After defeating Rutgers on Saturday, Georgetown declared itself a legitimate Final Four contender. The Hoyas have used an exhausting system of depth and defense to rise through the national standings. Yet one glaring weakness exists for a team that has otherwise rampaged through its first 21 games.
All season, the Hoyas have capitalized on forcing turnovers and converting them into points on the other end of the court while severely limiting opposing defenses from doing the same. Over the past two games, however – one a seven-point loss to Marquette on the road and the other a win against Rutgers at home – Georgetown has committed 51 turnovers. The Hoyas have forced 54, but it is a startling contrast to a team that led the Big East with a plus-10 turnover margin through its first 20 games.
During the out-of-conference schedule, Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy had identified some areas of improvement for her team. Rebounding, youth and turnovers were among the most prevalent.
Rebounding has been corrected. Georgetown has consistently been coming away as the victor in the rebound battle since it started Big East play, enforced by the “reminders” that Williams-Flournoy sends to her players after each game they didn’t win the rebound war. Those reminders have usually entailed sprints up and down the court inside McDonough Arena.
Youth is a difficult thing to account for, especially on a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores, including three starters. The Blue and Gray have grown more confident with each game, and they have shown a sense of calm after blowing big leads (Providence, Louisville, DePaul), playing in close games (Syracuse) or being down big with little time left (Cincinnati). Yet the turnovers are what can kill a team, and this is not the time of year when the Hoyas can afford to be careless with the ball.
To be fair, the Hoyas have encountered their hardest stretch of schedule in their last 11 games. The Big East boasts eight teams in the RPI Top 35, including Georgetown’s last three opponents, DePaul, Marquette and Rutgers. Of their remaining eight games, the Hoyas will play the four best teams in the Big East, aside from Georgetown itself. This tough stretch starts with St. John’s, ranked 16th in the RPI standings and recently ranked No. 25 in the nation by the Associated Press.
ore importantly, however, St. John’s league record stands at 6-2, right behind the Hoyas. The Red Storm have actually played nearly the same exact Big East schedule as the Hoyas, and they have won the games they were supposed to win, with their only losses coming against West Virginia and North Carolina. But a 10-point loss on the road to Cincinnati has showed that the Red Storm are vulnerable, unlike the seemingly unstoppable Connecticut Huskies.
When Georgetown plays St. John’s tonight, a win would be crucial because it would give the Hoyas an 8-1 record in the Big East, and put St. John’s two games behind the Hoyas. It would also bump St. John’s down farther in the standings as it still has to face Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Rutgers later in the season.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, would then maintain their shot for a coveted two-round bye in the Big East tournament come March. First-round tournament byes are given to the No. 5 through 9 seeds, while the No. 1 through 4 seeds are given free passes to the quarterfinals. UConn and Notre Dame are playing very well and can be expected to stay in the top four in the conference. That leaves Georgetown (No. 11 in the RPI), West Virginia (No. 14 in the RPI) and St. John’s battling for the other top two seeds, after the Hoyas dealt a pivotal blow to the Scarlet Knights on Saturday, who are still ranked No. 22 in the RPI.
Georgetown will begin encounter its hardest tests of the season, especially on defense. St. John’s ranks fourth in the Big East in field goal percentage, shooting 43 percent, while Georgetown is second-to-last in the conference, allowing teams to shoot 40 percent from the field. The Hoyas are much better against long-range shots, allowing just 29 percent from three-point range, good for fourth in the conference.
The Red Storm are a little better, allowing just 26 percent of shots to fall from beyond the arc. Statistically, the Hoyas have excelled in causing turnovers, passing and offensive rebounds. St. John’s – outside of its shooting – remains just outside the top five in all the other statistical categories.
Nevertheless, this game means a lot for the rest of the season for the Blue and Gray.
Georgetown will be put through the gauntlet against West Virginia, Notre Dame and UConn. If the Hoyas want to gain that free pass to the quarterfinals, they will need a victory tomorrow night. Otherwise, it could mean an extra, bruising round for the Hoyas come March. “