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Dropping the Ball: Georgetown Sputters Offensively, Loses at Xavier, 70-53

Hoyas end 2014 and start conference play on a down note.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Georgetown had plenty of reasons to expect disappointment heading to Xavier Wednesday night. The Hoyas hadn't played a road game all season, Xavier has a front line that matches Georgetown's size, and the Musketeers play in the boisterous Cintas Center, filled by rowdy fans celebrating New Year's Eve at the arena. Georgetown needed all of those excuses and more to justify a borderline embarrassing 70-53 loss to open Big East play.

Georgetown's game plan looked flawed from the outset. The Hoyas tried to pound the ball in to Joshua Smith one time after another, but largely came up empty. The first four Georgetown possessions went as follows: turnover trying to feed Smith, Smith miss, Smith miss, and Smith turnover. Xavier defended the big fella with their own behemoth, Matt Stainbrook, and ran a second defender into the post to hassle Smith into rushed shots and turnovers. The Hoyas weren't prepared with a counter and managed just two points in the opening five minutes, digging themselves an early hole from which they would not emerge.

Things barely improved from there as Georgetown struggled to find other offensive solutions. Xavier blitzed every Hoya pick-and-roll, rightly betting that the Hoyas guards, particularly D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, lacked enough quickness to turn the corner on the aggressive defense. On the wings, Georgetown's jump shooting was off, as the Hoyas connected on just 2 of 13 three-point attempts and missed handfuls of mid-range jumpers.

It was some wonder, then, that a Xavier lead that had ballooned to double digits in the first half withered to just a single point barely two minutes after intermission. Georgetown cobbled together enough offense in transition, off the dribble, and on high-difficulty DSR jumpers to whittle away at the Musketeer lead.

But it wasn't enough to last. After a Smith converted a post-up opportunity to shrink the Xavier lead back to two, Georgetown hit a dry spell, managing just two points over the ensuing five-plus minutes. During the same stretch, the Hoyas were whistled for five fouls, including Smith's third and fourth, putting Xavier in the double-bonus. A parade of 22 second-half free-throw attempts for the home team, plus Georgetown's inability to generate consistent offense, pushed the Xavier lead back to double digits.

The loss exposed Georgetown's vulnerable half-court offense. The Hoyas have assembled an effective attack largely based on Smith's post play, Smith-Rivera's high-difficulty shooting displays, maximizing transition opportunities, and getting to the free-throw line. Notably absent from that equation are dynamic playmaking off the dribble and enough outside shooting to give those ball-handlers breathing room. Both of those shortcomings were noticeable Wednesday night, as the Hoya offense forked the ball over 16 times and managed just 36 percent shooting from the floor.

These weaknesses could become major problems as the season progresses. Villanova and St. John's, one the Big East favorite and the other an NCAA-caliber team, both promise to hound Georgetown's ball-handlers, particularly after viewing film of Wednesday's game, on the hunt for turnovers that fuel easy transition baskets. Lineups with Paul White and LJ Peak offer some additional ball-handling, but perhaps not enough to really get into the teeth of the defense.

It's worth restating that Xavier is a good team with a significant home-court advantage and one of the larger front lines in the conference. The combination of opponent, setting, and match-up promised to make this game perhaps Georgetown's hardest in the conference, save for those against Villanova. Georgetown will look better at home against smaller opponents, like Creighton, which visits the Phone Booth Saturday. The Hoyas may well pick up their first conference win then, but they have precious little time to find their rhythm before the Blue Jays visit.