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The Essentials: Xavier at Georgetown

Can the Hoyas find their defense?

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Less than forty hours after completing the Esherickian feat of being swept in the season series by Seton Hall, Hoya fans would much rather bask in the extended moment of Syracuse’s home loss to Boston College than watch their team get back on the court. But the schedule says Georgetown has to host Xavier, so here we are.

The first meeting between these teams Janurary 15 in Cincinnati was one of the defining moments in Georgetown’s season. The Hoyas brought a 3-1 Big East record into the game and got off to a terrific start offensively, taking a 42-29 lead into halftime. Georgetown extended that lead to 53-36 with 15 minutes left, at which point the bottom completely fell off the Hoyas. Xavier ended up blowing Georgetown out by outscoring the Hoyas 44-14 in those last 15 minutes. Georgetown gave up 51 total points in the second half, an astounding defensive breakdown even in a season of them.

This game had several features that have become routine for Georgetown. The Musketeers scored easily inside, outside, and at the line. Xavier’s two guards, Dee Davis (17 points, 5-6 FG, 5-5 FT) and Semaj Christon (18 points, 9-12 FG) were consistently able to get free for open looks. Isaiah Philmore (14 points, 4-7 FG, 6-7 FT) and Justin Martin (10 points, 3-10 FG) dominated the offensive boards while Georgetown’s big man team of Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick, and Moses Ayegba were all ineffective and saddled with foul trouble.

The result could have been worse. Georgetown actually managed to hit 10 for 18 from downtown, a fluke occurrence for a team shooting a pathetic 32% on the season. As usual, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (18 points, 7-13 FG) was the offensive star. Reggie Cameron, who has generally been close to invisible, had his best game as a Hoya scoring 13 points on 5 for 10 shooting. Markel Starks scored 19 points, but in the inefficient manner that has become all too common for him. He took 18 shots and turned it over five times.

To win this game, Georgetown is going to have to rediscover how to play competent defense, which has eluded them all year and especially in the last four games. It won’t be easy. Xavier is a pretty good offensive team, third in the Big East with 1.13 points per possession in conference play. Unlike Georgetown, pretty much every guy they run out there is an efficient offensive player. They are well positioned to take advantage of Georgetown in particular, as they excel on the offensive boards and at getting to the free throw lines, two areas in which the Hoyas are horrendous on a consistent basis.

One other thing to watch for when Xavier has the ball is that they are one of the worst teams in the nation at having their shot blocked, 12.4% of the time. This would seem to highlight an opportunity for Mikael Hopkins and Moses Ayegba to make a positive impact for Georgetown. Of course, this presupposes that either one can stay in the game. Both are walking foul magnets.

Xavier is less strong on the defensive end, mostly because they create very few turnovers. That has never stopped Georgetown from turning it over, however, but if they do it here it is going to be very hard for them to score. Xavier defends the two rather well, and Georgetown simply isn’t a good bet to hit threes. Georgetown’s three point struggles have gotten so bad that teams routinely don’t guard anybody other than Smith-Rivera and Starks away from the basket, leading to clogged lanes, contested shots, and turnovers.

Xavier doesn’t have much shot blocking presence inside, though that will hardly keep Hopkins from getting his shot blocked. But, it once again suggests that the plan would seem to be for Smith-Rivera, Starks, Jabril Trawick, and Aaron Bowen to try to drive to the basket. Even against what promises to be a crowded lane that is their best bet.

So to win, the Hoyas need to attack the basket, avoid turnovers, try to intimidate Xavier underneath defensively, limit their disadvantage on the defensive boards, and avoid fouls. It sounds easy enough, but the way Georgetown has been playing simply getting the ball past halfcourt seems like an accomplishment.

At 9-5 in the conference with nonconference wins over Tennessee and Cincinnati, Xavier is likely to make the NCAA Tournament. But with a brutal finish, they aren’t assured of bid yet and they really need this game.

Georgetown still needs to win games in order to ensure an NIT berth, and they won’t be favored in any of their final three games after this one. If they are going to somehow make the NCAA Tournament, they must at minimum win this game, their next game at Marquette, and one of their final two at home against Creighton and at Villanova. But based on recent performances, perhaps the most important thing here for Georgetown is for the team to rediscover some pride in itself.