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Games That Matter: Georgetown v. Michigan State Preview

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports


ESPN / USA Today: N/A
RPI: 74

A Few Thoughts

I know I haven't written one of these in a long time and I'm sorry.  Is there a correlation between my reluctance to pen these game previews and our current losing streak, or is my lethargy the direct result of Georgetown's dreadful season?  I don't know, and I don't really care.

This has probably been the most disappointing season of the JTIII era.  Even in JTIII's first season on the Hilltop, I was excited because the Hoyas raced out to an impressive 8-3 conference record before losing a number of key games down the stretch.  To be fair, the 2008-09 Georgetown squad was probably the most inconsistent and frustrating team to watch (we had the talent, but we were too undisciplined, got worse as the season progressed and couldn't put it all together).  This year's team at least plays hard every game, but just doesn't have the horses.  Injuries and suspensions and everything else have decimated this club, and now we're faced with the ugly prospect of not even having enough wins to qualify for the NIT.  Blech.  Let's keep rolling.


This is the first time since JTIII's inaugural season that I did not, at some point in the season, believe we had a reasonable chance to go to the Final Four.  Think about that.  This is why I like and respect JTIII, and will continue to support him during this difficult year.  Our early postseason losses since 2007 have been painful, but they were only painful because we believed that our teams had what it took to go the distance.  I like feeling excited about our prospects in January and February.  This year only confirms how much fun it has been to be a Georgetown fan these last five years, despite the early postseason flameouts.

Movie Tributes

I enjoyed putting together the game preview movie tributes last year.  But this year, the only time I thought about doing one was after our exciting, nail-biting win against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.  "Hoosiers" would have been the obvious choice.  I mean, it was too easy.  Playing at Hinkle, Markel's "I'll make it" three to send the game into overtime, and even John Caprio with an Ollie-esque free throw in overtime.  I can picture JTIII looking at Caprio before the free throws and saying "After Cap makes his second shot, and you will make your second shot...."  Too easy.  I'm sorry.  DEAL WITH IT.

Anyway, in honor of the Michigan State game and the beginning of Georgetown's triumphant march to glory, we're bringing the movie tributes back with a vengeance.  Given the battered state of this year's squad, we're going with "The Replacements".  I never loved the movie, so it's fitting, because I don't love this team.  Here we go...

Georgetown v. Michigan State - THE REPLACEMENTS

"You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand."

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013-2014 Georgetown Hoyas!  We looked damn good against St. John's earlier this month.  No Whitt, no problem.  It was our most complete game of the season.  And then Joshua Smith was suspended.  But we kept fighting.  And then Jabril broke his jaw.  But we kept fighting.  And then Nate broke his nose.  But we kept fighting.  And then DSR hurt his ribs and Moses was suspended for some nonsense reason.  But we kept fighting.  We may not be winning, but at least we're playing hard.  But yes, this season feels like quicksand.

"That's the second time tonight a Washington player's been knocked out by his own teammate!"

Fitting.  Nate picks up a foul when a guy elbows him in the face and breaks his nose.  Jabril runs into a guy and breaks his jaw.  You can't make this stuff up.

"You know what separates the winners from the losers?"

"The score."

"No, getting back on the horse after getting kicked in the teeth."

This year's Georgetown team has been kicked in the teeth repeatedly and viciously.  The injuries and suspensions and more injuries and nonsense have left us all feeling dazed and frustrated.  We blew a 17-point second half lead against Xavier.  Then we blew a double digit second half lead against the mighty Seton Hall Pirates.  And then we somehow blew a four-point lead (with the ball) in the final thirty seconds against Marquette.  And then we came oh so close against Nova.  And yet, for whatever reason, our guys keep finding ways to scrape and claw and fight.  We're not getting results, but no one can question this team's heart.  We have to pick up a W at some point, right?  Right?

Forget everything about the dam horse.  Can we just please have a better score than our opponent?

"I want the ball."

"Winners always do."

Markel Starks is quietly putting together one of the more memorable seasons in recent Georgetown history.  He's scoring (16.4 ppg), distributing (4.0 apg), and leading this team every single game, despite the fact that he's logging nearly 37 minutes per contest.  Even though his field goal percentage has dipped, and his turnovers have increased over the last month, you can't question what he has meant to this team.  Without Markel, we wouldn't even be competitive.  It's a shame we lost that Marquette game because it was probably the best game of Markel's career.  Instead, people will sadly just remember the missed free throws, the silly foul by Caprio, and the blown lead at the end.  Markel deserves more.  I'm tired of hearing people say "I feel bad for Markel".  I mean, I agree.  But this season isn't over and this team isn't dead yet.  Let's see what happens.

"I look at you and I see two men: the man you are, and the man you ought to be. Someday those two will meet. Should make for a hell of a football player."

I have a feeling John Thompson Jr. has said this a number of times to "King Mabel" Joshua Smith.  Except when Big John says it, he uses a lot more profanity and gusto.  Big Joshua is talented.  He just needs to dedicate himself to basketball.  He should rent the film "Henry Sims's Five Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Game by Just Putting in Some Work Before Your Senior Year."  Henry is playing in the NBA right now.  Think about that.  No, really.  Think about that.  Henry was playing at the Garden last night.  Joshua just needs to dedicate himself half as much as Henry did, and he can be a lottery pick.  So damn frustrating that his best game of the season was his first game of the season.  Maybe he should just go out for football or something.

"Good hit.  Danny, in practice we don't hit the guys in teh red shirts."

"I know, Coach, but I see that red and I just wanna go after it, like a bull, you know?"

Jabril, obviously.  Listen, I hate these new rules on touch fouls.  They drive me crazy.  Too many fouls, too many free throws, too much pussyfooting.  Also, too many inconsistencies.  Why are we getting called for hand check fouls while other teams don't get called for grabbing our cutters?  Why is it illegal to touch a player's arm in the backcourt, but perfectly fine push someone when he's jockeying for position in the paint?

That said, are we ever going to adjust?  If Louisville and Michigan State and Florida and VCU can adjust, why can't we?  Jabril needs to play hard without charging into guys thirty feet from the basket.  STOP PICKING UP TWO FOULS IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF EVERY GAME.

I still love you, Jabril.  But man, we just can't afford to lose you every game for silly fouls.  In related news, if the refs are going to call hand checks, we need our guards to do a better job of driving to the basket.  It's not our style, I know.  But we need to make it work.  DSR and Markel and Jabril are all capable of putting their heads down and going straight to the rim.  Let's draw some contact and get to the damn line, fellas.

"I've seen monkey-sh*t fights at the zoo that are more organized than this."

Georgetown is organized, but monkey-sh*t fights are more entertaining than this basketball season has been thus far.  At least with a monkey-sh*t fight, everybody wins (except for the guy cleaning up the crap).

"Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory... lasts forever."

Obviously needed to include this quote because it's the most memorable line of the movie, even though the line is terrible and clichéd and the movie is not very good.  I could totally see Markel (Shane Falco) saying this line during a team huddle at the end of a game.  I hate Keanu Reeves.

In completely unrelated news, Tony Siragusa pees his pants on a regular basis.  I know this because he tells me every time there is a commercial during a Georgetown game.  Thank you Fox Sports 1.  If only there were a product that could make him feel like a man while he pees his the way, if peeing your pants is cool, Tony is DEFINITELY Miles Davis.

"I love to see a fat guy score."


"Because first you get a fat guy spike, then you get the fat guy dance."

We never got to see Joshua Smith's fat guy dance.  This makes me sad.

"There is no tomorrow for you, and that makes you all very dangerous people!"

At this point, we're playing for pride.  I'm not saying we can't make it to a postseason tournament.  But it's going to be difficult.  So why not put everything out there and go nuts?  We're a dangerous team because we've got nothing to lose.

Side note: We're halfway through the Big East schedule.  We have three wins and six losses.  Despite all of the injuries and suspensions, we've been competitive in most, if not all, of these games.  If we don't blow the leads against Xavier and Marquette, we're probably closer to .500 in the conference.  Is that frustrating?  Obviously.  But take a look at the second half of the schedule.  Is there any team we can't beat?  Even with our lack of depth, can't you see us beating a bunch of these teams?  The top of the conference isn't very strong.  And it's been close to a month since we've had a lineup that included both Jabril and Moses.  When we crushed St. John's, Joshua Smith only made one field goal.  With a healthy Jabril, why can't we win these games?  Is anybody really that nervous about playing Creighton or Villanova again?  I'm not.  Why can't we put the pieces together, fix our fouling issues, get healthy and win the damn BET?  (I'm trying to convince myself.  I really am.)

"We did the best we could do, that's all we could do."

"You don't get points for trying."

I know, I know.  We can celebrate Nate Lubick for diving after loose balls, or Mikael for quietly improving his rebounding, or Reggie Cameron for gaining confidence.  But you don't get points for trying, and you don't get victories either.  We need some wins.

"Listen up. There are some who will say that your accomplishments today will soon be forgotten, that you're not real players, that this isn't a real team. And I say that's bullshit. Because as of today, you're all professional [basket]ball players. You're being paid to play, and I want to you to remember that, because the men whose places you've taken forgot that a long time ago. Let's bring it in. Let's play some [basket]ball."

Exactly.  This team is down in the dumps right now and people are feeling bad for our seniors and looking forward to next year.  Well, stop it.  There's still a lot of basketball to be played.  We may not go to the Final Four, and we may not even play in the postseason, but dammit, let's keep on battling.

(I won't comment on the part about paying our players.)

"Danny, I need the ball."

"You need the ball."

"I need you to get me the ball."

"Im going to get you the ball."

"Are you gonna get me the ball!"

"I wanna get you the ball!"

Is this what Jabril says to Markel before Saturday's game?  Or what Reggie says to DSR?  Or what Caprio says to Bowen?  Or what Marshawn Lynch says to Richard Sherman?

Preview of Saturday's Game - Georgetown v. Michigan State (Saturday, 3pm)

Your Georgetown University Fighting Bulldogs try to put an end to this miserable five game losing streak and kick off the month of February on a high note by stealing a victory from the mighty Spartans of Michigan State.

When pointing to the successes of JTIII's tenure, many people like to look at our string of seven consecutive seasons ranked in the Top Ten (matched only by Duke, UNC and Kansas).  That streak will obviously, and unfortunately, come to an end this season.  The feat I appreciate even more is the number of Georgetown victories against teams that eventually advance to the Final Four.  In the last five seasons, there have been 20 Final Four teams.  In that period, the Hoyas have a total of eight victories against seven of these teams (UConn and Nova in 2009; Duke and Butler in 2010; Louisville in 2012; and Louisville and Syracuse (twice) in 2013.  I don't feel like doing the research right now, but I'm willing to bet that not a single team can claim as many victories against eventual Final Four teams during that stretch.  This impressive feat speaks to the consistency of our program, but it also underscores our early postseason flameouts.  Either way, one thing's for sure: the Hoyas only have three remaining games against potential Final Four teams this year, and Saturday's game is one of them.

The Spartans enter this game just as banged up and depleted as the Hoyas, but with a lot more confidence, particularly after a gritty overtime win at Iowa.  Like Georgetown, Michigan State will be playing without two of its best frontcourt players, Branden Dawson (10.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Adreian Payne (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg).  Payne is out with a nagging foot injury, while Dawson has a broken hand.

Like Georgetown, Michigan State will rely on its guards to score points and force the action.  Led by 6'1'' senior Keith Appling, 6'0'' junior Travis Trice, and 6'4'' sophomore Gary Harris, the Spartans boast one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten; when Dawson and Payne are healthy, MSU has arguably the most balanced starting five in the country (keep in mind that this is a team that already has wins against Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State and Iowa).  Gary Harris (18.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg) is a jack of all trades and has emerged as the Spartans' most reliable scorer.  He shoots well, is very good off the dribble and is very effective and getting to the line and making his free throws.  Appling (15.4 ppg, 4.9 apg), who used to be the Spartans' biggest playmaker, has struggled recently due to a wrist injury, but is still fairly dynamic.  Given his speed and ability to get into the lane, Georgetown would do well to force him outside and make him shoot over the top.  He's been reluctant to look for his shot since injuring his wrist.  Trice (7.0 ppg, 2.1 apg), whose minutes have increased recently, is MSU's best three-point shooter (44%).  He hit a few big threes against Iowa on Tuesday.

Michigan State's version of Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins are two blue-collar big men: Kenny Kaminski (4.9 ppg) and Matt Costello (4.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg).  Costello played well against Iowa, netting 11 points and pulling down 12 boards.  Kaminski is a sneaky good three-point shooter (he's hit 18 of 39 threes).  It should be interesting to see our less-than-spectacular frontcourt against State's less-than-spectacular frontcourt.  Others to watch: Denzel Valentine (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.8 apg) has seen his minutes increase (he's a good ball handler and defender, but he's not a very good shooter; and Russell Byrd (who played 18 minutes against Iowa and hit a massive three in overtime, but isn't much of a scoring threat; he also has a fo-hawk and looks ridiculous).

Keys to the Game:

1. The Rebounding War: Everyone knows that Michigan State is a great rebounding team.  Even without Dawson and Payne, the Spartans will be tough to battle on the boards.  Everyone on our team needs to chase loose balls, prevent offensive rebounds and go after it.  Moses, Mikael and Nate absolutely need to neutralize the Spartan bigs.  We can't allow second chance points to this team.  Just can't.

2. The Free Throw Disparity: The one recurring theme in our recent bevy of losses has been our inability to shoot more free throws than our opponents.  It's disgusting to watch.  We foul them.  They make their free throws.  Meanwhile, our guys just can't find ways to get to the line consistently.  Why does this keep happening?  Three major reasons: (1) our bigs aren't skilled enough offensively to draw fouls in the paint (to say nothing of the fact that our bigs are too often doing spin moves beyond the three-point line); (2) we've never been able to adjust our aggressive defense to these new hand-check happy rules; and (3) Jabril.  Even when Jabril was on the bench, he was fouling people with his scowls.  I love his intensity, but he needs to stop picking up two quick fouls in the first five minutes of every game.  We need controlled chaos, not a battering ram.

3. DSR's Ribs: Smith-Rivera has been outstanding this season, but since bruising his ribs against Creighton, he hasn't been able to consistently knock down perimeter shots.  If we had a healthy DSR against Villanova, we probably win that game (it seemed like he missed three or four wide open looks).  DSR will have a tough matchup against Michigan State's excellent guards.  We need him to score because, really, we only have one other guy.  We should find out early on whether he's the DSR we've all grown to love this season.  If he struggles early, we're in trouble.

4. Moses Ayegba, FTW: I know this seems ridiculous, but of all of our frontcourt guys, I think Moses is the one who could perform the best against the Spartans.  His length and rebounding could be huge factors on the defensive end, and his occasional three-foot hook shots and putback layups might prove to be the difference.  Overly optimistic?  Probably.  But Moses should be angry at the NCAA for suspending him for no reason three hours before we played Nova.  Let's see a little bit of Mean Moses in action (even if he's probably the nicest guy in the world).

This season is miserable, yes.  It's heartbreaking to lose game after game after game, and most of us just want the season to end already and go home.  Well, stop it.  On Super Bowl Saturday, we get to step outside the conference to prove to the country that the Big East is still a force to be reckoned with, that Georgetown isn't dead yet, and that Madison Square Garden is still the best place to watch a ball game.  I'm counting on the lights of the Garden and the new month of February to resurrect this team's fortunes.  It won't be easy, but the decidedly pro-Georgetown crowd might just be the difference.

I'm tired of losing, so really fellas, please just win a damn game already.  Until then, everything is horrible.  Let's go and take care of business.

Let's go Hoyas.  Beat Michigan State.