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Pregame Party: American v. Georgetown

Hoyas' last tune up for conference play comes against familiar crosstown foe.

So long as the Mayans cooperate, Georgetown caps its non-conference slate Saturday with its lone game in a three-week stretch when it hosts the American University Eagles. For the Hoyas, this game represents the chance to conclude the narrative of the early season. Is Georgetown the team that struggled to put away also-rans like Liberty and Duquesne, and couldn't reach 50 in multiple games, including against lowly Towson? Or did the Hoyas find a workable offensive formula against Longwood and Western Carolina, one they can ride along with their stout defense into what promises to be another grueling Big East run?

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Saturday will be the 52nd meeting of a crosstown match-up that dates back to 1938. Never one of Georgetown's principal rivals, American nevertheless added some spice to the series thirty years ago when it knocked off a Patrick Ewing-led Hoya squad that was fresh off of playing for the national championship. Another close game a few years later was one too many for JT pere, and the series took a hiatus until 2007. This game will be in the fifth in the last six years, with the previous four all twenty-plus-point Georgetown wins.

Jeff Jones is now in his 13th season as the coach of the Eagles, a tenure that peaked with consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009 but hasn't reached the same heights since. Despite a third-place Patriot League finish last year, and a returning veteran squad, the Eagles have stumbled out of the gates this year, going just 4-7 against middling competition. A respectable win over Quinnipiac qualifies as the Eagles' best, and a five-point loss to Howard their worst (though the 36-point beat-down by Minnesota probably is their most embarrassing).

Eagles to Know. American will dress one of the more veteran line-ups in the country, as the seven-man Eagles rotation includes three seniors, three juniors, and a sophomore. The Eagles' primary option is senior post Stephen Lumpkins (15.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.5 blk pg). Recently returned from a stint playing minor-league baseball, Lumpkins not only leads American in points, rebounds, and blocks, but also has nearly double the rebounds of any of his teammates and nearly half the team's free-throws. Surrounding Lumpkins is an arsenal of three-point shooters, including senior guard Daniel Munoz (10 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.5 TO pg, 45.2 3FG%), sophomore guard John Schoof (8.5 ppg, 2.4 apg, 50.0 3FG%), and senior forward Mike Bersch (6.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 38.6 3FG%). Flanking Lumpkins in the front court is junior center Troy Wroblicky (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Recently returned from a knee injury is senior guard Blake Jolivette (6 pts., 2 assts. in his only game).

When American Has the Ball.

  • Eagles' strength: three-point shooting. I am displeased to report that the Eagles rank eighth (8th) in the country in three-point percentage, netting nearly 41 percent of their attempts. American doesn't go crazy from three, making about 6 attempts per game, but some hot hands from outside are enough to make even the most casual fan a bit nervous.
  • Hoyas' strength: protecting the paint. Georgetown's last five opponents have barely cleared 40 percent from inside the three-point arc, and Saturday doesn't figure to be much different. American fails to make even 44 percent of its two-point attempts, with Munoz, Schoof, and Bersch all shooting better from three-point range than from two. Lumpkins, who makes more than half of his attempts from the field, must be contained, but the Hoyas should be able to shut down the paint otherwise.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Turnovers. Under JTIII Georgetown has never finished higher than 98th nationally in turnover rate, and even that was during the disastrous 2008-09 campaign. So I have been reluctant to categorize turnovers as a defensive "strength." Yet, after an opponent-aided 85 turnovers forced in their past four games, the Hoyas now force miscues on more than 25 percent of opposing possessions, the 16th-best mark in the country. Against an Eagle squad that gives the ball away on nearly a quarter of possessions, will the Hoyas force the issue, particularly with the press, yet again?
    • Press. American favors a sloth-like pace, averaging just 59.3 possessions per game, making the Eagles slower than molasses and faster than only Western Illinois. Georgetown is comfortable at a deliberate pace as well, particularly on defense, where it often forces bad shots late in the shot clock. But will the Hoyas, recently disposed to forcing the issue against lesser foes, try to push the pace with a full-court press?
    • Fouls. Lumpkins battles on the boards and works his way to the line. One of his counterparts, Hoya center Mikael Hopkins has had well-documented offensive struggles. while also battling foul trouble, getting called for 3 or more fouls in every game but one this season. A couple of early whistles on a Hoya big man could change the Hoya lineup quickly.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: possessions. Georgetown's advantage on offense may lie in number of possessions, the type of figure that's not particularly noticeable but nevertheless adds up throughout the game. The Hoyas have protected the ball well this season by their historical standards, turning the ball over on just 18 percent of possessions, while American forces turnovers at roughly the same low rate. (Compare that to both teams' percentages on the other side of the ball, nearly 7 points higher.) Also, while Georgetown has hasn't exactly hit the glass, American hasn't exactly protected it, giving up nearly one-third of opponents' misses as second chances. Extra shots, provided they're spent on a high-percentage looks, may help build the Hoya margin.
  • Eagles' strength: Not fouling? American rates in the top 100 nationally in just one defensive category, yielding comparatively few free throws. A Georgetown team that earns a solid but not overwhelming 19 free throws per game may not see so many free looks Saturday.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Three-point shooting. The Eagles aren't afraid to let their opponents shoot from the outside, luring their opponents into taking more than 41 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. Against a Georgetown team that has proven uncertain from behind the arc and specifically against the zone, American may not line up in man all night.
    • Pounding the paint. Even with atrocities versus Tennessee and Towson, Georgetown has been an efficient team inside the three-point line, making nearly 53 percent of its shots within the arc. Every Hoya save one (who shall remain nameless) has made more than half of his attempts from two. Working the ball inside against a team that pay well sag off its opponent will be critical, as will seeking easy transition opportunities.
    • DSR. After erupting for 19 points in his (full-game) debut against Duquesne, freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been quieter of late, getting some points from the line but not connecting on more than two field goals in his last eight games. Can DSR find his stroke before conference play begins?

Prediction. This one may get ugly. A Georgetown team that has already played two games in which it failed to reach 50 points and still emerged victorious will face a team equally comfortable at a slow pace. Few possessions plus American's ability to maximize each possession from behind the three-point stripe could make for some nervous moments early, and Lumpkins's activity inside the arc might produce more than a few frustrating defensive possessions. And, at the pace American favors, even a convincing win might only yield the Hoyas 70 points. Yet, there's reason to think Georgetown's two-game offensive outburst awoke the Hoyas from a slump. Greg Whittington in particular seemed energized against an obvious mismatch in the Western Carolina game. Expect a sometimes plodding affair Saturday, with the Hoyas eventually pulling away for a double-digit win. Georgetown 61, American 45.