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#12 Georgetown vs. #13 UConn preview: No hard feelings

Some quick housekeeping before I get to the preview: WOO NEW-LOOK SITE~!

Of course, now that we’ve gone corporate, The Man has asked us to promote SBNation’s open threads for game chatter. No problem on our part - we’ll do so for tomorrow’s game against Georgetown and for most of the games the rest of the season. I will certainly be around and offering my thoughts from tipoff onward. Consider it like a slightly-different version of TheLiveBlog, only with threaded comments and no annoying typewriter sound (for you) and increased page views (for us).

That’s not to say that TheLiveBlog itself is dead. In fact, very much not so. Expect our wacky, anything-goes CoverItLive format to show up a few times between now and the end of the basketball season - most especially if (job willing) I’m able to do the ‘watch every moment of the first two days of the NCAA Tournament’ thing again this year. On with the preview.

There’s something exceedingly unlikeable about Georgetown. And not in the ‘fun to hate’ Syracuse way. To put it another way: I dislike being forced to dislike Georgetown.

They aren’t UConn’s most intense Big East rival (that would be the Orange). The current Hoyas don’t have the thuggish cache of Pittsburgh. They don’t even draw the pity disdain of a Providence or St. John’s.

No, for me, playing (and hating) the Hoyas feels like a chore, like attending a family reunion to see little-known relatives. Sure, we don’t like them because Uncle Hibbert or Aunt Monroe annoyed us at the last couple of get-togethers, but by the time we return home, we’ve forgotten all about it.

The Hoyas are a symbol of a bygone era in the Big East, whose end both a) came when I was about three years old and b) coincides with the rise of UConn as the Big East’s top program. Minus an actual football program or any other signs of existence (not including the various Norovirus outbreaks), it’s tough to sustain any sort of malice for Georgetown for the other eight months of the year, unless you happen to be a big Big East women’s lacrosse fan (which I am!)

For those of us who came of age in the 2000’s, Georgetown is just another team whose face-punchiness depends on the last game or two in the series. They’re Seton Hall in a more important city.

The vast majority of Georgetown’s fond basketball memories came before the collapse of the Soviet Union, so it is understandable that Hoyas fans cling to the past, like a girl whose looks peaked in high school. (This affinity for things that happened years ago also, apparently, extends to mocking of the opposition. It’s almost like traveling back through time or observing Pompeii villagers encased in volcanic ash, or something.) But we UConn fans, unlike Georgetown’s style of offense, have moved on to this century.

So yes, I will be glad to carry the mantle of destroya-ing the Hoya for one day. Don’t get me wrong, I want vengeance for the Luckiest Shot Ever Taken By A 7’1 Center Ever, and for making Georgetown’s 2008-09 season not a total failure. And a road win over a ranked Big East team this afternoon would be, all things considered, pretty sweet.

But to give Georgetown fans the satisfaction of our pure, Syracuse-level hatred, would be wrong of me. I hope those of you who were alive to watch John Thompson thug it up in the ‘80s can forgive my lack of proper hostility for the Hoyas.

All that being said, there’s an important basketball game against a very good team to get to today. Let’s talk about it.

The game: #13 UConn (11-3, 2-1 Big East) @ #12 Georgetown (11-2, 2-1); Huskies vs Hoyas coverage

The place: Gilbert Arenas’ Gun Range & Joke Emporium, Washington D.C.

The time: Noon, ET

The media: ESPN (TV), WTIC 1080-AM (radio)

The Vegas favorite: Georgetown, by 4.5 points

Series history: Georgetown leads, 32-27

Last meeting: Georgetown 74, UConn 63 (Dec. 29, 2008 at the XL Center, Hartford)

UConn couldn’t beat the zone, and Hasheem Thabeet couldn’t handle Greg Monroe’s fancy dribbling/shooting/passing at the top of the key. But what appeared to be the Hoyas’ Top 10 coming-out party turned out to be the high point of a puzzling 16-15 season ending with a first-round NIT exit.

State of the Huskies: There is cause for cautious optimism after the Huskies’ last two wins, at home against Notre Dame and Seton Hall.

Against a pair of middle-of-the-pack Big East teams, UConn took the lead, and despite let the opponents hang around, pulled away with authority at about the 5:00 mark of the second half. Not the most ideal way to win games - procrastinating until the 35-minute mark of a 40-minute game to turn up the heat and make some crazy go-nuts plays - but UConn simply isn’t a dominating team this year.

The Seton Hall game, actually, is a pretty good example of this year’s vintage of UConn basketball. Lots of minutes and points for the starting five (including Gavin Edwards over Ater Majok, because of course Edwards is playing starters’ minutes), very little to spare for the 6th-thru-8th guys in the rotation; a high shooting percentage (50.9) with almost no 3-point attempts (2-for-6); great defense (allowing SHU to make 40% of their 2’s and 18.8% of their 3’s); and poor rebounding (the Pirates grabbed 19 offensive boards).

Individually, the Big 3.5 remain solid, if at times frustrating. Jerome Dyson nearly posted a triple-double against Seton Hall (16 pts, 9 reb, 10 ast), but also took a number of bad shots and turned the ball over five times.

Stanley Robinson scored 10 points but had just four rebounds, though he did have yet more ridiculous dunks. (And as repeatedly noted throughout TheLiveBlog, we miss Screamin’ Stanley after dunks. Come back, Screamin’ Stanley.)

Kemba Walker scored 15 points, but more than half came from the free throw line, he shot 3-for-9 from the field, and he had as many assists as turnovers (3).

Mr. Efficiency, Gavin Edwards, continued to live up to the nickname I just gave him (a much worse nickname than Edwards Scissorhands) by scoring 15 points on nine attempts from the field.

That is more or less the baseline production UConn needs from its Big 3.5 to be competitive with middle-to-upper Big East teams. Wednesday, they were also fortunate to get 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks out of Alex Oriakhi, which was a nice little boost. The rest of the bench (Majok, D-Bev, Tuff McJuice and the Charter Ok) combined to play 23 minutes, and other than Majok - who played solid defense, rebounded OK and hit a nice turnaround hook - contributed very little.

While I continue to harbor a sneaking suspicion that UConn is a very inconsistent team that will hover around the back end of the top 20 for the rest of the season, there are some good signs scattered throughout the lineup.

So, tell me a little bit about the Hoyas: Looking at Georgetown’s schedule, it appears that Georgetown’s best win is either the neutral-site game against Butler (12/8) or the neutral-site game against Washington (12/12). The hideous 46-45 win over Temple will look nice in March, but for the sake of basketball, let’s pretend it never happened.

Either way, a week later Old Dominion beat them in their on-campus arena to presumably wash away John Thompson III’s good feelings.

But the Hoyas are 11-2 and appear to be justly ranked in the top 12, their narrow loss to Marquette Wednesday night notwithstanding.

Like UConn, Georgetown relies primarily on its starting five. You know Monroe, the 6-10 center. He’s quite talented, as Thabeet learned last season. This year, he’s averaging 14.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. He does it all, and according to KenPom, Monroe is by far the Hoyas’ go-to guy.

Chris Wright and Austin Freeman also are dangerous offensive threats, both averaging 14 points per game. Both shoot the 3 very well, while Wright leads the team in both assists and field-goal percentage. Jason Clark (10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Julian Vaughn (8.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) round out the starting five.

The KenPom scouting report listed above shows that the Hoyas are a well-above-average team on both offense and defense, even after adjusting for Georgetown’s glacial tempo. Georgetown’s biggest weakness appears to be that they turn the ball over a bunch (23 percent of possessions) and they’re middle of the pack when it comes to forcing turnovers. The cynic in me says that lately, Dyson and Walker can make any team look like a turnover-forcing machine, but I choose not to go there.

Check out the game notes: UConn’s are here, while Georgetown’s are here.

Media matters:

  • UConn men are looking to score a big win on the road (New London Day) Gavin Keefe’s preview reveals that UConn is targeting now-ish to turn into a mature, dangerous team. If only it were so easy. Also notable: the absolutely unnecessary, enormous mugshot of Charles Okwandu.
  • An improved Monroe leads Georgetown against UConn (Stamford Advocate) Neill Ostrout talked to the Blane-Dog about Georgetown’s junior center, and he’s impressed. And the Blane Dog don’t impress easily.
  • UConn Men’s Basketball Blog ( Speaking of the Blane Dog, the Courant caught up with him in advance of today’s game, because Jim Calhoun was busy saving a litter of puppies from being turned into vests by some shady character in upstate New York.
  • Open-Court Challenges (Hartford Courant) The Courant’s preview is all about the different tempos that each team will try to establish. UConn will try to run up and down the court, while Georgetown will try to set basketball back 40 years with their 32-second ‘wait for a layup on every possession’ offense.
  • Connecticut-Georgetown preview (CBS Sportsline) Don’t be shocked by Clark Kellogg calling the Big East the “Big 10” in the video preview on this page. The article notes that Georgetown’s won three straight in the series after UConn went nearly a decade thumping the Hoyas like a common Boston College.
  • UConn’s Dyson is proud to be from Scotland (Washington Post) Good feature with quite a misleading headline from the WaPo. Although if someone would like to photoshop Dyson’s head on Rowdy Roddy Piper’s body, you’ll be forever in my gratitude.
  • UConn still looking for its first complete game ( Andy Katz had a pretty good/interesting take on this year’s UConn team following the Seton Hall win.

The preview in 100 words or less: This game will prove a high degree of difficulty for our beloved Huskies. The Hoyas should finish somewhere in the top six of the conference (though we said that last year, too.) Monroe gave UConn fits last year, but theoretically, some combination of Edwards/Oriakhi/Okwandu/Majok should prove to be a better defensive matchup than Thabeet was. If Wright and Freeman are knocking down jumpers, I don’t like UConn’s chances. But if not, G’town’s turnover rate plays right into UConn’s fast break-loving offense. I say Dyson and Walker keep the Huskies close enough and UConn steals one at the end.

The prediction:

UConn 61, Georgetown 60