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Shootaround: Lipscomb at Georgetown

After early-season travels, can the Hoyas settle into a groove during finals home stand?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Your mighty Georgetown Hoyas return home after a whirlwind season-opening stretch that included plenty of challenges: jet lag, playing three games in four days, and adjusting to a new roster with one very big piece gone and a much wider one present.

Get to Know Lipscomb

The big picture. Lipscomb is not good, but not NJIT-level terrible, either. The Bison rank 233rd nationally in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, a shrug-inducing number that suggests neither contention for a conference title nor bottom feeding. The Bison are adjusting to a new coach, Casey Alexander, who made the rare intra-conference move from fellow Atlantic Sun member Stetson. The Bison enter Saturday's contest at 3-3; arguably two of their losses, a four-point defeat to a strong Belmont squad, Lipscomb's cross-town rival, and an 11-point loss at Vanderbilt, are as impressive as their wins over a non-Division I opponent and two hapless in-state foes.

What I learned from Wikipedia. Since joining Division I, Lipscomb has never made the NCAA Tournament and has played in just one NIT game. Limited opportunity for post-season disappointment!

Roster rundown.

Back court. Lipscomb's perimeter attack has been in a bit of flux lately, but two sure starters are wing Martin Smith (15.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 apg) and guard J.C. Hampton (13.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg). This duo leads the team in scoring, three-point shooting, and assists while also grabbing their share of boards. Back-ups include Carter Sanderson (10 ppg, 40.9 3FG%), an outside shooter, and J.J. Butler (5.2 ppg, 2.5 apg) a ball handler and distributor.

While Butler has started some games alongside Smith and Hampton, jack-of-all trades wing Khion Sankey (8.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 apg) has replaced Butler in other games. Saturday, Sankey likely will start to help decrease the size disparity between Georgetown and Lipscomb.

Front court. Up front, Lipscomb relies on wing Malcolm Smith (13.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), who leads the team in rebounding despite measuring just 6'5" and is the twin brother of teammate Martin.  Less of a scorer but nearly as adept at rebounding is forward Talbot Denny (7.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), who despite standing just 6'6" may see time against Joshua Smith on Saturday. More likely to see additional burn is Charles Smith, who averages just 10 minutes per game but is the biggest of the Bison who see regular time.

Lipscomb on twitter. Those of you who were locked in on the Beastie Boys/GoldieBlox kerfuffle missed out another riveting intellectual property dispute between dueling "LU" logos used by Christian universities:

What to watch on defense.

  • Bison: Martin Smith and J.C. Hampton. The most marked change under Alexander has been in shot selection. Last season, the Bison attacked the rim, drawing lots of fouls in the process, but rarely spotted up from behind the arc. This season, Lipscomb continues to draw fouls at a high rate (more on that below) but also has jacked 23 three-pointers per contest. Smith and Hampton have been hoisting over 5 attempts apiece per game, with Smith, at 39.6 percent, the somewhat more accurate of the two. When they're not firing away, these two can distribute the ball, as each averages 3 assists or more per game.
  • Hoya: Mikael Hopkins. After a sophomore year in which he caught grief for his disastrous offensive play and his mediocre rebounding numbers, Hopkins has shown progress as a junior. Playing more time at power forward, Hopkins has remained an effective shot blocker (1.2 blk pg) while also significantly bolstering his rebounding numbers (5.6 rpg in just 16.6 min pg). Saturday, Hopkins and fellow power forward Nate Lubick must be prepared to close out on Lipscomb's outside shooters, as the Bison will trot out a smaller but more perimeter-oriented lineup.
  • Number: possessions. Lipscomb likes to run. The Bison have ranked first in pace in their conference three of the last four years (and second the other), and in the top forty nationally in pace in each of those years. A new coach hasn't changed that philosophy, as Lipscomb enters Saturday's game ranked 35th nationally in pace. Georgetown has ramped up the tempo a bit this year, but must make transition defense a priority Saturday.
  • Feeling delusional because...Georgetown should be able to pressure the Bison into some mistakes. The Hoyas have forced turnovers on over 21 percent of opponents' possessions, a bright spot in what otherwise has been a so-so defense. For its part, Lipscomb has given the ball away on nearly 20 percent of possessions, a below-average mark.
  • Feeling cynical because...the Hoyas might be headed for serious foul trouble. Lipscomb has averaged more than 29 free throws per contest thus far, drawing fouls at a top-50 rate nationally. Georgetown has been awfully grabby so far this season, getting whistled for more than 25 fouls per game and sending opponents to the line at a bottom-10 mark nationally. Of teams ranked in the top 30 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, only the Hoyas rate below 250th nationally in foul rate. Foul trouble has haunted Georgetown in its two losses, with early whistles on Markel Starks forcing him to take a seat. A few early fouls plus some bombing away from deep by Lipscomb could make Saturday's game too close for comfort.

What to watch on offense.

  • Bison: Khion Sankey. Lipscomb is better with the ball than without it, ranking just 266th in defensive efficiency nationally. Saturday, they should be put to the test: only two Bison measure above 6'6", and one of those two hasn't logged a minute this season. The one area in which Lipscomb has held its own defensively is protecting the glass, where the Bison have grabbed 72 percent of opponents' misses. Sankey is a versatile wing who will protect the boards (4 defensive rebounds per game) while also causing turnovers (1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks per game).
  • Hoya: Nate Lubick. Lubick looked really off in Puerto Rico, turning the ball over nearly twice as often (7) as he found teammates for made baskets (4 assists) while maintaining subpar scoring numbers (14 points total in three games). Lubick's defensive rebounding will always be an asset, particularly considering Smith struggles on that end of the floor. But especially as Hopkins asserts himself on the boards and finds his identity offensively, Lubick may need to step up his game to avoid being marginalized.
  • Number: wing three-point shooting. In 186 minutes of combined action, Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen are 0 for 12 from three-point range. The good news is that neither wing is shooting the long ball much; the bad news is even those limited attempts aren't going in. We're still awfully early in the season, but Georgetown's spacing, already impaired by a pair of power forwards who aren't exactly outside threats, will be even more clogged if two of the three small forwards are non-factors from the perimeter (freshman Reggie Cameron has hit 4 of 8 attempts from deep). The absence of outside shooting will especially invite zone defenses like the one that Northeastern used to stifle Georgetown last week.
  • Feeling delusional because...Georgetown's three-pronged attack of Smith, Markel Starks, and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera looks really good. Smith has averaged 14 points per game on 65 percent shooting from the field while grabbing 2 offensive rebounds per game. He is drawing about 5 fouls per contest, making him a constant threat to put the opposing post on the bench in foul trouble (or on his butt after trying to absorb Smith's contact). Smith requires such close attention from defenses that he may solve any spacing issues by himself. Starks hasn't yet found his outside shot (7 of 27 from three) but otherwise has been scintillating, making more than half of his two-pointers and nearly all of his free throws and dishing out the rock to the tune of a cool 4.6 assists per game. Smith-Rivera has covered for Starks's wayward outside shooting, sniping his way to an unsustainable 52 percent from deep while getting to the line more often and shooting more accurately once he's there.
  • Feeling cynical because...two of the Hoya guards are logging awfully heavy minutes, while the other isn't getting enough action. Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera are averaging 35.4 and 33.6 minutes per game, respectively. Those numbers aren't too high for season averages; Starks averaged 34 minutes per game last year, while Otto Porter topped 35. However, at this stage in the season, the occasional weak opponent allows for deeper rotations; JT3 should use these opportunities to give them more rest. The obvious candidate for these extra minutes is Trawick, who is averaging just 21.6 minutes per game. That number was slightly depressed by 'Bril's foul trouble at VCU, but also reflects his limited run in games in which fouls weren't an issue. Trawick has played at least 5 fewer minutes than Starks and Smith-Rivera in every game this year. He needs more playing time, especially with the other guards playing so much so early.
Conclusion. It's not difficult to see the worst-case scenario here: a few extra Lipscomb threes go in and a few extra fouls get called on Georgetown, and all of a sudden we're sweating a one-possession game in the waning minutes. But the worst-case scenario isn't the most likely scenario. The Bison's small and porous defense will have nothing approaching a solution for Smith, and nor are the Lipscomb guards likely to be able to stay in front of Starks and Smith-Rivera. The Hoyas should get plenty of their own trips to the line (Georgetown ranks 25th in free-throw rate, Lipscomb 321st at keeping opponents off the stripe), and Smith's ability to draw fouls should put particular strain on an already over matched Lipscomb front line. Expect the Bison to score their share of points but the Hoyas to score more. Georgetown 85, Lipscomb 70.