Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

A Battle for the Postseason

For Georgetown, the 2006 season has been a resurgent one both on the court and in the stands. On Saturday, the class of 2006 is set to play their final game on the MCI Center floor and to draw one last raucous crowd, as the No. 23 Hoyas (18-7, 9-5 Big East) face off against the Syracuse Orange.

With just the University of South Florida left on the regular season slate after Saturday, Georgetown’s senior day match up with Syracuse (19-8, 7-6) is the most important one left on the schedule. Though the Hoyas are most likely already into the NCAA tournament, a win Saturday would essentially secure Georgetown’s first tourney birth since 2001.

Georgetown, after losing three straight, is back on the winning track after Wednesday night’s 66-50 defeat of Rutgers. Sophomore center Roy Hibbert’s second straight 20-point performance (25 on the night), combined with senior guard-forward Darrel Owen’s 11 and sophomore guard Jonathan Wallace’s 10 sparked the Georgetown victory.

The Hoyas’ offensive balance and superb rebounding (37-24 advantage) were more than enough to overcome 29 points from the Scarlet Knights’ senior guard Quincy Douby.

Syracuse is fresh off a win of their own, perhaps the biggest of their season, as the Orange downed the No. 14 West Virginia ountaineers, 60-58 at the Carrier Dome.

Freshman guard Eric Devendorf led Syracuse with 17 points, while junior forward Terrence Roberts chipped in 16 points and 10 boards. Senior guard Gerry McNamara, the Orange’s leading scorer, had just five points.

The 2005-06 campaign has been a relatively unpredictable one for Syracuse. After opening with three wins against unranked opponents, the Orange fell to a pair of then-unranked teams, Bucknell (now unranked again, after a few weeks in the polls) and Florida (now No. 12). Syracuse then proceeded to rip off 12 consecutive wins – again, without a ranked team in the mix – before falling three times in the same week to ranked teams, as the suffered defeats at the hands of then-No. 3 Connecticut, then-No. 7 Villanova, and then-No. 10 Pittsburgh. They added a fourth consecutive loss as they fell to Seton Hall, 68-61, on Jan. 29.

Since, Syracuse has maintained their rollercoaster-like trend, beating Rutgers, falling again to UConn, beating St. John’s, losing to Cincinnati, and then beating Louisville and West Virginia.

The Orange’s 7-6 Big East record and 6-7 road record has them squarely on the bubble, and sorely in need of a big win Saturday. Picked in the preseason to easily qualify for the tournament, mostly because of the sky-high hype placed on the shoulders of McNamara, Syracuse will need to treat this weekend’s contest as do-or-die affair. Georgetown, still in the hunt for a top-four seed in the Big East tournament, and the bye that comes with it, should be equally pumped up.

McNamara has been the Orange’s leading scorer on the season, at 16.1 per contest, but he has not quite lived up to the hype. Though his scoring is up from a year ago, his 34.6-percent shooting from the field is the worst mark of his four years, and over five points lower than the career-best 40.1 percent he posted as a freshman. He has taken a similar hit behind the arc, as he has shot just 31.4 percent from three. A year ago he shot 34 percent, and he posted a career best as a sophomore at 38.9 percent.

McNamara has made a considerable improvement passing the ball, increasing his assists from 4.9 in 2004-05 to 5.7 this year. Receiving those assists have primarily been junior forward Demetris Nichols, Devendorf and Roberts. Nichols averages 14.4 points on the season, while Devendorf chips in 12 and Roberts adds 10.8.

Roberts has been Syracuse’s most consistent body on the board, hauling down eight boards a game. Junior center Darryl Watkins has also done a good job rebounding, collecting 7.1 per game.

Saturday’s game is not just a key matchup in terms of the Big East standings. Billed Senior Day, the game against Syracuse marks the last time seniors Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook, Owens, and Ryan Beal will play a home game in Hoya blue and gray. Though Cook and Bowman combined for the just three points against Rutgers, look for the pair of four-year starters, along with Owens, to try and make a favorable impression in their final home game.

Indeed, stronger performances from Bowman and Cook are not just hoped for, but needed. To beat a Syracuse team that is at worst pesky and at best a sleeper to make a deep run in March, the senior starters will need to score much closer to the 21.3 points they combined to average entering Wednesday night’s game.

Additionally, Hibbert will need to keep up his recent strong play. The 7-foot-2 center has averaged 20.7 points over the last three games, with 25 against Rutgers, 20 versus Villanova, and 17 last week at Marquette. If Hibbert can exploit his matchup with the 6-foot-11 Watkins and continue to show his soft touch – his shooting during the last three games has been a remarkable 67 percent – he should be able to post another solid performance Sunday afternoon.

To pin down a single statistic upon which Georgetown’s success hinges is decidedly difficult. Sure, the Hoyas need to shoot a high percentage – since the start of Big East play, and including the one non-conference game during that stretch against Duke, the Hoyas are 4-1 when they shoot over 50 percent – but they also lost to West Virginia despite a 50 percent performance, and beat Providence in spite of a 38.5 percent effort.

Against teams in the top 32 of the RPI (according to ESPN.com’s daily RPI), the Hoyas have shot at least 49.8 percent in their three wins and 45.8 in their five losses. Is there a difference? Yes. But is a 4-percent difference in field goal percentage the sole reason for a win or a loss? Probably not.

Over the same period of time, the Hoyas are 7-2 when they have a rebounding advantage, but were outrebounded by 12 in their win against then-No. 9 Pittsburgh and held a three rebound advantage in their most recent loss to then-No. 4 Villanova. Clearly, winning the war on the glass is important, but maybe not vitally so.

As far as ball-control is concerned, Georgetown is 5-2 when they have more 12 or more turnovers, 5-3 when they have fewer. The Hoyas are undefeated when their turnovers are held to single digits, but that has happened just twice. As handy as it would be, to be able to point to turnovers as the deciding statistic is basically impossible.

The one offensive statistic that may be most indicative of Georgetown’s success is the percentage of baskets on which the Hoyas record an assist, one of the most indicative statistics of a Princeton offense’s efficiency. In their three wins against RPI top-32 teams, Georgetown dishes out an assist on 69.7 percent of their baskets, while they’ve only done so 60.5 percent of the time in their five losses to the top teams.

Defensively, it seems as though opponents field goal percentage has made but a slight difference. In the Hoyas’ three wins over RPI top-32 teams, Georgetown’s opponents have shot 43.3 percent. In GU’s five losses, opponents have shot 47.5 percent. Yet again, there is a difference, but it is hardly a decisive one. Duke shot 51.7 percent as they fell at MCI Center; arquette made just 41.2 percent of their field goals but downed the Hoyas.

The keys to the game for Georgetown are not difficult to discern. They will need more from their seniors, a solid effort shooting the basketball, and tough defense. Whether their game plan involves Hibbert as it has of late, or Green at center and more of Owens as it did during much of their seven game win streak, the Hoyas will need to determine what lineup gives them the best balance between offense and defense, and do so early.

Against Marquette, Georgetown excelled with Hibbert on the floor, but went with such a lineup only at the very beginning and very end of the contest. Head Coach John Thompson III will most likely need to be ready to adapt his game plan in the same way he did against Duke and Pittsburgh.

For Syracuse, the key is getting McNamara rolling. When the streaky senior scores 20, the Orange are a perfect 7-0. Additionally, Syracuse will need to handle the ball with care; in their last five losses, the Orange average 15.7 turnovers, while they only had nine in the upset over West Virginia. The Hoyas are 8-1 when they force 15 turnovers.

Still, at the end of the day, it won’t be the statistics that matter. The game won’t be won on paper. When all is said and done, Saturday’s game will be won by the team that wants it more. Will it be Bowman, Cook and Owens – trying to cap a sometimes glorious, other times depressing, career on the Hilltop – that win the game? Can the Hoya fans, those that have finally shown how much of a factor they can be, do it once more? Or will it be Syracuse that emerges victorious as they try to play their way into the NCAA tournament?

Saturday, at noon at MCI Center, Georgetown will look to reward its seniors and its fans with one final home victory for 2005-06.

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