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Shootaround: Wright State at Georgetown

Can the Hoyas avoid the trap in their home opener?

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Your undefeated(-in-the-Western-Hemisphere) Georgetown Hoyas open their home slate Wednesday night when they host the mighty Raiders of Wright State. What can we expect? Let's get it to it.

Get to Know Wright State.

The big picture. Last season, Wright State was picked to finish last in the Horizon League. As it happened, the Raiders rode a very good defense to a second-place finish in the conference, just missing out on an NCAA Tournament berth. This year, Wright State is neck-and-neck at the top of most preseason polls for the Horizon and  is being projected to make it to the dance. Wright State's season opened on a rough note, as the Raiders dropped an exhibition game to Division II Findlay, but then dispatched Division III Mount St. Joseph on Sunday.

What I learned from Wikipedia. Unlike me, you may have known that Wright State is named after the Wright Brothers, who were natives of Dayton, Ohio, where the university of located. Did you know the Wright State plays its home games in something called the Ervin J. Nutter Center which, predictably, is more commonly known as the "Nutt House"? Unfortunately, its nuttiness appears to be is diminishing, replaced by some sort of nut substitute.

Scandal! After using this space to highlight the suspension of two Oregon Ducks, I did not anticipate that this would become a running feature. Then again, I did not know about Tavares Sledge (4.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg), the Wright State forward who was arrested in late September and charged with four misdemeanors, including domestic violence and child endangerment.

Roster rundown. Even without Sledge, Wright State returns its top eight scorers from last season.

Back court. The Raiders are deep and experienced at guard, rotating four upperclassmen who all logged significant minutes last year. Junior point guard Reggie Arceneaux (9.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, 2.4 rpg, 2.2 TO pg last season) is a pint-sized (5'9") lead guard who can score and set up his teammates but who also made enough mistakes to see his minutes decline as last season wore on. Arceneaux missed the season opener against Mt. St. Joseph, and his status for Wednesday is unclear. Senior Miles Dixon (8.2 ppg) also is small (6'1") and favors long, two-point jumpers, and as a result is not particularly efficient, either. He missed the Findlay exhibition but, in a surprise, returned for Mt. St. Joseph. Senior Matt Vest (5.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.2 apg) and junior Kendall Griffin (6.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.0 apg) provide a bit more size and plenty of production off the pine. Either may step into the starting lineup if Wright State goes with a three-gaurd arrangment.

Front court. Wright State's front court rotation also is deep, and offers a bit more offensively. Senior Cole Darling (11.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 stl pg, 33.9 3FG%) is the team's best scorer, but a bit injury-prone, as he missed 11 games last year, left the Findlay exhibition game that began this season, and hasn't played since. When healthy, Darling is a talented scorer all over the court. Fellow senior AJ Pacher (5 ppg, 2.7 rpg last season, 21 pts in season opener) figures to contribute in any case, but particularly if Darling is limited. Pacher can score down low or by facing up. Senior wing Jerran Young (8.9 ppg, 40.0 3FG%, 3.9 rpg in just 18.8 min pg last season) does a bit of everything, and can slide to the power forward slot when the Raiders go small. Sophomore forward JT Yoho (6.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg last season, 17 pts in season opener) is a strong outside shooter who should take a step up in his second campaign.

Wright State on twitter. Is it March already?

What to watch when the Raiders have the ball.

  • Raiders: Cole Darling and AJ Pacher. Wright State's marked improvement last season was almost entirely on the defensive side of the ball. Still, there are bright spots for the Wright State offense, especially Darling and Pacher. When he's healthy, Darling is the focal point of a Wright State front court that will share the ball freely and can step away from the basket to shoot from outside. Pacher has been healthier and stepped into the leading role in the game Darling missed. Both are capable of playing a face-up game and hitting the occasional long-distance shot, which could prove a particular problem for Georgetown because of...
  • Hoya: Joshua Smith. Smith was not the only bad Hoya defender against Oregon, but he was the worst. He alternately looked slow, lost, and disengaged. Oregon punished his defensive weakness through pick-and-rolls, pushing the pace in transition, and stationing a Duck post away from the basket, just past Smith's grasp. He will stay on the court as long as his offensive play remains strong, but Smith's defense and rebounding have to improve.
  • Number: possessions. The easy answer here is free throws: Georgetown yielded 44 free-throw attempts against Oregon. Whether the cause was a slippery floor or newly stringent foul guidelines, foul trouble will be an issue until it isn't. But also keep an eye on the pace. Generally, Wright State likes to keep things slow, as does Georgetown. Even so, the Raiders may see an opportunity to get out and run on the Hoyas, given Georgetown's putrid transition defense.
  • Feeling delusional because...Wright State ranked just 269th in adjusted offensive efficiency last year. While the Raiders shot the ball okay, they struggled to protect the rock, to get to the free-throw line, and to collect offensive rebounds. Wright State is a balanced scoring bunch but lacks a single killer.
  • Feeling cynical because...Oregon redux plus Pacific jet lag equals negative fun. While none of Wright State's offensive weapons is overwhelming, the Raider bigs are capable of playing a face-up game that can exploit Smith's defensive shortcomings. A shift to a zone doesn't stop a Raider onslaught from deep.

What to watch when the Hoyas have the ball.

  • Raider: Jerran Young. The senior forward is a high-level athlete who can score and rebound. On a team that played ferocious, turnover-inducing  defense, he forced the most miscues, snagging 1.4 steals per game and blocking the occasional shot.
  • Hoya: Nate Lubick. Lubick has been something of a lightning rod over his first three seasons as a Hoya. On the one hand, he lives up to the Coach's Son cliche, contributing timely, heady plays on the boards, defense, and distributing the ball. On the other hand, he has never progressed beyond a so-so scorer, remains less than fleet of foot on defense, and sometimes forces the ball into small spaces. Friday, Lubick grabbed 6 rebounds and chipped in a pair of blocks and a steal, but provided very little on offense, scoring just one basket and not assisting on any. As opponents focus on Joshua Smith, help defenders likely will come from the forward positions. Lubick and the other Hoya forwards must take advantage of sagging defenses by hitting open jumpers and cutting aggressively to the rim.
  • Number: three-point percentage. Against Oregon, the Hoyas made just 1 of 15 attempts. Aaron Bowen, Jabril Trawick, and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera were the worst malefactors, combining to miss 11 three-point attempts without making any. Bowen and Trawick probably should not be hoisting from deep as early or as often as they were on Friday, and Trawick in particular should have much more success going to the basket, where he made 3 of 4 shots against the Ducks. Smith-Rivera, who shot 35.5 percent from three last season, should return to form, and maybe we'll even see something from freshman Reggie Cameron.
  • Feeling delusional because... Georgetown was fairly convincing on offense against Oregon, even including the woeful long-distance shooting. The Hoyas protected the ball well enough and generally were able to work the ball inside to Smith, who converted those opportunities at a high percentage and forced Oregon into serious foul trouble. In Wright State's exhibition loss to Findlay, the Raiders yielded 25 makes on 45 two-point attempts, and committed 30 fouls leading to 35 Findlay free throws. In other words, Georgetown may be able to impose its will inside.
  • Feeling cynical because...Wright State may be an unholy turnover-forcing machine. Counting both an exhibition against Division II Findlay and a real game against Division III Mt. St. Joseph (go figure), the Raiders have forced an average of 20 turnovers per game. Georgetown is thin in the back-court, and early foul trouble may lead to uncertain options like Bowen, Stephen Domingo, and John Caprio shouldering ball-handling responsibilities.

Conclusion. There are plenty of red flags heading into this game. Wright State is a legitimate team that will vie for an NCAA Tournament spot. Its defense plays a soul-sucking, miscue-inducing style that causes plenty of problems for opponents. Georgetown has just returned from Korea and probably is still suffering from jet lag. Still, the Hoyas showed the beginning of a formula for success Friday night. Smith is going to be hard for anyone to stop, let alone the Raiders, who will trot out just two regulars north of 6'6". After a quiet beginning, Markel Starks used strong penetration to finish effectively in the lane, and others took advantage of the defense's diverted attention to find openings around the hoop. The long-distance shooting will come, hopefully sooner.  Expect a less than perfect performance resulting in a closer-than-hoped-for Hoya win. Georgetown 62, Wright State 52.