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Pregame Party: Mt. St. Mary's at Georgetown

Hoyas to sweat off turkey and stuffing against Mountaineers

What a difference two games make. Your fighting Georgetown Hoyas, dispatchers of two meek opponents, rolled into Brooklyn as a team of uncertain expectations. Two days later, they rolled out with a win over a top-15 squad and a near-upset of the top team in all of the land. After presumably stuffing their bellies with turkey and the like, the Hoyas return to action Saturday against Mount St. Mary's. Will they be able to build on the impressive performances against UCLA and Indiana? Will they look sluggish, feeling the effects of too much tryptophan? Let's get to it.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. The Hoyas and Mountaineers will meet Saturday for the third time in five years, with the previous two encounters resulting in double-digit Hoya wins. Since then, Mt. St. Mary's hired onetime Hoya assistant Robert Burke (who had moved on to American), who coached the Mountaineers to two twenty-loss seasons before resigning toward the end of last year. (Burke was temporarily replaced by Matt Henry, also a onetime Georgetown assistant.) This season hasn't started much better, with a win against similarly lowly Hartford sandwiched by losses to American and Pittsburgh.

Mountaineers to Know. Despite the doom and gloom of the past few years, there are some reasons for optimism. First is the off-season hiring of new head coach and former VCU assistant Jamion Christian, who is all of 29 years old (GOOD GOD I AM OLD). Another cause for hope is that four of the Mountaineers' five leading scorers return. First among the returnees is junior guard Julian Norfleet (11.3 ppg, 2.3 apg, 2.0 stl pg), who's joined in the back-court by George Mason transfer and junior guard Rashad Whack (13.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.7 stl pg). Both are talented scorers with quick hands on defense. Whack has canned 50% of his threes thus far this season, though he's likely benefiting from the small sample size. Facilitating the offense is junior guard Josh Castellanos (5.3 ppg, 6.0 apg), who's not much of a scoring threat but finds his teammates for hoops.

After that trio are several role players, the foremost of which are sophomore forward Xavier Owens (9.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1 stl pg) and junior guard Sam Prescott (7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 stl pg). Given that the 6'5" Owens is two inches or more taller than the rest of that group, Christian needs to play some big men, and does so on a platoon basis, generally alternating two forwards, junior Kristjian Krajina (3.7 ppg, 2 stl pg) and senior Raven Barber (3.3 ppg, 0.7 stl pg, 1 stl pg).

When Mt. St. Mary's Has the Ball.

  • Mountaineers' strength: three-pointers.The Mountaineer offense hasn't been much to speak of yet, ranking 245th nationally in efficiency. The only thing keeping them from sliding further is their heavy focus on the three ball, from which the Mountaineers get 46 percent of their points, tops in the country. They actually connect on 37 percent of their tries, a respectable number. Whack, Norfleet, and Owens all are averaging more than five attempts per game, while Prescott hoists four per contest.
  • Hoyas' strength: defensive rebounding.Georgetown will have a substantial size advantage over the Mountaineers, and figure to exploit it most on the defensive boards. The Hoyas have grabbed more than 70 percent of their opponents' misses this season, while the Mountaineers have grabbed under 27 percent of their own bricks, making them worse than more than 260 other teams in that regard.
  • What to watch: closeouts. Georgetown has struggled to keep its opponents off the three-point stripe, whether the foe is lowly Liberty or top-ranked Indiana: the Hoyas' No. 1-ranked three-point defense of last season has slipped to 251st this year. (Wizards might tell you it's all random, anyway.) Running the Mountaineers off the stripe will be imperative Saturday.
  • What else to watch: turnovers. Mt. St. Mary's has turned the ball over on more than a quarter of its possessions, one of the worst marks in the country, and an odd one, given the Mountaineers' guard-centric attack. The Hoyas don't force a ton of miscues but are much improved over the anemic turnover numbers of two years ago. Particularly if Georgetown uses a full-court press or zone, don't be surprised to see easy transition baskets starting from Mountaineer miscues.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: attacking the rim. Georgetown should pound the paint Saturday. There's the obvious size advantage, but there's also the Mountaineers' incredibly generous interior defense. Mt. St. Mary's has allowed its opponents to make nearly 65 percent of their two-pointers this season, the second-worst mark in the entire country. The Mountaineers also foul a lot, sending opponents to the line at a rate that puts them in the bottom 10 or so percent nationally. In short, the Hoyas will have no excuse for any lazy perimeter jumpers.
  • Mountaineers' strength: forcing turnovers. Christian seems to be incorporating the two things that have made his former squad VCU successful of late: force lots of turnovers and hoist lots of treys. (Cue painful 2011 flashback.) The Mountaineers have forced miscues on nearly 28 percent of opponents' possessions, a top-15 mark nationally, and five players average a steal or better, with Whack being the primary thief. Of course, selling out for steals has its consequences, has shown by Mt. St. Mary's putrid defensive marks in other categories. But turnovers can beget more turnovers which in turn can beget frustration.
  • What to watch: three-point shooting.After poor three-point shooting against Duquesne and Liberty, the Hoyas torched the nets from deep in Brooklyn, shooting 45 percent from three against UCLA and Indiana. Otto Porter has helped in this regard, both because he made five of his six attempts from deep and because his presence on the floor creates better spacing for teammates. There's sure to be some regression eventually, but whether the hot shooting continues Saturday could help determine whether the final is a blowout or merely a comfortable cushion.
  • What else to watch: minutes. Porter, Greg Whittington, Markel Starks, and Nate Lubick all logged 35 or more minutes against UCLA and Indiana, with Porter and Whittington tallying over 40 minutes in the overtime contest against the Hoosiers. Holidays and finals mean a thinner schedule over the next several weeks, but it would be nice to see more of the bench on Saturday.

Prediction. The odds are very low-about 5 percent, per Ken Pomeroy-that Mt. St. Mary's will beat Georgetown. Of course, lots of steals and threes could swing those odds to the Mountaineers' favor, but the more likely question concerns the margin of the Hoyas' victory. An injury, inconsistent play, and long rotations have led to single-digit victories over similarly lowly foes already this season, but the Hoyas seemed to find their stride earlier this week. Aside from a few rough patches, expect this game to be in hand with plenty of time to rest the starters and even get a Caprio sighting. Georgetown 75, Mt. St. Mary's 57.