Game of the Week: #11 Georgetown at #21 Marquette

February 29th, 2008

Game of the Week: No. 11 Georgetown at No. 21 Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS)

With March on its way and Selection Sunday just around the corner, most of the talk around the country has been focusing on bubble teams and the always-popular “In or Out?” question. However, once the NCAA Tournament starts, the majority of people forget about those teams and start looking at the teams that can potentially make a Final Four run. In other words, don’t forget that there are still marquee games between conference contenders this weekend – not just bubble battles between middling major-conference teams. In the Pac-10, Stanford takes on Washington State; Michigan State gets a chance for revenge against Indiana in the Big Ten; and Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga face-off to decide who will win the West Coast Conference. However, the best game might take place in the Big East, when co-conference leader Georgetown heads to Wisconsin to go up against a hot Marquette team.

Georgetown Team Breakdown

Georgetown came into the season as the co-Big East favorite along with Louisville, and the Hoyas have not disappointed. They have been at the top of the conference all season long, and have stayed in the top-15 of the polls throughout the year. All four of their losses came on the road, including defeats at Memphis, Pittsburgh and the aforementioned Cardinals. On the other hand, Georgetown also has wins over Connecticut, Notre Dame and West Virginia. It is ranked No. 23 in offensive efficiency and No. 8 in defensive efficiency.

The Hoyas are led by center Roy Hibbert, one of the best big men in the country. His numbers don’t reflect how good he is; he has the ability to dominate a game with his size and skill at both ends of the floor. Starting up front with him is sophomore DaJuan Summers, who has improved since last season. He has taken a more aggressive role offensively, and can score inside and out. Off the bench is Patrick Ewing, Jr., an athletic and energetic big man who can defend and score around the basket. Vernon Macklin also sees time.

Georgetown starts three guards on the perimeter, led by upperclassmen Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp. Both players are interchangeable; both can handle the ball and run the offense, and both can play off-the-ball and knock down three-pointers. Wallace is very solid from beyond the arc, while Sapp is a clutch performer down the stretch who can get into the lane as well as shoot. Freshman Austin Freeman is very efficient from the field and he can shoot from anywhere on the court. Jeremiah Rivers comes off the bench. He is an outstanding defender who is usually in the game when it counts because of his ability on that side of the ball.

Marquette Team Breakdown

Marquette was generally considered the third-best team in the Big East, but a decent amount behind Georgetown and Louisville. While the Golden Eagles have been somewhat inconsistent at times this season, they are getting hot at the right time and will be a tough out in March. All six of their losses were to top-35 RPI teams, including two to Louisville, as well as games against Duke, Connecticut and Notre Dame. Their best wins are at Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. In terms of efficiency, Marquette is ranked No. 19 offensively and No. 11 defensively.

The Golden Eagles are led by their perimeter group, one of the best in the nation. Dominic James is an outstanding point guard. He is fearless when driving to the rim and can finish with anyone in the country. He is not overly consistent from three-point range, but he is a playmaker off the bounce. Jerel McNeal is one of the better two-way players in the Big East. He can do nearly anything on the court – besides shoot threes – and is a lockdown defender. Wesley Matthews is another double-figure scorer on the perimeter. He can shoot the three and has a nice mid-range game. Off the bench, David Cubillan is an excellent three-point shooter, while Maurice Acker can shoot the ball as well as run the offense.

The frontcourt has long been considered Marquette’s main weakness, although that trend is beginning to change this season. The main reason – sophomore Lazar Hayward. He is just 6-6, but he can hold his own in the post and has the offensive versatility to step out to the perimeter and consistent knock down three-pointers. He is also a very solid rebounder. Ousmane Barro provides length when he is in the game; he is the team’s best shot-blocker and is a good rebounder. Dan Fitzgerald, despite his 6-9 size, is mostly a three-point shooter but he is decent in the paint.

Game Analysis and Prediction

The Big East has a handful of teams in the top-25 of the RPI, and all are in some sort of contention for the conference title. Georgetown is at the top with Louisville, while Marquette has been making a run of late with its outstanding recent play. This game should reflect what is at stake – as well as the difference in the two teams’ respective styles. Georgetown runs a version of the Princeton offense, filled with backdoor cuts and open passing lanes. Defensively, the Hoyas play tough half-court defense and don’t allow too many open shots. Having the 7-3 Hibbert down low helps things. On the other side, Marquette has a variety of perimeter players who can either take their defender off the dribble or hit the three off penetration. At the other end, Marquette loves to pressure the opponents’ guards and play the passing lanes hoping for steals and transition baskets. It will interesting to see which side prevails.

If Georgetown is going to take the next step in its quest for the Big East title, it is going to have to do several things in order to knock off the hot Golden Eagles on their home-court. First, the Hoyas need to establish Roy Hibbert down low early and often. Marquette is not a very big team at all; its best inside player is 6-6 Lazar Hayward and 6-9 Dan Fitzgerald would rather play on the perimeter. Hibbert will have a major size advantage on whomever is defending him; Georgetown has to take advantage of that. Also offensively, Georgetown will have to avoid making vulnerable passes that have a chance of getting picked off and turn the tables on the aggressive Marquette guards. The Hoyas should wait until either Dominic James or Jerel McNeal overplays defensively, and then beat them with a backdoor cut for an easy basket. Defensively, Georgetown has to force James and McNeal to shoot three-pointers and keep them out of the lane. When they both have opportunities to consistently beat their defenders off the dribble and create for themselves and their teammates, Marquette is much more difficult to defend. When they begin to penetrate, the defense collapses and leaves Hayward, Fitzgerald, Wesley Matthews, David Cubillan – all very good three-point shooters – open for jumpers from beyond the arc. Neither James or McNeal is consistent from three-point range, and it would help if the Hoyas could force them to shoot jumpers.

On the other side, if Marquette is going to continue its winning ways against one of the best teams in the country, and the co-conference leader in the Big East, it will need to take advantage of a few things and overcome a couple of weaknesses. First, slowing down Hibbert inside and making sure to grab defensive rebounds are the biggest things. Marquette does not have anyone who can stop Hibbert by himself, but they cannot allow him to get uncontested entry passes and wide-open touches down low. If he establishes himself, Marquette could be in trouble. Additionally, the Golden Eagles are not a very good defensive rebounding team, while Georgetown has the players to exploit that disadvantage. Also on the defensive end, Marquette needs to force turnovers and try to get transition baskets. Georgetown would much rather have the game played strictly in the half-court – outside of a couple of fast-break opportunities – but Marquette has the guards to play an up-and-down game. A few mishaps early by Georgetown, and Marquette will have a chance to get easy points and grab the momentum. Offensively, Marquette has to hit its three-pointers. Georgetown guards the rim and paint very well, but teams have had success shooting threes against the Hoyas. Marquette has a host of quality three-point shooters; if they are knocking down their jumpers, they will be tough to stop. On that same thread, players like James and McNeal can’t settle for outside shots; they have to attempt to take the ball to the basket and make plays around the rim.

This game is going to be a very interesting battle between two teams looking to solidify their seeding for both the conference tournament in a couple of weeks, as well as the NCAA Tournament in mid-March. Both teams play different styles and have completely different line-up types. In the end, the difference is going to be the guards of Marquette and their defense. I think they will be able to get a couple of turnovers and quick baskets early, which will get the home crowd into it and give the Golden Eagles some momentum, and Marquette will be able to hang on late.

Prediction: Marquette 73, Georgetown 68