The semi-resurgent Georgetown Hoyas return home after a successful road trip that included wins over Michigan State and at DePaul. Can the Hoyas stay undefeated in February when they host the Butler Bulldogs?
The Big Picture. The departure of head coach Brad Stevens and a season-ending injury to Roosevelt Jones tempered expectations for this year's Butler squad. The Bulldogs fought gamely through the non-conference slate, only dropping two games by a bucket apiece, creating some hope that they could exceed expectations in their inaugural Big East campaign. But conference play has not been kind to Butler: the Bulldogs have suffered three losses in overtime and three more by double digits, and have earned just a pair of Big East wins to offset seven losses.
One of those overtime losses came at home at the hands of your Georgetown Hoyas. Those Hoyas lacked junior wing Jabril Trawick, who was out with a broken jaw, and, by the end of the game, all three rotation bigs, each of whom had fouled out. Even so, Georgetown narrowly avoided a late collapse thanks to a last-second Markel Starks three-pointer to force overtime and a team-wide effort in the extra session to pull out the win.
Butler basketball on twitter. Bulldogs are the best.
Roster rundown. At guard, the Bulldogs' main threat is still sophomore Kellen Dunham (17.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 37.2 3FG%). Dunham is a shooter whose percentages predictably have dipped against better defenses in the Big East. Flanking him is junior point guard Alex Barlow (5.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.9 stl pg). Barlow has become even less of a scoring threat in conference play, though he proved against Georgetown that he's a threat to break Nate Lubick's nose (and draw a foul in the process). Off the pine, freshman Elijah Brown (6.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg) provides some scoring.
Up front, Butler has a trio of upperclassmen. The leading scorer of the group is senior Khyle Marshall (15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), a rugged wing who will attack the basket, drawing fouls and gathering offensive rebounds. Junior Kameron Woods (8.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 0.9 stl pg, 1.0 blk pg) a blue-collar player on a team full of them; Woods cleans the defensive glass and protects the rim. Senior Erik Fromm (6.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) balances Woods's grit with a bit of skill. Replacing Fromm in the starting lineup of late has been freshman bruiser Andrew Chrabascz (5.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), whose mild averages obscure four-double-digit scoring games, including career highs of 14 points and 6 rebounds against a foul-depleted Georgetown front line in these teams' first game.
When Butler has the ball.
- Bulldog to watch: Dunham. Dunham is a lethal outside shooter when left alone. While he scored 21 points in the first match-up, Georgetown made him hoist 19 field goals to get there, in particular hassling him into just 1 of 11 from three. Contesting Dunham's looks from the outside will be key again Saturday.
- Hoya to watch: Trawick. The junior made somewhat of a cottage industry of shutting down opposing shooting guards last season, but injury denied him that opportunity at Butler. Let's see if 'Bril can bottle up Dunham and avoid dreaded foul trouble Saturday.
- Number to watch: front court fouls. The entirety of Georgetown's big man trio--Lubick, Mikael Hopkins, and Moses Ayegba--has fouled out in two games this year. The first such crisis was at Butler, while the other was Monday, at DePaul. In both games, the Hoyas managed to close out wins with undersized lineups that have featured John Caprio and Reggie Cameron at center. Even though Butler lacks a true killer up front, the Hoyas can't expect to continue to foul at this rate and avoid late-game disasters.
- Feeling delusional because....Georgetown once again has resembled a competent defense. With a handful of able bodies on the front court and the wings, the Hoyas no longer are playing at the austerity levels that marked Trawick's absence. None of the three Hoya opponents since Trawick's returns has eclipsed 40 percent from the field or 32 percent from three.
- Feeling cynical because....Butler won't beat itself. The Bulldogs committed just 7 turnovers in the first-match-up, a number that's consistent with their stingy ways all season long. Also, I feel like I'm flicking the meter on Georgetown's foul rate, which remains one of the worst in the country despite the exile of the hacktastic Josh Smith.
When Georgetown has the ball.
- Bulldog to watch: Woods. Butler's defense draws its strength from preventing opponents' second chances: the Bulldogs are 21st nationally in defensive rebounding rate. Woods is the workhorse, averaging more defensive rebounds than any two other Bulldogs combined. He also disrupts opposing offenses to the tune of a steal and a block per game.
- Hoya to watch: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. DSR's struggles have now achieved narrative status. He has made just 7 of 35 field goals over the past 3 games, in particular missing all 14 attempts from three-point range. Smith-Rivera reportedly has denied that his struggles can be traced to a rib injury sustained during the Creighton game. One alternative explanation is that he has drawn the full attention of opposing defenses, though that alone fails to explain Smith-Rivera's several missed open jumpers. Another explanation is that he has just lost confidence. Regardless, the Hoyas need DSR back to his usual high-scoring self.
- Numbers to watch: three-point percentage and free-throw attempts. With Smith-Rivera struggling, Georgetown has found offense the last two games by attacking the basket, getting plenty of looks in the paint and earning gobs of free throws. But Butler doesn't foul often, ranking 2nd in the conference in that category, and holds opponents under 32 percent from 3. One of those numbers has to give for Georgetown to emerge victorious Saturday.
- Feeling delusional because...Cameron and Starks found plenty of open looks in Butler round 1, and should be able to shoot better than 2 of 14 from deep in round 2. A few buried triples should open up the Hoya offense inside.
- Feeling cynical because....Without DSR's scoring from the field, there seems to be two types of Georgetown offense: the kind created by Markel Starks, and found money. It's hard to feel too secure until Smith-Rivera is back in form.
Conclusion. I'm not bullish on Georgetown's prospects for the rest of the season, but I think they can pull out the win Saturday. Dunham is plenty good, but I'm skeptical that Butler can score enough otherwise to triumph on the road. Georgetown may have its own troubles scoring, particularly if DSR can't get things going, but expect the Hoyas to be able to finish off Butler late.