Villanova has cut through everybody not named Creighton this season on their way to the top seed at the Big East Tournament. Georgetown was no exception, dropping a 65-60 decision to the Wildcats on January 27 at the Verizon Center. That was the final game of a five game losing streak for the Hoyas, and while they are hardly a national powerhouse they have generally improved their performance since then.
The first meeting was a defensive struggle marked by a rash of turnovers on both ends (16 by Villanova, 18 by Georgetown). D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera had perhaps his worst game of the year for the Hoyas, scoring just 8 points on 2 of 11 from the field. Beyond that, the Hoyas were plagued by two problems which have hurt them all year. First, they were simply unable to stop Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu inside. He had 12 points on 5 for 5 from the field. Secondly, the Hoyas committed way too many fouls. They allowed Villanova to shoot 28 free throws (of which they made 22), while the Hoyas managed a mere 8 for 9 from the line. This enabled the Wildcats to win even though they hit five fewer field goals than Georgetown.
The Hoyas looked terrific on Tuesday against Creighton, the other conference powerhouse. However, Georgetown matches up decently well with Creighton because the Bluejays don’t have the personnel to dominate Georgetown inside or take advantage of their penchant for fouling. Villanova is a much tougher matchup for Georgetown. They are a very well rounded team, with an excellent offense but also a very good defense, much better than Creighton’s. Their biggest weakness, defending the three, is a difficult one for Georgetown to take advantage of because the Hoyas shoot the ball pitifully from beyond the line.
Villanova is only about average in keeping teams off the line, so the Hoyas will probably shoot more than the nine free throws they attempted in the first meeting. This is especially true because Georgetown has been much more aggressive in attacking the rim in the second half of the season. To win Georgetown will need to convert their opportunities at the line.
The Hoya offense is obviously heavily dependent on Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks. But it has also become reliant on Jabril Trawick, who has stepped up his offensive game in the second half of the conference season. Georgetown desperately needs a strong performance from all three today.
On defense, Georgetown has struggled all year long with getting rebounds and keeping teams off the line. Villanova is well equipped to take advantage of these weaknesses, which doomed them in the first meeting. Ochefu, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Josh Hart are all very strong offensive rebounders, and Pinkston is one of the best in the conference at drawing fouls. If Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick, and Moses Ayegba get in their normal foul trouble, this group will eat the Hoyas alive inside much as Marquette’s Davante Gardner. Hopkins played very well against Creighton, and it would be a huge boost to the Hoyas if he could have a similar game here.
Not only does Villanova match up well with Georgetown’s weak spots, but the Wildcats are so difficult on offense because every guy on the floor is a threat. Pinkston and James Bell are their cogs, but Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono are also high efficiency offensive players who carry a decent load as well. Ochefu is actually the team’s weak link on offense, with a high turnover rate and a poor 52.5% from the line. But as we said, he is well situated to take advantage of Georgetown’s weakness.
This is obviously a very difficult matchup for Georgetown, and one they are not likely to win. Unfortunately, Georgetown needs this game in order to make the NCAA Tournament. Villanova has the one seed for next week’s Big East Tournament locked down, but they also need this game in order to protect a potential 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and keep their hopes alive for the top line. Plus, it will be the last home game for Bell, so I wouldn’t expect the Wildcats to come out flat. This will be a difficult challenge for Georgetown.