It seems a little early to talk about a “must-win” game, even after an 0-2 start in the Big East, but the Hoyas are facing a must-win game at Providence. As OverTheHilltop pointed out on Twitter, KenPom has the Hoyas’ favored in eight of their remaining 17 games (including their game against UConn), which, even if they won all eight, would be nowhere near enough to get the 8-6 Hoyas into the NCAA Tournament. To get the 10 conference wins they need, the Hoyas will also need to win the three games where KenPom gives them at least a 40% chance to win. If they don’t manage to win all of those games to go along with the eight games they’re favored in the Hoyas will need to do something crazy, like win at Xavier (which, thankfully is an outcome that would be less crazy than the Hoyas’ win at Xavier last year), to get to 10-8. And so, unless you think the Hoyas can win their final ten must-win games and pull an upset, the Hoyas need to cash in their 42% chance of winning at Providence to keep any semi-realistic hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth alive.
The good news is that this isn’t the Providence team of the last few years. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil are gone, and most of the Friars’ offensive ability left with them. The Friars have only had a top 30 offense once under Ed Cooley, in 2014, and that team was only 30th in offensive efficiency. Last year, the Friars, even with two NBA draft picks, were 92nd in offensive efficiency, and without those two NBA players, they currently have an offense ranked 141st overall. Complain about JT3’s offensive all you want, but he’s never had an offense as bad as the Friars’ offense last year, let alone one as bad as this year’s variation. The Friar’s offense has been less efficient than USC-Upstate’s offense, and Ed Cooley would probably be ecstatic if the Friars’ offense became as efficient as Elon’s offense.
Expect a lot of bricks from the team with the 140th eFG% in the nation, and expect the Hoyas to be pretty successful at rebounding those misses, as Providence has the lowest offensive rebounding percentage in the Big East, and the lowest of any opponent the Hoyas play this year. They aren’t particularly great at protecting the ball (117th in turnover percentage), and they don’t really get to the line (214th in free throw rate). Kyron Cartwright racks up a ton of assists for the Friars, but he doesn’t really get to the line or make many shots, although he did score 26 points on 10-22 shooting in the Friars’ loss to Butler, so that may be changing, especially when he faces the Hoyas’ porous perimeter defense. Rodney Bullock is their leading scorer and rebounder, and he does have the ability to draw fouls, but his offensive output is far from efficient. He uses 28.1% of the Friars’ possessions and takes 29.3% of their shots, but his offensive rating of 102.0 is nothing to get excited about, nor is his 44.3% shooting from the field and 32.9% shooting from behind the arc. He seems like the kind of player defenses want to shoot (I understand how badly I’m going to regret writing that). Quite simply, the Friars have a really bad offense, one even the Hoyas should be able to shut down.
Of course, on the other side of the court, Providence’s defense will likely have just as much success stopping Georgetown’s offense as Georgetown’s defense has against Providence’s offense. While the Hoyas have a much better offense than Providence, the Friars have a much better defense than the Hoyas. Providence has the 37th best defense in the country, mostly due to their ability to generate turnovers, having forced more than 15 turnovers per game so far this year. Of the Hoyas’ opponents so far, only Oklahoma State ends a higher percentage of their defensive possessions with a turnover, and yes, you should be terrified by that, because the Hoyas are still horrible at not turning the ball over, something you know because you’ve watched the Hoyas play. The other issue the Hoyas will face is that the Friars’ don’t foul very often. Providence’s opponents have only scored 15.5% of their points from the free throw line, 28th lowest in the nation, and the Friars’ defense has a free throw rate of 29.7%, 75th lowest in the country. The good news is that the Hoyas managed to get to the line against Elon, who is similarly foul-averse (I know the problem with that comparison, but for the sake of optimism, I'm still going to make it). The bad news is that the Hoyas have committed more fouls than their opponents in each of their Big East games, which had previously only happened against Howard.
A healthy L.J. Peak should ensure that the Hoyas shoot more than the eleven free throws they attempted against Marquette, but if the rest of the Hoyas will need to get to the line as well, since it’s hard to see the Hoyas generating enough points to beat Providence if they don’t match their season average of 26 free throw attempts (and, of course, they’ll need to actually make those free throws as well). More likely than not, the deciding factor at the Dunk will be whether the Hoyas have more turnovers or more free throw attempts. If the Hoyas spend the night at the line, they’ll win. If they spend the night creating offense for the Friars by turning it over, they’ll lose. Simple enough, right?