Having fallen short of the NCAA Tournament, Georgetown finds motivation in an old foe Tuesday night when West Virginia visits McDonough Arena. Will the Hoyas salvage some post-season dignity by beating the Mountaineers? Let's get to it.
It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Georgetown and West Virginia haven't played since the Mountaineers departed the Big East for the Big XII before the 2012-13 season. Before that, the two teams had played annually, sometimes twice, with two particularly memorable match-ups in the JTIII era. The first came in 2008, when the Hoyas escaped from Morgantown with a one-point win that was delivered by a Jessie Sapp three and protected by a Patrick Ewing, Jr. block as time expired that nearly caused a riot among the incredulous Mountaineer faithful. (Enjoy a trip down pre-HD memory lane here.) The next major showdown was in New York in 2010, when West Virginia capped a high-wire run through the Big East Tournament with a last-minute improbable leaner by Da'Sean Butler. The win was the second of five straight for the Mountaineers against the Hoyas, a streak that is alive heading into Tuesday night's match-up.
That 2010 West Virginia team went to the Final Four, but the Mountaineers haven't enjoyed those heights since and have missed the tournament entirely in their two years in the new conference. This season, West Virginia managed to go .500 in a Big XII full of talented and geographically distant opponents for the Appalachians. Despite home wins over Kansas and Iowa State, the Mountaineers couldn't win often enough away from home, and couldn't compensate for an unimpressive 8-5 non-conference record. After bowing out in the first round of the conference tournament, West Virginia was NIT-bound.
Roster rundown. Two years have taken with them most familiar names from the Big East days. Now, West Virginia features a two-and-a-half guard offense centered around the do-it-all junior point Juwan Staten (18.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 stl pg). Staten prefers to take opponents off the bounce, either to attack the rim (more than 7 FTA per game) or set up teammates. Staten injured his ankle in the Mountaineers' conference tournament loss, and his status for tonight's game is uncertain.
Assuming he's available, Staten's penetration opens things up for his back-court mates, Eron Harris (17.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Terry Henderson (11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg). Harris in particular is a threat from deep, where he fires away more than six times per game and connects at a 42.6 percent clip. Henderson is a bulky guard who can moonlight as a small forward; he may come off the bench but is likely to play starter's minutes. Also coming off the pine is junior Gary Browne (6.1 ppg).
Up front, the Mountaineers rotate a platoon of serviceable options. Freshman Devin Williams (8.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is a promising wide body whose work on the boards is ahead of his offensive game (41.2 FG%). Remi Dibo (7.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) is the stereotypical Euro stretch forward who can shoot from outside (39.5 3FG%) but is somewhat wanting in the paint. Freshman Nathan Adrian (5.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg) offers a mix of Williams' bulk and Dibo's outside shooting (36.4 3FG%). All three are likely to start but only play about half the game as Huggins turns to smaller lineups.
When West Virginia has the ball.
- Mountaineer to watch: Harris. Staten initiates much of the Mountaineer offense, and the Hoya defense appropriately will be keyed on him, if he plays. But Harris can go off from three, having made five or more triples on seven different occasions this season.
- Number to watch: turnovers. Hoya fans became accustomed to Mountaineer teams that pounded the offensive glass: from 2009 to 2012, West Virginia finished in the top 10 nationally in offensive rebounding rate. More recently, a thin front line has meant smaller lineups that do not rebound quite as well (just 132nd nationally in OR%) but protect the ball very well. West Virginia commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game, one of the best 10 rates in the country. Georgetown will need to force a few miscues to get easy offense in transition.
Feeling delusional because...West Virginia is not an elite shooting team, and Georgetown should be able to stifle the Mountaineers inside.
Feeling cynical because...The Mountaineers are likely to protect the ball well enough to get a ton of shots, which could problems in two ways. West Virginia is a good three-point shooting team (38.4 3FG% as a team) and Georgetown has invited lots of three-point shooting this year, which tends to produce feast-or-famine results. Also, the Mountainneers drew fouls at an above-average rate in conference play, and we're all plenty familiar with Georgetown's foul troubles.
When Georgetown has the ball.
- Hoya to watch: Markel Starks. The senior is a proud player that has soldiered on through a difficult, dispiriting season. The NIT is not the ending that Starks wanted or that anyone wanted for him. But it's what's left, and expect him to give it his all Tuesday night.
- Mountaineer to watch: Staten. West Virginia's defense was its undoing this year: the Mountaineers do not rate in the top 100 nationally in any of KenPom's four factors (field goal defense, turnover rate, defensive rebounding rate, and foul rate). If a bright spot exists, it's West Virginia's above-average turnover rate, led by Staten's 1.3 steals per game. If he's healthy enough to play effectively, the quick guard could give his Hoya counterparts trouble.
- Number to watch: post points. West Virginia posted the worst two-point field goal percentage in the Big XII, yielding fully 53 percent from two. The Hoya big men have been unable to score, racking up just 2 points against DePaul and averaging a combined 13 points in 60 minutes per game this season. If they can't score against the Mountaineers, the Georgetown bigs can't score against anyone.
- Feeling delusional because...Getting points shouldn't be a problem Tuesday night. The West Virginia defense has been porous and Georgetown will be playing in a familiar environment.
- Feeling cynical because...the DePaulcle.
Conclusion. The NIT is no one's idea of glamorous, but Georgetown has a chance to spark a post-season run with an uplifting win in front of a home crowd. The Mountaineers have struggled away from Morgantown, and the Hoyas have played passably well at home (albeit at the Phone Booth, rather than in the on-campus confines of McDonough). Plus, Georgetown has some pride to salvage after disappointments at Villanova and in New York. Expect an energetic performance that fuels a Hoya win.