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Pregame Party: Western Carolina at Georgetown

Amid swirling stories of its departure from the Big East, Georgetown actually plays a basketball game.

The face(s) of the enemy.
The face(s) of the enemy.
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Wait, we get to talk about--and maybe even watch--actual hoops? A dramatic week in which the seven non-football schools in the Big East apparently decided to extricate themselves from the continued circus that is college football comes to a close. Debates will continue about whether this was a foolish self-relegation to mid-major status such that, in a few years, Georgetown will be saying things like, "Have you heard of the Catholic 7? That was me...and, uh, six other schools." Or, will yesterday will be remembered as the day the Chosen Ones declared, in the words of President Thomas J. Whitmore, "We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight"? We won't know the answer for some time, so let's all take a break from learning about, contemplating, and arguing over media rights valuations, loop-holes to by-laws, NCAA units, and so on, and instead think about, you know, basketball. Because Georgetown is playing Western Carolina tomorrow, and we need to get ready for it.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. This is the first meeting between the Hoyas and the Catamounts who, before you run a search, have not yet been announced as future members of the Big East. (That's their partners in nonsensical directional statehood, East Carolina, and for football only.) There's apparently not much to report on the history of Western Carolina basketball, as whoever edited their Wikipedia page thought it was more important that Dikembe Mutombo's nephew played there than that real, live NBA-er Kevin Martin did.

The Catamounts are in their eighth season under head coach Larry Hunter, and finished last season on a hot run that almost resulted in the program's second NCAA berth, with the first, in 1996, ending in a first-round loss Purdue. Gone are lil' Mutombo and another senior, and the leftovers are a green bunch, one of the few rosters (along with your Georgetown Hoyas) without a senior. This season has begun so-so with three wins over D-I competition (and another over some school named Mars Hill) against six losses. But given that the Division I wins were against teams ranked 284th, 302nd, and 313th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, Western Carolina's eight-point loss at Illinois probably is the highlight of the schedule thus far.

Catamounts to Know. Western Carolina features basically a six-man rotation. Running the show is Trey Sumler (16.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 stl pg), a returning all-Southern Conference point guard who leads the team in points, assists, and steals, and is second in rebounds and three-pointers made. The Catamount who most qualifies as an inside threat is Tawaski King (13.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), a high-efficiency scorer who can crash the offensive boards. The rest of the rotation is comprised of guards or guard-sized forwards. Tom Tankelewicz (10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, 40.7 3FG%) gives the Catamounts an outside threat, and recently lit up Appalachian State for 19 points. Brandon Boggs (9.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 stl pg) and Preston Ross (8.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.0 stl pg) are effective rebounders, with Boggs tending more toward the back court and Ross moonlighting as a forward in this height-starved rotation. James Sinclair (7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg) relieves Sumler as a ball-handler while also shifting to the off-guard position when Sumler is on the court.

When Western Carolina Has the Ball.

  • Catamounts' strength: offensive rebounding. Western Carolina's strength, as it were, is its 139th-rated offense on the efficiency scales, one rated similarly to Georgetown's at 131st. The only thing the Catamounts do at a top-100 level, though, is grab their own misses, of which they snag 12 per game. It's truly a team effort, as six Cats average an offensive rebound or more per game.
  • Hoyas' strength: packing the paint. Georgetown opponents are shooting barely 41 percent from inside the arc, while Western Carolina is shooting 47 percent in the same range. The Hoyas block nearly 14 percent of opponents' shots, while the Catamounts get rejected on fully twelve percent of possessions. Western Carolina is one of the shortest teams in Division I, while the Hoyas are the team of LENGTH. The interior should not be hospitable to the Catamounts Saturday.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Three-point shooting. Western Carolina makes an average of 7.5 three-pointers per game, led in particular by Tankelewicz (3 3PM/game) and Sumler (1.9). A Georgetown team that at times has struggled to close out on perimeter shooters must do so Saturday.
    • Press. Georgetown's press has looked terrific against lousy competition, particularly Monday against Longwood. Western Carolina gives up steals on more than 12 percent of possessions, placing the Catamounts in the bottom quarter nationally, with Sumler in particular giving the ball away 3.8 times per game. A Hoya press Saturday might help build an early margin.
    • Foul trouble. Mikael Hopkins has been relegated to the bench of late, suffering from foul trouble early and often. The Catamounts don't draw many fouls, but King, the team's lone post, is the main exception, earning more than five free throws per game. Early Hoya foul trouble, particularly inside, tends to alter their lineups, sometimes for the better, but regardless hurts their depth.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: pounding the paint. Georgetown's size advantage on defense should translate to offense as well. The Hoyas shoot nearly 53 percent inside the arc, the 40th best mark nationally, while Western Carolina yields the same percentage from two, not exactly the mark of a strong defense. Just 7.6 percent of Hoya shots get blocked, while the Catamounts turn away just 6.7 percent of their foes' attempts.
  • Catamounts' strength: defending the three. Ken Pomeroy has spent some time arguing that teams essentially cannot control their opponents' three-point percentage (though they can control opponents' volume of three-point attempts). Even if that negates the fact that Western Carolina opponents shoot just 29.7 percent from three, it has been no accident that the Hoyas have shot just 30 percent from three, an ice-cold mark. The Catamounts' best bet is to goad the Hoyas into shooting threes by sagging off cutters or packing the paint in a zone.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Offensive rebounding. The resistible force meets the movable object as Georgetown's 302nd rated offensive rebounding unit, which grabs just 26.5 percent of Hoya misses, meets Western Carolina's 317th ranked defensive rebounding group, which allows fully 38 percent of opponent bricks as second chances. A few extra Hoya possessions could put the margin out of reach early on Saturday.
    • Greg Whittington. It's time to talk about Greg Whittington's shooting. That's all we need to talk about for him, as the sophomore has been great in every other respect, averaging 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists (although against as many turnovers), 1.7 steals, and 1 block per game. He's a menace on defense, on the glass, and in transition. But his shooting has been really off of late, as he has shot under .400 for each of the past four games and has missed all but 2 of his last 17 three-point attempts. He's too good of a shooter to struggle for much longer, and don't be surprised if he breaks out Saturday.
    • Bench minutes. Monday was glorious for many reasons, in part because the bench played nearly half the available minutes. Generous helpings of Moses, Bowen, and Domingo and even a dollop of Caprio made everyone feel better. Here's hoping that the first three in particular get plenty of minutes, including with some of the first team, on Saturday.

Prediction. Western Carolina has some indicators of being able to make this game uncomfortable. The Catamounts may be able to extend possessions with offensive rebounds and keep things close from beyond the three-point arc. But Georgetown seemed to find its stride Monday night, though admittedly against putrid competition. Nevertheless, expect continued defensive energy, transition offense, and a resurgent Whittington to fuel the win Saturday. Georgetown 70, Western Carolina 51.