Aside from fans and a few sportswriters who still appreciate its strength of schedule, Georgetown has largely been written off the NCAA what-if list. Any hope of a spirited comeback onto the tournament bubble begins and ends with a win Saturday on the road at Villanova. Aside from winning four straight in the series, the chances on such a win seem daunting.
Georgetown enters the game with its fewest road wins in 11 years, and a 5-10 conference mark that has assured John Thompson III of his first losing conference record in nine years as a head coach at Georgetown and Princeton. Much of this can be attributed to inexperience, a factor not in play at Villanova, where three seniors and two juniors have led the Wildcats back to the Top 10 and feature the top rated offense in the conference. Much like Marquette, Villanova has a lot of options to win games and they tend not to hurt themselves down the stretch.
Georgetown fans are most familiar with Scottie Reynolds, one of five DC-area players on the Villanova roster and a genuine threat every time he steps on the court. Reynolds averaged 18.5 points in two games against Georgetown last season, and despite only 39 percent shooting from the floor this season, he remains a key weapon for Villanova to establish its offensive game plan. Georgetown's use of a zone defense may be worth watching as a means of keeping Reynolds out of opportunities where his speed could run past Georgetown in Villanova's offensive sets.
Reggie Redding, a 6-5 swingman, figures to start at the big guard. Redding is an underrated rebounder (4.8 per game) and he provides steady production at both ends of the court. Redding's nine points, nine rebounds and five assists against DePaul won't grab the headlines from Reynolds, but his production is a big key to Villanova's opportunity to put away games late.
Much like Marquette, Villanova's experience up front is a cause of concern for Georgetown. Dwayne Anderson averages 45 percent from the field and although he was 1-7 against DePaul, Villanova-Georgetown games tend to elevate a player like Anderson into having a monster game and he's capable of it. Another option may be Shane Clark, whose scoring has been up and down this season: 15 against Syracuse, two against DePaul due to foul trouble. Clark is a good offensive rebounder, which Georgetown must limit.
Senior Dante Cunningham has improved every season at Villanova and has taken a leadership role in 2009. The 6-8 Cunningham has not had much in games against Georgetown, owing to previous efforts with 7-2 Roy Hibbert, but his 55 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds a game give the Wildcats a consistent presence in the middle (32 minutes per game) and one which can lessen the load if Reynolds struggles. Cunningham is foul prone, so the Wildcats need him not to get in trouble early.
Villanova's biggest advantage comes from a active bench. The two Corys, Fisher and Stokes, are averaging nearly 20 points a game between them and can provide instant offense if the starters lag, particularly Redding. Stokes (9.9 ppg) is more proficient from three point range, while Stokes (11.2) will get more points inside. Forward Antonio Pena (6.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) provides added depth.
Villanova's rebounding has suffered of late, and while there aren't many flaws in a top 10 team, any opportunity for Georgetown to assert itself inside could be a big plus in their favor. However, given the Hoyas' poor rebounding numbers all season, Georgetown must look to improved outside shooting and some sort of consistent second half play from Dajuan Summers which has largely disappeared this season. To win this game, it's the frontcourt, not the backcourt which must step up. So far, that's no sure thing.
Some keys to the game:
2. Bench Production: Villanova owned a 25-4 edge on DePaul in bench scoring Wednesday night. Georgetown must get better point production from Jessie Sapp, Jason Clark, and Julian Vaughn.
3. Austin Freeman: Freeman's scoring has been steady but unspectacular in February. Could he take off with a big game Saturday?
1. The Hoop and The Harm: Look for Villanova to exploit Georgetown up the middle and get to the line, where they remain one of the conference's best teams.