No. 5 Syracuse at No. 10 Georgetown (7:00 PM, ESPN2)
The Big East has been an absolute mess over the past couple of weeks, and it doesn’t look like it will slow down anytime soon. Another marquee battle takes place in the conference on Thursday, as two top-10 teams face off. Syracuse has been near the top of the rankings since December, but the Orange are coming off a home loss to Louisville on Sunday. They are ranked No. 3 in the RPI and No. 5 by Kenpom.com; ‘Cuse is in position to land a No. 1 seed at this point. Georgetown has been inconsistent over the past few weeks, beating the likes of Pittsburgh, Duke and Villanova, while also getting obliterated by Syracuse and losing to South Florida and Rutgers. The Hoyas are ranked No. 8 in the RPI and No. 17 in the RPI.
Syracuse is one of the most balanced teams in the country. The Orange have led all season by Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson, who is averaging 16.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. He is a candidate for Big East Player of the Year, but has struggled somewhat recently. Andy Rautins has improved drastically this season, continuing his three-point prowess, while also contributing with his passing ability and defensive skills. The big man duo of Arinza Onuaku and Rick Jackson are combining to average 19.6 points and 11.3 rebounds. Furthermore, the Orange are getting excellent point guard play from freshman Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine, while forward Kris Joseph is averaging 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds off the bench.
Despite the loss of two starters from last season, Georgetown has been dramatically improved this year. The Hoyas are carried by one of the best trios in the country, with guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright and big man Greg Monroe. Freeman has stepped up in conference play, and is shooting nearly 48 percent from three-point range for the season. Wright needs to be more consistent for Georgetown to make a deep run, but he can get hot and fill it up. Monroe is a future lottery pick who is one of the best passers for his position in the country. He also averages 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Guard Jason Clark also posts double-figures and can defend the perimeter well. Forwards Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson round out the primary rotation.
This game should be an outstanding battle between two teams with the chops to make a deep run come March. Syracuse has great inside-outside balance on the offensive end, and the Orange’s length and athleticism makes their 2-3 zone difficult to attack. Georgetown revolves around its main trio of Wright, Freeman and Monroe, but its offensive system is tough to defend. The key in this game will be Georgetown’s ability to get open shots. Against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, the Hoyas will need to knock down threes and get lay-ups to open up the defense; the Princeton offense could have some trouble. If Syracuse can neutralize Monroe down low and the Hoyas aren’t knocking down threes, ‘Cuse will get a big road win.
Prediction: Syracuse 77, Georgetown 73