Today’s game should be a real challenge for the Hoyas.
First, I guess someone should comment about the Pitt game (I’m glad that my partners are helping to support this blog by carrying some of the load). I am not too upset about the loss. The Oakland Zoo is an impossible place to play. No away team has one more than one game there since it opened. And we were ice cold from three-point land, which happens (I agree with JTIII that commentators like The Washington Post’s Camille Powell are making much about nothing in that regard). I would have like to win that game in order to get a win against a ranked opponent, but it’s not a horrible loss.
Today, however, is important. The Fight Irish are tied with the Hoyas in the Big East (3-1). Their only loss in Big East play came at Marquette. Despite the Golden Eagles’ recent poor showing at Louisville, they are still a very talented team. Notre Dame leads the league in three-point shooting (41.6%) behind junior Kyle McAlarney (51 for 111), who has returned to the Irish after a one-year suspension after being arrested for possession of marijuana. McAlarney’s outside presence is complemented by the inside game of the Big East’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Luke Harangody, who is scoring 19.3 points a game. Harangody, who is only 6-8, is also third in the Big East in rebounds, grabbing 9.6 boards per contest.
I think this game is all about how Georgetown responds to Notre Dame’s two stars. The Irish don’t normally start a true center. In last year’s contest, Harangody was the player predominantly matched up against Roy Hibbert. Georgetown handily beat Notre Dame and Roy thoroughly outplayed Harangody. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame tries the same match up this year. Roy should have a serious advantage against Harangody – he has 6 inches on the guy! Notre Dame’s other option is to give more PT to junior center Luke Zeller, who is 6-11. Zeller only averages a little over thirteen minutes a game, and though he is likely to come in to spell Harangody against Roy, I don’t think that he will see many, if any, extra minutes in this contest (Zeller only played 9 minutes against UConn and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet). Traditionally, Roy Hibbert has had a difficult time against shorter post players that are thick and aggressive like Harangody. So, I don’t think there is a reason for the Irish to change their game plan. Nonetheless, I expect Hibbert to have a great game and dominate Harangody. If he stays aggressive (like he was against UConn) and bodies up against Harangody, I think that the Golden Domer’s star will not be very effective. And with the size differential Roy should have no problem scoring as long as he gets position.
Concerning McAlarney, and the rest of Notre Dame’s sharpshooters, the key will be for the Hoyas to tighten up their perimeter defense. This has been one of the most disappointing aspects (maybe the only disappointing aspect) of Georgetown’s defense during JTIII’s reign. There are definitely times when Georgetown seems soft when defending on the outside – how often have we seen a player fly at an open, outside shooter at the last second in a dramatic, if ineffective, attempt to stop their three-point shot. Georgetown needs to keep Notre Dame from building momentum by scoring from beyond the arch. I think we are up to this challenge. Watch for tight, on the ball defense. I would expect to see Rivers get some significant time off the bench to put additional pressure on McAlarney. I know that he is still not a fan favorite. But he is much improved and is the Hoyas best on the ball defender. On the flip side of things, Georgetown must be more effective from beyond the arc. Despite some very poor outside shooting games lately (3-20 for three against Pitt) Georgetown is still the second-best three-point shooting team in the Big East. And the “Princeton” Offense requires that a team be able to hit shots from the outside. I expect Georgetown to really come alive from the outside. Jonathan Wallace has been very cold the past two games. You can put your money on this – he won’t be cold for a third. If the Hoyas are just a little more patient, work their offense, and take their three-pointers at the appropriate times (when they are open, set, and there are no open, high-percentage shots available) they will have a big game from deep and should put some distance between themselves and the Irish early.
The game at the Verizon Center is sold out. It should be a blast. Someone (and by “someone” I mean hopefully one of my partners) will report back on how things turned out.
P.S. – I wanted to give a shout out to Vernon Macklin. The guy has taken a lot of abuse on the blog. I wanted to make sure he got some props for a great game against Pitt. In 13 minutes of play, Macklin went 5-5 from the floor. He showed athleticism, confidence, and demonstrated a variety of moves. He looked, well, great! I never thought I would say that about him. Hopefully this was not an aberration. I would love to see Vernon build on this.