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Alabama-Georgetown Preview: Q&A with Casual Hoya

The Crimson Tide basketball team will compete in its highest-profile non-conference home game of the season tomorrow night when Big East powerhouse Georgetown visits Coleman Coliseum for a nationally televised (ESPN2) 8:30 pm tip-off.

To help get us ready for the big primetime showdown tomorrow night, Andrew Geiger of SBNation's Georgetown affiliate Casual Hoya will answer a few questions about Georgetown and the keys for tomorrow night's game. My answers for his questions will be posted later on their site. Enjoy.

RBR: In seven years at the helm, John Thompson III has guided the Hoyas to five NCAA tournaments, three times as a very high (top-3) seed. Clearly, he has been pretty successful overall. However, the postseason results recently have been disappointing (a 2nd-round loss to Davidson in 2008, a first-round loss to Ohio in 2010, and a 1st-round loss to VCU in 2011, sandwiched around an NIT trip in 2009). Again, clearly there has been a good deal of regular season success required to finish as a top-3 seed in two of the last four years. But overall, how do you (and Georgetown fans in general) assess the program under JT3?

Thanks for the trip down postseason memory lane! We get this question often, and though the Hoya fanbase can clamor all it wants about JT3’s most recent postseason missteps, he isn’t going anywhere and the program is in excellent shape. JT3 has taken us from the depths of irrelevance and put us in the top 25 discussion consistently. Not to mention, we've been to a Final Four, been in three Big East Tournament championship games, won two Big East regular season titles, and won a Big East Tournament title. He has run the program flawlessly from NCAA standards, graduated kids, and avoided any scandals. He has continually brought in strong recruiting classes and produced NBA players all with horrific facilities and not much support from the administration.

Obviously, there are times we, as all fans, get frustrated with the program. Specifically, there have been a boatload of transfers since JT3 began and we've had some serious flameouts in the NCAA Tournament the past four years. But all in all, he's doing an awesome job and we can't even get close to imagining someone else at the helm who could have done the job he has done.

RBR: This season, Georgetown has four blowout wins over cupcakes (Savannah State, UNC-Greensboro, Chaminade, IUPUI), and then split close games with top-15 powerhouses in Maui (lost by 4 to Kansas, defeated Memphis in overtime). How do you assess this team's early results? What do you expect from this team results-wise this season?

The prevailing thought is that this team is way ahead of the curve, and that’s primarily due to the fact that the freshmen, and Otto Porter and Greg Whittington specifically, are playing like seasoned veterans. Both Porter and Whittington are playing more than 20 minutes per game and have provided Georgetown with depth off the bench which it has lacked in the past few seasons. I think that before the season Hoyas fans would have been happy to be in the Bubble conversation come March, but after the impressive showings against the cupcakes you mentioned and especially against Kansas and Memphis, an NCAA Tourney bid isn’t out of the question in what is shaping up to be a mediocre Big East.

RBR: Georgetown's Princeton-style offense has had some very encouraging early season results. The Hoyas rank among the elite nationally in effective shooting percentage and especially in offensive turnover rate. While they haven't gotten to the foul line a lot, they still rank 23rd in overall offensive efficiency. Alabama, known for its stifling defense and ranked among the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency, will clearly have its hands full. What is the key to stopping Georgetown's high-powered motion offense?

Allow me to bask in that association of "high powered" with Georgetown’s offense for just a few seconds.


//still basking

That was nice, thank you. In general, the key to stopping the Princeton-based offenses is taking away ball movement, and the big one is the entry to the post, high or low. In years past, Georgetown has featured Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green, and Greg Monroe playing the primary role and this year, the surprise has been seeing Henry Sims shine.

Georgetown fans will all scream that they play a modified Princeton offense (and there's a lot of truth to that) but the hallmark of its success is a high assist to field goal ratio, which is the best indicator of precision passing. Kansas did a good job defending Georgetown’s halfcourt sets, which you can plainly see in the boxscore: against Kansas the Hoyas only had 6 assists on 22 field goals (whereas against Memphis, Georgetown had 19 on 31). Defending this is all easier said than done, of course, because aggressively playing passing lanes and overplaying dribblers opens up to backdoor cuts and…wait…how many Tide fans even know this game is taking place? Isn't it just a month long tailgate party prepping for the National Championship game? [ed.- really hope Tide fans and students pack out Coleman and show these guys what a real sports school looks like.]

RBR: Statistically, Georgetown's biggest weakness would appear to be rebounding. The Hoyas rank in the middle of the pack nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. Meanwhile, Alabama's biggest strength offensively has been its offensive rebounding rate. Is rebounding really a concern for Georgetown, or are the statistics merely a function of the physical frontlines the Hoyas faced out in Maui against Kansas and Memphis?

Rebounding will be an issue for these Hoyas because aside from Henry Sims and Nate Lubick, the Hoyas lack size down low, and even Sims isn’t really what you would call a banger. I didn’t realize that Alabama was such an offensive rebounding juggernaut, which is a great stat but of course one that is based on missing a lot of shots. Congrats! JT3 has done a great job with this unit instilling a defense-first mindframe, and I fully expect the Hoyas to do a good job boxing out and cleaning the glass against the Tide.

RBR: Jason Clark has clearly been the offensive star early on this season, but the Hoyas have five players who average 9.0 points or more per game. What should Bama fans know about the personnel in Georgetown's primary 8-man rotation of Clark, Thompson, Porter, Sims, Starks, Lubick, Whittington and Trawick?

Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson are expected to do the lion's share of scoring this year. Both possess pretty deadly outside shots, and both can get hot and score in bunches. Clark slacks a bit on defense and his ballhandling can be suspect, but he is providing solid senior leadership and hitting crucial buckets at important times. Thompson has the prettiest shot in the Big East, but can disappear for minutes at a time where you forget he's even on the floor.

Henry Sims has been amazing thus far, considering his prior contributions in his previous three years were quite limited. He put together the most impressive big man performance we've seen since Greg Monroe was here last Wednesday against Memphis. Hopefully, the fast start will allow him to gain confidence and provide a much needed inside presence.

Nate Lubick and Markel Starks are sophomores that start. Lubick started the latter half of last year as well, but has seemed to regress thus far this year showing a very limited offensive skillset. Starks, on the other hand, has come into the starting point guard role and impressed with his command of the offense and improved shooting stroke.

Otto Porter, Greg Whittington, and Jabril Trawick are three really solid freshmen. Porter, for one, is sensational. He fills up the box score, always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and may be our best rebounder already. We expect HUGE things from him and are positively giddy when he is on the floor. Whittington and Trawick are long and athletic and seem to be improving each time they are on the floor. Trawick, in particular, plays really solid perimeter defense, which is a vast improvement from years past.

RBR: Alabama is 7-0, ranked #12 in the nation, and has won 24 straight games in Coleman Coliseum. That said, the Tide certainly has flaws, such as inexperience with four freshmen among the top seven players in the rotation, a lack of size in the frontcourt with only one starter over 6'6", and at times substantial offensive limitations in the halfcourt. What does Georgetown need to do to end the Tide's streak in Coleman?

This will be an interesting game, because Georgetown and Alabama are very similar teams in that the freshmen have seen big minutes and are keys to the success on the court. Without having seen a minute of Alabama hoops action this season, I’ll posit that for Georgetown to win this game the Hoyas will have to control the ball and tempo, and force the Tide into defending its halfcourt sets.

One big change is that this year's team has been creating opportunities on defense by utilizing a full court press and some half court trap, and with an athletic opponent like ‘Bama, they will have to be more judicious in extending the pressure and creating easy baskets.

The key will be Alabama’s ability to contain Henry Sims, who has showed this season that he can take advantage of a size mismatch and become Georgetown’s go-to player in the post. If Sims is hot early, this bodes very well for Georgetown as it will force Bama to collapse on him and open up passing lanes for cutters and open shooters on the wings.

I don’t think a 24 game home winning streak will have any impact on these young Hoyas because they play with a veteran swagger. If anything, the prospect of squashing your precious streak will motivate them even more.