Georgetown plays its final home game of the season, and by extension of the senior Hoyas' careers, Tuesday night when conference luminary Creighton rolls into town. Will the Hoyas draw some inspiration from the home crowd to upset the visiting Bluejays?
It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Since dispatching a visiting Georgetown bunch on January 25, Creighton has continued its excellent inaugural Big East campaign, compiling a 13-3 conference mark. The Bluejays are still near the top of the conference standings, though Saturday's loss at Xavier dropped them one game behind Villanova. Creighton holds the tiebreaker in that match-up, and a win over Georgetown could have ramifications for the regular-season conference crown, not to mention seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bluejays haven't lost in Omaha but have looked a bit more vulnerable on the road, where they've tallied a ho-hum 5-3 record. Those defeats have come to Providence, St. John's, and Xavier, all middle-of-the-road conference teams that Georgetown has beaten on its home court. Can the Hoyas mimic their fellow bubble dwellers by beating Creighton at home Tuesday?
Roster Rundown. Creighton maximizes is three-point shooting prowess by typically lining up with five shooters. Doug McDermott (26.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 44.1 3FG%) is the main attraction. The runaway favorite for national player of the year, the Bluejay star is rightly known for his shooting, as he makes 2.5 threes per game on 44 percent shooting from behind the arc. But he's not just a spot-up gunner: he posts up smaller defenders, works to get buckets in the lane, and earns over six free throws per game. A national storyline also has developed around the boundless range of forward Ethan Wragge (11.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 49.2 3FG%) who shoots nearly 7 threes per game and makes half of them.
The Creighton guards receive comparatively less attention but are each effective in multiple categories. The starting back-court trio is Jahenns Manigat (7.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.2 stl pg, 42.7 3FG%), Austin Chatman (7.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.3 apg, 38.5 3FG%), and sixth-year senior Grant Gibbs (7.1, 3.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 42.4 3FG%), the last of whom missed the first Georgetown game with injury. All three are dangerous outside shooters in addition to being effective ball handlers and rebounders.
Off the pine, guard Devin Brooks (7.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg) packs a scoring punch, while the lone Bluejay center to see much time is Will Artino (6.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who erupted for 14 points in the first Georgetown game.
When Creighton Has the Ball.
- Bluejay to watch: Wragge. McDermott will be watched first, second, and third by the Hoyas, as by every Creighton opponent. He averages 26 points per game and will win the conference and national player of the year awards. But Wragge helps make Creighton's offense lethal. The senior big man's three-point shooting prowess has been a national story line, and he proved why against Georgetown. In the first match-up between these teams, he hit three first-half triples and converted three throws after he was fouled on another long-distance heave. That early outside threat spread the floor, allowing Creighton space to shoot 55 percent from two and to earn 28 trips to the line. Contesting Creighton's early outside looks will be critical Tuesday.
- Hoya to watch: Jabril Trawick. The junior wing missed these teams' first match-up, depriving Georgetown of a spark plug on both ends of the floor. Trawick will give up a couple of inches to McDermott and Wragge, but may see time marking each on the perimeter.
- Numbers to watch: three-point percentage and attempts. Creighton has the best offense in the country primarily because it has the best shooting offense in the country. The Bluejays are the best-shooting offense in the country because they're the most accurate three-point shooting team in the country, and because they jack three pointers at the 11th-highest rate nationally. In its three conference losses, Creighton has struggled to find open perimeter looks, shooting the three much less accurately (25 3FG%) than in conference play as a whole (40.8 3FG%). Georgetown's onetime stout three-point defense has eroded this season as it has allowed more three-point attempts and a higher percentage than in recent seasons. The Hoyas must limit Creighton's open looks Tuesday.
- Feeling delusional because...otherwise I would have no hope? There's not a ton of reason to believe Georgetown's defense can stop Creighton's offense, but here's one nugget. Even with a Trawick-less short rotation, Georgetown did a passable job on the three-point arc in the first match-up with Creighton, holding the Bluejays below their season averages for three-point percentage, percentage of field goals attempted from three, and absolute numbers of threes taken and made.
- Feeling cynical because...If Georgetown couldn't stop Jake Thomas from getting six open threes, how is it going to stop Wragge and McDermott?
When Georgetown Has the Ball.
- Hoya to watch: Your Georgetown Hoyas. There are so many questions facing the Hoyas on offense, and to a large degree Starks isn't one of them. Can the posts score the 15 or more points needed for Georgetown to have a fighting chance? Will Trawick's recent hot shooting continue? Will Reggie Cameron find his stroke again? Was Marquette a one-game brain fart from Aaron Bowen, or an inevitable regression? Can Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera score enough that none of the other questions will matter?
- Bluejay to watch: McDermott. Creighton doesn't produce highlight-reel defensive plays: the Bluejays stole the ball just three times in the first meeting with Georgetown and blocked zero Hoya shots. The Bluejays achieve modest defensive efficiency by pounding the defensive boards, an area where McDermott boringly excels. The naked eye generally doesn't notice the 2-3 extra defensive rebounds that Creighton typically hauls in, but that's the difference between a good Bluejay defense and a mediocre one.
- Number to watch: free-throws attempted. In round one, Georgetown attempted just 11 free throws to Creighton's 28. The Hoyas were unable to get to the line and couldn't keep up from the field, where they shot just 30 percent on 20 three-point attempts and 44 percent from two. In Creighton's three conference losses, the Bluejays have yielded an average of 22 free-throw attempts. To keep pace with the Bluejay attack, the Hoyas must generate points any way they can, including by pounding the paint to draw whistles.
- Feeling delusional because...Georgetown has been able to score pretty well lately. While Georgetown has lost three of four during a road-heavy stretch, the Hoyas' offense generally hasn't been at fault. Georgetown has scored more points per possession in six of its last seven games than in conference play generally, only falling short against a conference-best St. John's defense. The Hoyas' offense has particularly clicked at home, where they've racked up a healthy 1.26 points per possession against their last three opponents. Georgetown needs to score a lot to beat Creighton, and has shown it can do so.
- Feeling cynical because...The Hoyas have feasted on lousy defenses, and Creighton's defense isn't lousy. Those three high-scoring home games have come against defenses that rate below average in the conference. Creighton rates third in the conference in defensive efficiency primarily because it seals off the defensive glass while rarely fouling.
Conclusion. The odds aren't in the Hoyas' favor Tuesday night. Still, JT3's teams have posted a 7-2 record in home finales. The second of those losses came in 2011, when a Chris Wright-less Hoya squad suffered a late-season swoon. That game featured a not-quite-ready freshman guard Markel Starks, who filled in for the injured senior star. Starks has changed a lot over the past four seasons, and Tuesday will take the Verizon Center court for the last time as a Hoya. Now a grizzled veteran, he spoke at length before the season about his desire to avoid the shortcomings of years gone by. He has done his part and more on a team that has underperformed because of, in some order, personnel instability, failures of development, and glaring holes in the roster. Unfair as it may be to Starks, this is the team will take the court Tuesday and for the rest of the season. Can he lead this team (and can the team follow) to a win Tuesday night?