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Pregame Party: Syracuse v. Georgetown

Cusemageddon has arrived as Georgetown vies to finish atop of the conference standings

Still Closed? Still Closed.
Still Closed? Still Closed.

First place in the conference. The probable last battle between two archrivals in the conference they built. College GameDay. Double-stuf oreos. CXIV. The final Big East installment of Georgetown-Syracuse will have everything we could hope for, and then some. So who will prevail, and who will be banished to damnation in South Canada? Let's get to it.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. When Georgetown and Syracuse met just two weeks ago, the two foes were neck-and-neck atop the Big East standings. The Orange's loss in that game, plus ensuing losses to Marquette and Louisville, took Syracuse out of the conference regular-season title picture. Jim Boeheim took the losing with typical equanimity (which is to say, none at all), telling a reporter who asked a few questions to, "Go get your Pulitzer some place else." Stay classy, Jimmy B. Then came reports that assistant coach/heir-to-Satan's-throne Mike Hopkins might jump ship for USC. A one-sided home win over DePaul this past Wednesday was a relief, but Syracuse still needs a big win to really right the ship.

Orange to Know. The main bright spot for the Orange from the first match-up was forward C.J. Fair (14.6 ppg, 7.3 apg), a long athlete who is best going to the basket. Next to Fair, recently returned to the starting lineup is James Southerland (14.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 stl pg), the Orange's long-range sniper. In the middle of the lane, Rakeem Christmas (5.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 blk pg) brings defense and rebounding but not much offense. The back-court consists of a senior guard Brandon Triche (14.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg), a steady veteran who hasn't been so steady of late, and Michael Carter-Williams (12.4 ppg, 7.8 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2.9 stl pg), the Orange's phenom point guard who's been a bit less phenomenal in conference play.

As with your beloved Hoyas, the Orange's rotation becomes limited and unreliable pretty quickly. Junior post Baye Keita (3.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.1 blk pg) sees action in place of Christmas, protecting the rim and crashing the glass. Freshman post DaJuan Coleman (4.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is a rebounding space eater but has only partially returned from an injury, while freshman forward Jerami Grant (4.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) is an athletic cog in the Orange zone but hasn't shown much on offense, yet. Redshirt freshman guard Trevor Cooney (3.8 ppg) was touted as a sharpshooter but has yet to fulfill that promise, shooting just 27 percent from deep.

When Syracuse Has the Ball.

  • Three things that the first match-up confirmed:
    • Syracuse's offensive weaknesses were known going into the game in the Carrier Dome, and manifested themselves throughout the match-up with your Hoyas. Part of this was due to terrific execution by Georgetown, while part was due to a terrible day by the Orange. With that preamble out of the way....
    • Force the Orange into the half court. Georgetown was able to shut down Syracuse's transition offense for large periods of time by not committing turnovers. The Orange generally do not push the pace out of dead-ball situations. For its part, Georgetown generally limited the damage of live-ball transition, giving the ball away just 11 times while getting back after its missed shots. Once into the half court, the Orange struggled.
    • Outside shooting is streaky. Syracuse started a very acceptable 2 of 5 from thee-point range, and in so doing ran out to a 12-4 lead over your Hoyas. For the rest of the game, the Orange made just 2 of 15 three-pointers, and were outscored 53-34. While every Syracuse player who attempted a three shot below his season average from distance, Brandon Triche was the principal malefactor, making just one of his seven three-point attempts.
    • Zone offense is shaky. When the outside shots aren't falling, the Orange's offense has trouble against zone defenses. To be fair (and I don't know why I'm being so with Syracuse), most offenses struggle against zone defense when they don't make threes. The absence of credible long-distance shooters allows defenses to sag into the lane, cutting off driving and passing lanes and in turn making interior baskets ever harder to come by. But, boy, did Syracuse look bad against Georgetown's zone. Ball movement was hesitant, player rotations were slow, and the lack of a viable low-post threat was glaring. The Orange's general ineptitude against the zone led to 16 turnovers, which went a long way toward helping Georgetown win the possession battle.
  • Two more things to watch:
    • Moses Ayegba. Moses had probably his best game as a Hoya the first time against Syracuse, grabbing 10 rebounds (5 offensive), blocking 2 shots, and generally playing physically in the lane. He also started the sequence that put the game away, blocking a Rakeem Christmas shot with the Hoyas clinging to a narrow four-point lead, leading to a Hoya possession when Otto Porter converted an unforgettable four-point play.
    • Southerland. I do not expect Syracuse to shoot 20 percent from three again in this game. On the season and in conference, the Orange are shooting around 32 percent. Triche has been mired in an extended slump (1-15 from three in his last four games, including the Georgetown outing) but could break out of it at any time (he's hit 4 or more threes three times in conference play). Still, Southerland remains the more dire threat from deep, where he averages more than two triples per game. Making him take an extra step or three back behind the line will drop his efficiency.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Three things that the first match-up confirmed:
    • Otto, Otto, Otto. The Hoyas' win in the Carrier Dome featured one of the great individual offensive performances in Georgetown history, as Porter performed brilliantly on the biggest stage, fueling Georgetown's offense from all over the court. Basket after clutch basket helped the Hoyas pull away down the stretch. After a rare off shooting night against Villanova, can we expect a return to form against Syracuse?
    • The offensive glass is open for business. Georgetown snagged 12 offensive rebounds against Syracuse, a high number attributable both to the Orange's season-long struggles rebounding out of the zone and to the sheer number of offensive rebounding opportunities, given the number of shots the Hoyas missed. Those second chances resulted in 12 Hoya points, 10 by Porter. At the end of the game, even when offensive rebounds didn't result in points, they extended possessions, allowing the Hoyas to use the clock to their advantage.
    • Jabril Trawick, zone-buster. Trawick started to look like the key to opening the Syracuse defense, penetrating into the zone's seams to the tune of five assists and four critical late points. Will Tawrick prove to be an offensive spark again Saturday?
  • Two more things to watch:
    • Markel Starks, zone-buster? In the first game, Starks had one of his worst shooting nights, making just 2 of 11 shots, and only 1 of 8 from three. Starks remains the second-leading scorer on the team, but has had several below-average offensive performances recently, calling into question whether he's dinged up, tired from a heavy minutes burden, or just working through a slump.
    • The emerging DSR. Freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, like most freshman, has emerged as the season has worn on, overcoming struggles that followed his scintillating debut to become a steady scoring option. Over the past 10 games, he's shooting nearly 42 percent from three; in all games since Greg Whittington's suspension, he's connecting on 38 percent of triples. As unlikely as it may be that Porter will go off for 33 points again tomorrow, the three guards mentioned here are very likely to shoot better than 2 of 15 from three. Doing so will be essential to help stretch the Syracuse zone.

Prediction. At this point, we have read exhaustive, insightful coverage of the history of this rivalry and, what's more, have lived it. I'll just add one more anecdote, a specific example of a well-worn cliche: even in down years, this rivalry is special. I was a student during the lean Esherick years (redundancy, there). As such, I had the misfortune (not to say a distinct one--hello, class of '05) of witnessing nary a Hoya NCAA tournament game. (The 2001 NCAA Tournament occurred while I was abroad, and in those ancient times I was relegated to forking over pesetas in a computer lab to watch some four-bit animation of Nat Burton hit what appeared to be a 1920s-style set shot. In other words, it didn't count.) Entering my senior year, there was just enough afterglow from the previous year's tournament run and just enough young talent for the delusional among us to hope for a tournament repeat. Of course, those hopes would be crushed, as a 19-win team missed out on the tournament thanks to several excruciating losses, most memorably a four-overtimer against Notre Dame. But what did happen? A sweep of Syracuse, including ruining the special day on which they dedicated their ugly court to their curmudgeonly coach. While the disappointments from that era still run deep, that sweep, an otherwise forgettable pair of wins over a similarly middling squad, helped salve the wound.

But enough nostalgia. There's a game tomorrow, one that the Hoyas could really stand to win. That long winning streak was nice and all, but Georgetown stands just one game away from finishing at least tied atop the conference standings for the first time since 2008. Some lower finish might have satisfied as recently as two weeks ago, but not any longer. Before the game at the Carrier Dome, I gathered with friends and loved ones and pronounced that I would gladly take a split in this year's series if it meant ruining yet another special day in Syracuse. Now that I got my part of the bargain, I'll tell Satan the deal's off. I want a win tomorrow and, after Wednesday, you can bet your Hoyas do, too. Beat Cuse. Georgetown 58, Syracuse 55.