We're back! Your Georgetown Hoyas return to action Tuesday night against the Elon Phoenix. The game will be the hosts' first in ten days, the result of a finals break, and their last in a four-game home-stand that has been decidedly mixed. Can Georgetown reestablish some momentum before heading to Lawrence for a weekend showdown with the Jayhawks? Let's get to it!
Get to Know Elon.
The big picture. The Phoenix are rising. (Best get that one out of the way, early.) After a lousy 9-23 first season, head coach Matt Matheny has guided Elon to more wins in each successive year. Last year, the Phoenix won 21 contests, finished third in the Southern Conference, and eventually lost in the first round in the CIT. With the core from last season returning, the Phoenix were picked to win the SoCon before the season began and the punditocracy tabbed them as one of the best mid-majors.
Through ten games, Elon hasn't lived up to that mild hype, but hasn't really underperformed, either. The Phoenix have blown out a few bad teams, lost to a couple of good ones, and thus far have sustained only one real blemish, a one-point loss to Division II Metro State. Their highest-profile game was a 17-point loss at Colorado last Friday. The Phoenix will be looking for a win over Tuesday not so much to boost their resume--they won't get into the tournament unless they win the SoCon--but to regain some of the preseason swagger before conference play begins.
What I learned from Wikipedia. Elon's most significant basketball moment to date came when its campus was the setting for one of the universities in He Got Game. Let's hope Jesus Shuttlesworth, or even Rick Fox, doesn't show up at the Phone Booth Tuesday night.
Roster rundown. Elon isn't the typical undersized mid-major: the Phoenix have a bit of front-court heft and plenty of back-court shooting.
Back court. Early in the season, the story in Elon's back court has been sophomore Tanner Samson (12.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 54 3FG%), who has progressed from a role player to one of the team's featured scoring options in his second season. Samson generally plays off the ball and is a particular threat to stroke the ball from three. The ball handling falls to the pint-sized Austin Hamilton (9.6 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.4 apg) and the oversized Sebastian Koch (13.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, 45.7 3FG%). Koch's 6'8" frame is an odd and dangerous pairing with his ability to distribute and shoot like a guard. Off the pine, Matheny will turn to senior Jack Isenbarger (5.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.6 apg), who was a featured player last year and pegged for this season's 10-member Southern Conference preseason all-conference team, but is still working his way back from a preseason stress fracture in his foot.
Front court. Despite a sharp-shooting back-court, the spotlight remains on the front court. There, two seniors, big man Lucas Troutman (16 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 blk pg) and forward Ryley Beaumont (10.2 ppg, 4.9 rgp), joined Isenbarger on the preseason all-conference team. Beaumont is a bruiser on the boards and deft at getting to the rim, while Troutman is the team's best two-way player, manning the paint on defense while also scoring efficiently with a series of face-up and low post moves. When these guys rest, Matheny generally shifts Koch to the front court and pulls a guard off the bench.
Elon on twitter. Looks like one of Elon's four losses was a real heart-breaker.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>From last night: Billy Baron beats Elon on 3-point buzzer-beater <a href="http://t.co/G1tiZr5eei">http://t.co/G1tiZr5eei</a></p>— Troy Machir (@TroyMachir) <a href="https://twitter.com/TroyMachir/statuses/403214562851586048">November 20, 2013</a></blockquote>
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When Elon has the ball.
- Phoenix: Tanner Samson. Many Elon players handle the rock more frequently than Samson, but no one makes better use of his possessions. Samson has an Offensive Rating of 146.5, making him the sixth-most efficient player in the country. While that stat somewhat distorts his scoring prowess, his 54 percent three-point shooting shooting is a real threat. Keeping tabs and closing out on Samson will be a priority.
- Hoya: Joshua Smith. Georgetown has been foul-prone this season, sending opponents to the foul line at a bottom-30 rate nationally. Smith has been the worst malefactor, drawing 7.7 whistles per 40 minutes. Tuesday, he'll be tasked, either in man or zone, with controlling Troutman, who is strong, agile, and the focus of Elon's offense. Staying in front of Troutman while avoiding fouls will be important for Smith.
- Number: three-pointers. Elon shoots the three ball frequently (50th nationally in 3FGA/FGA) and accurately (40.3 percent, 23rd nationally), putting the Phoenix 17th in the country in terms of percentage of points from three-pointers. Friday against Colorado, Koch exploded for 27 points on 9 made three-pointers. Georgetown's opponents have shot the three ball frequently (36 percent of field goals, a bottom 25 percent mark nationally) but inaccurately (just 24.2 percent, the fourth-best mark in the country). Advanced stats gurus can argue about whether a defense can control opponents' three-point accuracy, but the Hoyas must limit the number of Phoenix three-pointers to avoid an upset.
- Feeling delusional because...After some shaky early performances, the Georgetown defense is slowly rounding into shape. Here are Georgetown opponents, the number of points they've scored per possession this season, and how they've scored against Georgetown:
|Opponent||Adjusted PPP||PPP v. GU
Georgetown has turned in its best three defensive performances in its last three games. While the opponents have been a step down, the opposing offenses have been on par with previous Hoya foes, save for Oregon. While there have been improvements across the board, the Hoyas have been particularly effective at denying opponents clean looks, somewhat of a trademark of the better Georgetown defenses under JT3.
- Feeling cynical because...General trends are nice, but any specific opponent needs only to get hot for one game. Samson and Koch are both long-range bombers, and will stretch the Hoya coverage.
When Georgetown has the ball.
- Phoenix: Troutman. In addition to being Elon's leading scorer, Troutman is the most disruptive defender on the Phoenix, blocking shots, ripping steals, and generally causing trouble for opposing posts. Tuesday, Troutman will guard Smith, a handful who occasionally is prone to turning the ball over. If Troutman can frustrate Smith in the post, the Georgetown offense may grind to a halt.
- Hoya: Markel Starks. Starks has been the workhorse, leading the Hoyas in minutes played, assists, and steals (tied). He has been an efficient play-maker for a sometimes stagnant Hoya attack. While it may seem unfair, Starks faces one more responsibility he hasn't yet fulfilled: long-distance shooter. The senior is one of just two Hoyas to average more than one three-pointer made per game (D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is the other; Reggie Cameron, with 7 makes in 8 games, is just off the pace). However, Starks has made just one out of every four attempts from beyond the arc. He'll need to find his mark before heading to Kansas and, beyond that, into conference play. Time is running out to do so.
- Number: three-point percentage. Georgetown's worst-shooting performances from three-point range have coincided with its three worst performances more generally: the losses to Oregon and Northeastern, and the narrow win over Colgate. There's an interpretive question here: do the Hoyas' struggles from outside cause subpar results, or do general offensive struggles tend to result in both errant long-distance shooting and unfavorable scores? I lean toward the latter, but it's something worth monitoring as the season progresses.
- Feeling delusional because...Georgetown should be able to attack the basket. Elon struggles inside defensively: the Phoenix give up a high two-point percentage to opponents, do not block many shots (aside from Troutman), and foul at a somewhat high rate. On offense, Georgetown shoots nearly 57 percent from two, a top-10 mark nationally, rarely gets blocked, and particularly thanks to Smith, draws a lot of fouls. Early Elon foul trouble could result in a thinned-out front line, easy looks at the rim, and plenty of trips to the free-throw line.
- Feeling cynical because...Colgate. December is always a dicey time on the schedule. Games are too frequent or too infrequent, the competition alternates between top-flight and mid-major, and finals take away from time on the court. But hoo boy did the Hoyas stink up the joint against Colgate. Paired with a similarly lackluster performance against Northeastern, it's hard to escape the nagging fear that the Hoya offense really isn't that good this year. The reasons are plenty: a limited stable of long-distance shooters; an array of forwards that shrink, rather than stretch, the floor; and too few play-makers, to name a few.
Conclusion. At this time of year, veteran, mid-major, NCAA-hopeful opponents are my least favorite kind. This may be because there's a no-win feeling to the game: either Georgetown wins, as it should, or it loses, and there's no very good explanation. Or perhaps I dread these games because they give me flashbacks (and, who knows, flashes forward?) to traumatic March losses. That said, Georgetown has a pretty good track record against these teams in pre-conference play: since 2008, the Hoyas are 9-1 against mid-majors that have gone on to win 20 or more games, with a 2009-10 loss to Old Dominion as the only real fly in the ointment. (Note: Temple is too good to be "mid-major," and I guess we can't really call Butler that anymore, either.) Whether Elon will reach that threshold, or the NCAA tournament, remains to be seen, but they certainly have the parts to pull off an upset Tuesday. Still, I think the stink of the Colgate game plus fresh legs will equal a motivated Hoya bunch. Georgetown 72, Elon 59.