After breaking its streak of two straight home losses, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (9-5, 2-0 Big East) hits the road once again, this time to play in one of the most prominent arenas its conference — the team will travel to Omaha, Neb., to face Creighton (10-5, 1-1 Big East), the Big East’s perennial leader in game attendance. Last season, the Blue Jays finished with the sixth-highest attendance numbers in college basketball — only behind storied basketball programs like the Kentucky Wildcats (11-2, 1-0 Southeastern) and North Carolina Tar Heels (14-2, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Creighton has produced sharpshooters like current Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver and Chicago Bulls forward Doug McDermott, but since McDermott’s departure in 2014, the Blue Jays have struggled in Big East play.
This season, Creighton ranks among the best in the nation in offensive efficiency, ranking 52nd in three-point shooting percentage and an impressive 13th in two-point percentage.
However, the Blue Jays struggle defensively, allowing their opponents to shoot an effective field goal percentage of nearly 51 percent — effective field goal percentage takes into account the difficulty of a three-pointer and weighs making one accordingly.
One caveat to Creighton’s offensive success and an even more glaring defensive issue is that its non-conference strength of schedule ranks 229th in the nation, one of the weakest among Big East teams.
Against the No. 11 Villanova Wildcats (12-2, 2-0 Big East) Saturday, the Blue Jays allowed the Philadelphia powerhouse to post an offensive rating of 120, which, if extended to an entire season, would double as the best offensive and worst defensive ratings in the entire NCAA. Moreover, Creighton’s porous defense allowed Villanova to shoot the highest percentage from inside the arc — 28-of-32, or 87.5 percent — for a Division I team in eight years.
In its other conference game so far this season, which was against St. John’s (7-8, 0-2 Big East), Creighton played up to its season averages, and its star senior center, Geoffery Groselle, delivered with 22 points and five rebounds. Groselle is one of the most efficient post players in the country, posting 75 percent shooting from inside the arc, good for third in the entirety of Division I.
However, the Hoyas are no strangers to limiting powerful post presences. Against No. 3 Maryland (13-1, 2-0 Big Ten), senior center and co-captain Bradley Hayes’ and freshman center Jessie Govan’s defensive efforts held Maryland’s star, freshman center Diamond Stone, to just five points and one made shot.
Against Marquette (10-4, 0-2 Big East) and its premier offensive pairing of freshman forward Henry Ellenson and junior center Luke Fischer, Hayes and Govan protected the paint, leading to an inefficient 7-of-22 from the duo. The Hoyas won 80-70, due in part to their stifling defense and their ability to stave off a late run from the Golden Eagles.
Though Marquette clearly planned for an inside-out attack, Georgetown’s defense executed down the stretch.
“[We] go through scouting reports and [teams] do exactly what we [anticipate]; I’m sure we did exactly what [Marquette] anticipated and that’s going to be the case,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said. “That was the case [against Marquette] and it’s going to be the case in Omaha on Tuesday, so it comes down to execution.”
The Hoyas look to continue their improved play after a near loss against the Charlotte 49ers (3-10, 0-1 Conference USA) two games ago, and Thompson believes the changes to the starting lineup are working and have brought a newfound effectiveness to both the team’s offense and defense.
“We have many guys that play starter minutes. I like the boost that we got the last two games bringing [sophomore guard L.J. Peak] off the bench. We get some pop with him coming off the bench, so we’re probably going to stay with it,” Thompson said.
Over the last two games, the Hoyas have excelled on defense, posting an impressive 90.5 defensive rating, a mark that would rank fifth in the nation over the entire season.
Peak’s individual play has enhanced as well, with the guard missing just two shots inside the arc between his first two games coming off the bench, while still playing at least 20 minutes per game. And after fouling out in four of the last six games before conference play began, Peak has managed to avoid doing so the past two games.
If Peak can continue his improved play, Georgetown is likely to continue producing similar results defensively, and with senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera stringing together three efficient offensive performances in a row for the first team this season, improved results offensively as well.
The spread for Tuesday’s game rests at -3.0 Creighton. Georgetown sophomore forward Paul White’s status remains questionable with an unspecified injury. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.