four-guard Liberty attack. After that, things get spotty: junior guard John Caleb Sanders (6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3 apg) is the only other Flame to have scored at least five points in each game. Senior guard Tavares Speaks (8.5 ppg, 2.5 ppg) struggled against Richmond but had a team-high 15 points against the Tribe, and junior guard Casey Roberts (7 ppg) also came alive in the team's second game, nailing a pair of threes that forestalled the Flames' collapse. Inside, 6'7" forward Sommy Ogukwe and 6'9" post Andrew Smith have decent size and athleticism but not much else to contribute.

When Liberty Has the Ball.

  • Flames' strength: dribble penetration. Liberty's offense is almost exclusively predicated on dribble drives, whether off of the pick-and-roll or through one drive-and-kick after another. In the second half against the Tribe, the Flames ran just one post-up. For a Hoya squad that at times struggled to contain the penetration of Florida's and Duquesne's guards, stopping Liberty's guards will be paramount.
  • Hoyas' strength: defensive rebounding. Despite the Hoyas' struggles against Duquesne, they managed to control the boards by grabbing 26 defensive rebounds to the Dukes' 7 offensive boards, continuing a positive trend from last year. Greg Whittington alone grabbed 12 defensive rebounds (and 3 more Hoya misses) while logging all 40 minutes, mostly in Otto Porter's absence. Georgetown enjoyed a significant size advantage Sunday and will again against Liberty's guard-centric approach.
  • What to watch: three-pointers. Also keeping up from last season, the Hoyas defended the three-point stripe well Sunday, as the Dukes shot just 4 of 24 from deep. The Flames haven't shown much life from beyond the stripe this year, but Sanders (36.3 3FG% last season), Marshall (over 38 3FG% in juco last year), and guard Chad Donley (same) all are threats to light it up from three.
  • What else to watch: press. The Hoyas used the press Sunday to moderate effect, forcing some turnovers but also giving up easy layups when the press broke down. We'll see Wednesday whether JTIII chooses to ratchet up the pace again.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: ball movement. Against William & Mary, Liberty looked lost on its defensive rotations, particularly once the Tribe began moving the ball (and moving without the ball) in the second half. Georgetown's half-court offense hasn't been particularly pretty thus far, but patiently moving through their offensive sets should free up some open Hoya looks.
  • Flames' strength: . . . shot-blocking? A team that, through two games, has given up 84 points in one game and 48 in half of another, has only relative strengths. Both Smith and Ogukwe had a couple of blocks (and a goaltend or two) against William and Mary, and Mikael Hopkins has proven a bit susceptible to getting stuffed thus far.
  • What to watch: guard play. It's been feast or famine from the Hoya guards this year. Markel Starks and Jabril Trawick (by my count at least) each failed to score in a half against Florida and took a long time to get going Sunday, eventually chipping in 9 and 5, respectively, against the Dukes while collectively posting just 3 assists against 5 turnovers. Both are better players than those lines suggest, and should improve. On the other hand, freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is posting a stunningly efficient 1.000 game:Chris Wright Heart of a Champion Award after pouring in 19 points on 4 three-pointers in his Hoya debut. Will Starks and Trawick show progress against Liberty? Will DSR make every shot ever?
  • What else to watch: free-throw shooting. The Hoyas got to the line a lot last year but failed to capitalize on those opportunities, making barely two-thirds of their free throws in conference play. Against Duquesne, it was more of the same, as the Hoyas earned 22 freebies but converted just 13.

Prediction. The young Hoyas may not have a better chance to boost their confidence, and certainly won't before next week's trip to Brooklyn, which brings with it some heightened competition. Liberty has some bright spots but many more weaknesses, which have been exposed thoroughly in the Flames' two games. On offense, Georgetown should have the opportunity to continue to establish posts Hopkins and Nate Lubick while finding open shooters in the hopes that someone in addition to Smith-Rivera can find some shooting touch. On defense, the Hoyas must place a premium on cutting off the Flames off the bounce. Expect a double-digit win, particularly if Otto Porter (no news at the time of this posting) plays. Georgetown 69, Liberty 50.