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Pregame Party: Longwood v. Georgetown

Hoyas aim for their fifth-straight against bottom-feeding Lancers

Longwood coach Mike Gilliam sorta looks like Jeff Bridges
Longwood coach Mike Gilliam sorta looks like Jeff Bridges

Having survived the Return of the Benimonster, your fighting Georgetown Hoyas return to action Monday evening against another lightly regarded area opponent, the Longwood Lancers. A Georgetown offense that has been ailing of late will scarcely get better medicine than playing the Lancers, who yield the second-most points per possession in the country while playing at the fifteenth-fastest pace. Lots of points per possession times lots of possessions should mean lots of points, right? Unfortunately, weak competition has been no guarantee of one-sided results this year, as Georgetown has managed just single-digit decisions against three different mediocre and worse opponents. So what can we expect Monday night? Let's get to it.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. This is the first meeting between Georgetown and Longwood, which only recently completed the transition to Division I basketball, and before that was known mostly for producing early ‘90s Portland Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey. Now playing their ninth season in the top flight, the Lancers are entering just their first year as part of a conference, the Big South. Previously less a free agent than a vagabound, Longwood has done okay, winning nine or more games in each of the past seven seasons, although that number has been padded by some non-Division I competition. This season, the Lancers are off to a slow start, winning just two of their first eight, with one of those wins coming against a sub-D-I opponent and another in overtime against similarly lowly Florida A&M. Losses by 34 to Marshall, 49 to Arkansas, and 58 to Creighton have made Ken Pomeroy wince.

Lancers to Know. While Longwood is no stranger to struggles, this year's early blowouts are in large part the result of turnover, as five of the Lancers' top seven scorers from a season ago did not return this year. Longwood's main gun is junior guard Tristan Carey (15.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 stl pg), a guard with decent size (6'4") and range (35 3FG%). The inside to Carey's outside is junior forward Michael Kessens (13.0 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.6 stl pg, 2.1 rpg), whose versatile game and Alpine origin have earned him the nickname the Swiss Army Knife. Freshman point guard Nik Brown (10.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.3 apg) runs the show offensively, often to the Lancers' detriment, as he's not much of a shooter and is turnover-prone (30 FG%, 4.9 TO pg). He might when this year's award for best Hoya opponent hair, but might be in street clothes Monday night after suffering an elbow injury in Longwood's loss to Dartmouth. Junior guard David Robinson (no relation) (9.4 ppg) rounds out the backcourt with some scoring punch but not much else. Forward Jeylani Dublin (8.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) flanks Kessens in the front court.

When Longwood Has the Ball.

  • Lancers' strength: pushing the pace. Teams generally don't get to be second-to-last in the country by stinking up the joint in just one category, and true to form, Longwood rates poorly in nearly every statistical category. But the Lancers love to push the pace, averaging nearly 10 more possessions per game than your beloved Hoyas. While this isn't necessarily bad for your Hoyas, it's clearly the closest thing an otherwise anemic Longwood offense has to a strength.
  • Hoyas' strength: defending inside the arc. After another errant shooting performance by a Hoya opponent Saturday, Georgetown has the fourth-best defense in the country, and allows opponents to make barely 40 percent of their shots inside the three-point line.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Turnovers. In addition to struggling to convert the possessions they do have Monday night, the Lancers might struggle to hold onto the ball. Longwood turns the ball over on fully 26 percent of its possessions, one of the worst marks nationally: Brown and Kessens each surpass 4 turnovers per game, while three more Lancers fork it over at least twice per game. Meanwhile Georgetown has forced turnovers on 23.6 of opponents' possessions, a very healthy rate. Towson's 19 turnovers helped the Hoyas edge out a victory Saturday, and don't be surprised to see Longwood meet or exceed that number tonight.
    • Rebounding. Towson managed a few extra possessions thanks to its offensive rebounding Saturday. Don't expect similar glass-pounding from Longwood, which ranks 224th nationally in offensive rebounding. But a few extended possessions could make things a bit more interesting.
    • Carey's outside shooting. Carey is Longwood's only outside threat, canning 2½ threes per game. For the Lancers to have a chance against the Hoyas, they'll need to score some points in a hurry, and Carey presents their best chance of doing so.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: pounding the ball inside. While mentioning Georgetown's length advantage is now required by federal law, the Hoyas may see their greater size advantage Monday night: Kessens is the only Lancer regular who measures above 6'6". Inside the arc, where Georgetown shoots a respectable 51 percent, is the only place you'll find a decent Hoya offensive metric after the recent slump.
  • Lancers' strength: forcing turnovers, sort of. Longwood ranks second-to-last nationally as a defense, and 282nd or worse in the following statistical categories: opponents' two-point percentage; opponents' three-point percentage; opponents' offensive rebounding; steal rate; and the rate at which opponents get to the line. Among those figures, the Lancers' 20.9 turnover rate, a positively mediocre figure, qualifies as good news.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Transition. The Hoyas' sloth-like pace overall belies their tendency to get out and run with then opportunity presents itself. That opportunity will be there all night against a Lancer squad that likes to push the pace. Look for Markel Starks in particular to lead the charge down the floor for easy baskets.
    • Three-point shooting. Georgetown has shot just 5 for 30 from beyond the arc over the last three games, and the Hoyas have barely exceeded 30 percent from three for the season. The lack of outside shooting has made Georgetown particularly vulnerable to lane-packing zone defenses. While Greg Whittington has struggled most of all, netting just 27 percent of his three-point attempts after a strong finish to last season, the other Hoya guards could stand to improve from outside as well.
    • The forwards. Absent a Longwood lineup or tactical change, the Lancers will play an undersized rotation in man defense. The particular beneficiaries might be Nate Lubick and Otto Porter, both savvy players who, when the offense has clicked this year, often seem to be involved. They're also both coming off of respectable performances (compared to those of their teammates) against Towson. Expect them to exploit their opportunities Monday.

Prediction. So, that twenty-point win over Towson didn't really materialize. Turns out that the Tigers' slow pace, zone defense, and decently-sized front line muddied the game up enough to keep things close, while the Hoyas' ongoing offensive troubles kept them from pulling away. None of those excuses will be available Monday night: Longwood is small, plays at a fast tempo that should drive up the score, and tends toward a man defense that should allow the occasional back-cut. Georgetown 74, Longwood 52.