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Pregame Party: Texas v. Georgetown

Hoyas tussle with Longhorns under the bright lights

Head Longhorn Rick Barnes.
Head Longhorn Rick Barnes.
Chris McGrath

Your nationally ranked Georgetown Hoyas take on their last high-profile opponent of the non-conference slate Tuesday night when they face Texas in Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V Classic. While the Hoyas are winding down the tougher part of their pre-Big East schedule, the Longhorns are just getting started, as Georgetown is the first of four tough games remaining before Big 12 play. So what can we expect under the bright lights of the World's Most Famous Arena? Let's get to it.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. The Hoyas and Longhorns have met just once, an eight-point Georgetown loss in the '71-'72 season. Since then, there's been a bit of turnover on both rosters, to say least. Change has been especially rapid of late at Texas, where head coach Rick Barnes has shepherded plenty of players to the NBA (eight players since 2007). Post-season success has been a bit more fleeting recently, with just one trip past the NCAA Tournament's first weekend in the same period (a plight with which the Hoya fans can sympathize).

Still, the Longhorns came into this season expecting to have a stocked, if young cupboard again. But Georgetown seems to have a hex on its opponents (each high-profile opponent has been missing at least one player), and Texas likely will be short at least one, and probably two, sophomores Tuesday night. First is sophomore Myck Kabongo, preseason All-Big 12 and, among returning Longhorns, first in assists and second in scoring. NCAA investigators reportedly want to know who paid for the speedy young point guard's off-season training with fellow Canadian and former Longhorn Tristan Thompson, who now is a Cleveland Cavalier; it was reported Monday that Kabongo was not allowed to travel to New York with his teammates. Also absent from the Longhorn rotation thus far has been sophomore forward Jaylen Bond, who injured his ankle then his foot and has played just five minutes all season.

Without these two sophomores, Texas is the youngest in Division I, featuring three sophomores and six freshmen. Unsurprisingly, the results have been mixed. There was an embarrassing loss to Division II Chaminade in Maui, followed by an overtime loss to a not very good USC squad. Texas also has racked up five wins, four by double figures, but none against top-100 competition. With a pair of losses and no high-level opponents, the Longhorns are tough to scout.

Longhorns to Know. Two sophomore guards have stood out thus far: Sheldon McClellan (17 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Julien Lewis (12 ppg, 3.9 rpg), each of whom has increased his scoring load this year. An effective scorer last year, McClellan's efficiency has gone down this season as his volume has risen, while Lewis has shaken off freshman year struggles to make nearly half his shots this year. Both are threats from the outside, while McClellan gets to the rim as well. Without Kabongo, running the point is freshman Javan Felix (7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.1 stlpg), a pint-sized past-first guard who's not much of a scoring threat but affects the game in many other ways.

The front-court is no more seasoned. The lone returning player of note is Jonathan Holmes (5.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg), who leads the Longhorns in rebounding while also notching a block and a steal per game. Freshman Cameron Ridley (5.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is a high-level recruit who, at 6'9", 270 lb., is a natural post, while a fellow frosh, small forward Ioannis Papapetrou (8.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.3 blk pg), is an adept passer and an opportunistic scorer.

When Texas Has the Ball.

  • Longhorns' strength: getting to the line. The Longhorns have struggled plenty on offense, but have been able to generate a few points by drawing fouls. Texas averages nearly 25 free throw attempts per game (although they convert those attempts at under 65 percent). McClellan draws the most fouls, hoisting more than 6 free-throw attempts per game, and Lewis, Papapetrou, and Ridley get to the stripe as well.
  • Hoyas' strength: defending inside the arc. Despite giving up 82 points to Indiana and more than a few three-pointers to low-level competition, Georgetown has a (Tennessee-aided) top-20 defense in the country. The Hoyas have been disciplined defensively, yielding few open looks inside the arc, where Georgetown opponents shoot just 42 percent. The Longhorns, lacking much front-court scoring punch, have shot just 46 percent from two, a middling mark against weak competition.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Rebounding. The Longhorns have pounded the offensive glass, grabbing 35 percent of their own misses, while the Hoyas largely have denied second chances to their opponents. Georgetown's defensive rebounding prowess comes from the wing, where Greg Whittington and Otto Porter give the Hoyas two extra rebounders (length!) and combine to grab 13 defensive rebounds per contest. Texas gets its second chances from its posts, mostly Ridley and Holmes. Corralling the Longhorn misses will be a key factor Tuesday night.
    • Turnovers. Texas has struggled on offense, especially in protecting the ball. The Longhorns have given the ball away on nearly 28 percent of their possessions, one of the ten worst marks in the country. Five different Longhorns are averaging 2 or more turnovers per game. Georgetown hasn't forced a ton of giveaways this year, but Texas might just hand the Hoyas the ball occasionally.
    • Zone. Georgetown used its zone for the bulk of Friday's game of Tennessee, to great effect. But Texas has a few potential zone busters, as Lewis, Papapetrou, and McClellan all shoot 37 percent or better from three. Don't be surprised to see more man-to-man match-ups Tuesday night, particularly if one or more ‘Horns heats up from outside.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: the wings. Whittington should tower over McClellan or Lewis, whichever is tasked with guarding him, while Porter should be able to dominate his defender, whether it's a third Longhorn guard or the newbie Papapetrou. Georgetown has exploited the size advantages these two present only occasionally, and Tuesday presents an opportunity to get these two sophomores the rock in the post or cutting to the hole.
  • Longhorns' strength: field-goal defense, sort of. There are two ways to frame this. (1) Texas has the number one field goal percentage defense in the country. (2) Texas has had one of the ten easiest schedules in the country, measuring solely opposing offenses. So does Longhorns' defense stop opposing offenses, or do the offenses stop themselves? Whatever the answer, it does appear that the ‘Horns will be a shot-blocking bunch, as Ridley, Papapetrou, Holmes, and freshman Prince Ibeh average more than a block apiece, and nearly seven in all.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Mikael Hopkins. The Comrade has been thrust into the spotlight this year for several reasons, including the departure of Henry Sims, the lack of polish on Moses Ayegba and the freshman bigs, and the occasional injured teammate thinning out an already short rotation. Whatever the reason, Hopkins isn't being eased into his new role, averaging more than 26 minutes per game and using 29.5 percent of possessions when he's on the court.That's a much higher ratio than any of his teammates, and higher than any other Hoya in the JTIII era. (For the uninitiated, on a perfectly balanced team, each player would use 20 percent of possessions). All of those Hopkins possessions haven't been very effective: among the top seven Hoyas, he's least efficient, also by a large margin. Now, both Hopkins's usage and his efficiency are likely to regress, perhaps by design, as JTIII may start carving out more sets with Otto Porter or Nate Lubick as the high post and Hopkins in the low post to increase the effectiveness of the touches he gets. After the Hoyas' woeful offensive output Friday night (which, to be clear, was not even primarily Hopkins's fault), don't be surprised to see some of those changes Tuesday night.
    • Guard play. Friday also was a low point in output from the Hoya guard combination of Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. While one or the other had scored in double figures in the Hoyas' five previous games, the two combined for just six points against the Volunteers. At least one, more likely Starks, needs to step up Tuesday night.
    • Otto Porter. Porter's play through his freshman year, and through his first three complete games this season, set an almost unfairly high standard. Double figure scoring on high-efficiency shooting seemed a given. So it was somewhat of surprise to see Porter struggle Friday night, particularly settling for a few more outside jumpers (including irksome long twos) rather than getting to the hole. Expect a bounce-back game against the ‘Horns.

Prediction. Each of these teams has reasons for doubt coming into their showdown at MSG. The young Longhorns will have to prove themselves against elevated competition. The Hoyas have played their share of high-level opponents already but haven't been the model of consistency, turning in solid performances in Brooklyn but uneven efforts since. They have had the tendency to show up when it has mattered most, though, and this will be their last chance to prove bolster their resume before conference play begins. Expect yet another defensive battle, with the Hoyas managing to cobble together more than 40 points and riding the comparatively experienced hand of Otto Porter to a narrow win. Georgetown 60, Texas 55.