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Pregame Party: Georgetown at Marquette

Quoth De La Soul, Stakes Is High. With the calendar turned to March, your Georgetown Hoyas close the regular season with an enormous test Saturday when they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles. A win will ensure the resurgent Hoyas a second-place finish and a double-bye, beyond all but the most DELUSIONAL Hoya fans' preseason dreams. A loss likely would drop Georgetown to fifth or even sixth place, as the equally surprising Notre Dame and South Florida, combined with a costly January loss to Cincinnati, may haunt the Hilltoppers. The Golden Eagles are assured of a double-bye but will be plenty amped up for Saturday, inspired by an embarrassing collapse in these teams' first meeting, an equally woeful mid-week loss to Cincinnati, and Senior Day ceremonies. So without further ado, let's get you ready for Saturday.

More CliffsNotes after the Jump.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Being a Marquette fan must be exhausting. You remember these teams' meeting, in which a furious Hoya comeback from a 17-point deficit, capped by a Hollis Thompson three, resulted in a last-minute Georgetown win. Fortune has smiled on Marquette a bit more since then, delivering 12 wins in 15 games, but few of those victories have come easily. The Golden Eagles amazingly overcame double-digit deficits en route to six of those wins, and trailed at halftime seven times. And two of the three losses, to Notre Dame and Cincinnati, have been by double digits, while the third, to Syracuse, only avoided that distinction thanks to manic rally that cut a 23-point hole to a single basket. So, while Marquette fans have to be pleased with their team's 13-4 conference mark entering Saturday, their shirts probably have been as sweat-soaked as coach Buzz Williams' carefully curated wardrobe.

Golden Eagles to Know. Marquette players of late seem to come in four models: the pesky undersized lead guard (Dominic James); the scoring guard (Jerel McNeal; Wesley Matthews); the tweener forward (Lazar Hayward; Jimmy Butler); and the anonymous post (anonymous). This year, senior conference player of the year candidates fill two of those roles. Darius Johnson-Odom (18.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.3 apg), the lead guard, tops the team in scoring, and Jae Crowder (17.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.4 stl pg), the requisite forward, improbably ranks in the top 10 in the conference in steals, rebounding, and scoring, leading the team in the former two. Sophomore Vander Blue (8.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.0 apg) and freshman Todd Mayo (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) are both scoring guards, while junior point guard Junior Cadougan (6.4 ppg, 5.5 apg) brings not much scoring but a lot of distributing. The post has been even more indistinct than usual this year, as center Chris Otule and Davante Gardner both suffered knee injuries, sidelining Otule for the season and Gardner indefinitely. Stepping into the void has been sophomore forward Jamil Wilson (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg), known to the Hoya faithful as The Guy Who Concussed Markel Starks.

When Marquette Has the Ball.

  • Golden Eagles' strength: pace and ball movement. Marquette likes to get out in transition, running the break with ease. They also show good spacing in the half court, keeping the floor spread in order to free up dribble-drives and cuts into the lane. Whether on the break or in the half-court, the Golden Eagles share the ball freely with one another, getting more of their baskets on assists than any other team in the conference. A three-guard line-up of Johnson-Odom, Cadougan, and Blue, with Mayo as a substitute, ensures plenty of adequate ball handlers at any moment.
  • Golden Eagle to watch: Darius Johnson-Odom. Johnson-Odom caused the Hoyas problems for much of the first game, and there's reason to worry about him Saturday. He's both quick and physical, the type of guard that have been the bane of the Hoya defense. DJO has been impressively consistent this year, tallying double figure scoring in every game except for the two when he's been suspended.
  • Hoyas' strength: defensive rebounding. The size-deficient Golden Eagles' main offensive shortcoming is on the glass, where they fail to grab even one-third of their own misses. Georgetown is number one in the conference is defensive rebounding, as Jack Cooley can attest after gathering none on Monday. In January, the Hoyas held Marquette to just 9 second chances on 29 misses, with three of the offensive rebounds from Gardner, who presumably will be absent Saturday.
  • Hoya to watch: Greg Whittington. In the first showdown, the freshmen, especially Whittington, brought critical length and defensive intensity, giving the smaller Johnson-Odom fits down the stretch. To wit (Whit?), the wizards at Hoya Prospectus noted that he was +16 for the game despite scoring just one basket. While lately Whittington has shown offensive promise, his biggest contribution on Saturday may be in slowing down the Golden Eagles' star.
  • Looming question: turnovers? Three of the four Big East teams to beat Marquette team have done so by forcing turnovers. (Notre Dame, 15th in the league in takeaways, is the exception.) In game one, Georgetown caused as many Marquette turnovers in its thirteen-minute comeback as it did in the rest of the game combined; 10 of the Hoyas' 14 points off of turnovers came during that rally. Syracuse (16 forced turnovers) and Cincinnati (17) have followed largely the same model. Can a Hoya squad that, while otherwise stout defensively, has sometimes struggled to force turnovers repeat that feat on Saturday?

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Golden Eagles' strength: turnovers. Marquette is second-best in the conference at forcing turnovers, and depends on those takeaways to fuel its offense. In the first match-up, the Golden Eagles hit the floor running, forcing 15 Hoya miscues in the first 27 minutes en route to 56 points, 16 off of turnovers. When the Hoyas protected the ball better, the Golden Eagle offense stalled, managing just 14 points for the rest of the game. While Georgetown has improved its shaky ball-protection of late, maintaining that composure in front of nearly 20,000 screaming Wisconsonites will be a stiffer challenge.
  • Golden Eagle to watch: ​Jae Crowder. ​Crowder has to be watched all over the floor, but as Marquette's leading pilferer, he's particularly dangerous defensively. Don't be surprised to see him guarding Henry Sims, who will need to be more careful with the ball to keep Crowder's sticky fingers at bay.
  • Hoyas' strength: working the ball inside. ​Georgetown made 21 of 25 two-point shots in the first match-up. That's really, really good, and can't be expected to continue, particularly given the number of makes that came on long two-pointers. But the Hoyas possess a marked size advantage over the Golden Eagles, particularly at the center and small forward positions.
  • Hoya to watch: Henry Sims. Big Hank mans one of those two positions, and will tower over Crowder or Wilson. Sims dominated Cooley in the low post on Monday, scoring in a variety of ways and repeatedly finding teammates cutting to the tin. He'll need to bring the same game Saturday.
  • Looming question: offensive rebounding? Without Otule and, more recently, Gardner, the Golden Eagles have been a bit small inside, making them a subpar defensive rebounding squad. The Hoyas have been crashing the boards recently, grabbing 43 percent of their own misses in wins over Notre Dame and Villanova. In a game in which they're likely to give away a few possessions by turnovers, can the Hoya get a few extra on the offensive glass?
  • Looming question #2: free-throws? As dramatic as the January comeback was, it would have been all the more so had the Hoyas made a damn free throw or two. Georgetown went just 13 of 23 from the line in the first match-up. Given the likely regression from the field, can the Hoyas convert from the charity stripe?

Pre-Prediction Detour. As a Midwesterner, I'd be remiss if I didn't tout a few joys of the trip to Milwaukee. For those commuting up from Chicago, snap your photo in front of the Bong Recreation Area and, once your appetite is piqued, stop by the Mars Cheese Castle. And any visitor to the Good Land should head to Old World Third Street, within walking of the distance of the arena, for all the purveyors of all the brats and beer you could possibly hope for. Document suitably.

Prediction. This surprising season has Hoya fans reaching back into their memory banks for comparison, to JTIII's first season and, as expectations have risen, to the halcyon days of '07 and '08. Those memories are particularly appropriate now. The Bradley Center has brought the Hoyas nothing but grief in the past two trips (2010's last-minute loss and one agonizing defeat among many in 2009). But on March 1, 2008 it was the site one of the most thrilling wins in a season full of them. A late comeback from a double-digit deficit, Jon Wallace's ice-in-his-veins trio of free throws to send the game into overtime, and a last-second defensive stop, all narrated by the incomparable Gus Johnson. (Take a pre-HD trip down memory lane here (h/t mchoya)). With this year's squads again angling for post-season seeding, the place will be rocking again this Saturday. In their last chance to pull out a road win against Marquette, expect the Hoya seniors to step up much as they did against Notre Dame, another key defensive stop or two, and an appropriately exciting finish. Georgetown 62, Marquette 60.