Today, I’m previewing what should be a good matchup between a pair of teams ranked in the Top 25 of the polls, as #42 Memphis (5-1) travels to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. to face #24 Georgetown (6-1).The Memphis Tigers opened the season 4-0, but lost in the final of the Puerto-Rico Tipoff to Xavier, and have played just once in the nearly three weeks since, a beat-down of Marist in Memphis. Georgetown’s only loss also came at an early-season tournament, as they collapsed down the stretch of their Old Spice Classic game with Tennessee. They survived a good challenge from Wichita St. in the first round in Orlando, and crushed Maryland in the third-placed game. The Maryland win is the best result either team has to offer entering this game.
Each of the last two years, Georgetown has been one of the strongest teams in the nation inside, and though the season is young, the Hoyas have had similar success so far. They lead the nation in both offensive and defensive 2P%, making more than two-thirds of their two-pointers, while allowing opponents to make just barely more than a third. These numbers will not sustain themselves over the whole of a conference season, but it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to find the Hoyas at the top of these rankings come March.
Based on those numbers, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that the Hoya offense and defense are both extremely efficient. Offensively, Georgetown takes a fair percentage of its shots from outside, where they are only average, but the inside scoring boosts their shooting percentage quite a bit. The Hoyas also get to the free throw line often, and are solid shooters, allowing them to create a good margin at the line. Despite their inside scoring, they aren’t great offensive rebounders, and they haven’t been particularly safe with the ball, turning it over fairly frequently. For their part, Memphis have defended solidly, not allowing their opponents much inside (6th in block rate), and forcing a good number of turnovers (8th in steal rate). They compete well on the defensive glass, but they commit a few too many fouls, which may prove costly.
Memphis struggled offensively against Xavier, but they have been effective otherwise this season. The Tigers run at a quick pace, but rarely turn the ball over, and they score decently inside, but their problem is shooting. Memphis sit in the bottom third of the nation in both three-point and free-throw shooting, two areas they will need to improve when going against an interior defense like Georgetown’s. Despite their free throw shooting, they still make a positive of the foul line, as they get there quite often. Georgetown’s defense hasn’t been as effective as the offense, doing a lot of things well, but not much great. While I discussed their interior defense, they are solid in defending the outside as well, and tend to force a decent number of turnovers while keeping their opponents off the line. One very surprising area where the Hoyas haven’t been very good is defensive rebounding, though part of this is the fact that they have forced such a large number of misses from their opponents. Still, some lower-level teams have managed to get back a surprising percentage of their own misses against the Hoyas this year, and they cannot allow Memphis to do the same.
One brief note on the pace of play, before I delve into the teams’ respective rosters. Both these teams have been a bit quicker than they were over the whole of last season, but the basic split of ‘Memphis fast, Georgetown slow’ holds. You’ll certainly hear at some point the ‘whoever plays the game at their own comfortable pace wins’ argument, and it does have some merit on the surface, as both teams picked up their lone defeat in their most ‘uncomfortable’ game, Memphis losing its slowest game so far to Xavier, while Georgetown lost its fastest to Tennessee. While points are a poor measure of pace, we can probably say that if it looks like the winner will be above the mid-seventies by games’ end, it will probably favor the Tigers, while below will favor Georgetown. This assumes, however, that the teams perform with the same efficiency they’ve averaged over the season, which seems unlikely.
When you look at the Hoya roster, what jumps out at you is the balance. The five starters are all averaging double digits in points, but none more than 14. The key is inside, where Greg Monroe may just be the best freshman in the Big East so far. Monroe is shooting over 60%, is strong from the free throw line, averages almost 6 boards a game, blocks more than 2 shots per game, and commits few turnovers. His frontcourt partner is DaJuan Summers, who hasn’t been quite as effective an inside scorer, but has shown an touch from three, along with some good work on the glass. Three guards complete the starting line-up, with sophomore Chris Wright as a decent scorer, but primarily a distributor, with a 2.5 A/TO ratio, Austin Freeman scoring well from inside but not really finding his three-point shot yet, and Jessie Sapp as an effective scorer who takes far fewer shots than the others. Another intriguing element of the balance of the offense is that Summers, Wright, Monroe and Freeman have all taken between 52 and 57 attempts, leaving defenses no one threat to focus on. Georgetown doesn’t have the strongest bench, as freshman guard Jason Clark has struggled somewhat , and inside options Julian Vaughn and Henry Sims haven’t done much.
The heart of Memphis’ team lies inside, with forwards Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier. Taggart in particular has been excellent, as the extra minutes and shot attempts given to him with the departures of Joey Dorsey and Chris Douglas-Roberts, have been coupled with an increase in both his percentages and his rebounding, though his barely 50% FT shooting is a concern. Dozier’s play has been about to his 07-08 level, and while his shooting could stand to improve, it’s hard to complain with returning a starter from a NCAA finalist. The question for the Tigers is of the guard play. Freshman Tyreke Evans has scored at least 11 points in every game in his college career, but has done it shooting under 45%, and has shot poorly from three. He has also committed quite a few turnovers, and despite forcing a lot of steals, has a lot to work on in his game. The talent is there, though, and at any moment it can emphatically show itself. Doneal Mack is an effective scorer who doesn’t stand out statistically, but has been a solid scorer so far, while Antonio Anderson serves as the point guard fairly well, with a 1.8 A/TO ratio, and decent shooting, though he should restrict his attempts to inside the arc. Forwards Wesley Witherspoon and Pierre Henderson-Niles are sturdy inside options off the bench, while guard Willie Kemp needs to avoid shooting and focus on ball movement while he’s on the floor, as his percentages have been woeful.
I think this will be a close-fought game that could go either way, but I think that the home court advantage, along with the strong inside presence of Georgetown, will be enough to put the Hoyas over the top. If Memphis can unsettle the Georgetown backcourt, and create a wide gap in the turnover margin, along with earning baskets in transition, they are certainly capable of proving unfriendly visitors, and returning home with a big victory.
Winner: Georgetown Margin: 3-7