The Georgetown men’s basketball team (11-6, 4-1, Big East) will attempt to deal the rival No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (15-2, 5-0, Big East) their first loss in conference play on the season Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m., with the television broadcast available on CBS.
The Hoyas are set to match up with the Wildcats for the first time this season following a blowout 93-73 win Wednesday night against St. John’s (7-11, 0-5 Big East) in Madison Square Garden, their fifth win in the past six games.
Senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas with 33 points in the rout of the struggling Red Storm, which tied a career-high. Smith-Rivera, who has now bounced back after a slow start to the season, was complemented by junior forward Reggie Cameron and sophomore guard Tre Campbell, who knocked in 15 and 12 points, respectively. The Georgetown defense, which has struggled against opposing guards this season, held the anemic Johnny offense to 39 percent from the floor.
Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III is optimistic about the team’s improvements.
“I think we’re getting better,” said Thompson. “I guess that’s the only way to put it, and I guess as a coach, that’s what you want as the year progresses. We’re making, and this is going to sound simplistic, but we’re making fewer mistakes at both ends of the court.”
Of course, Villanova is not the same team as St. John’s. The Wildcats rank third in the conference in terms of field goal percentage, plugging at a rate of 47 percent. ‘Nova has been especially potent from behind the arc, ranking second in three-pointers made per contest, at 8.5. Thompson is wary of the Wildcats’ well-balanced attack.
“They’re such a good three-point shooting team,” said Thompson. “And, because of that, teams are really pressing up on them, trying to limit their threes, and so, they’re driving. They also have guys that are hard, strong, and fast, and can get by you and to the basket. I don’t want to say it’s a pick your poison, but the fact that most teams focus so much on limiting their threes and cutting down their threes, you give up straight driving lines. And that’s what makes them effective offensively, that they can do both.
The Hoyas will have their hands full defending the Wildcat backcourt. Villanova junior guard Josh Hart leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.5 points per game.
“He plays so hard. Period. The end,” praised Thompson. “He might play harder than anyone in the country, consistently, every possession. And they feed off of him.”
Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono has stepped up his playmaking abilities in his fourth campaign, leading the team with 4.6 assists per game. Arcidiacono also ranks second on the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game. Hart and Arcidiacono both fire from three-point range at a clip of 37 percent.
“They’re a very good shooting team,” said Georgetown senior center Bradley Hayes. “Arcidiacono has increased his range, at least to me, from the three-point line, a lot. He’s shooting it from pretty far, and that’s something we’re gonna have to work on. We’re gonna have to work on our close-outs, and our rotations real well. We’ve been kind of poor at that recently, but I think we’ve been working on it. We’ll be fine.”
The third highest Wildcat scorer, the highly-recruited freshman Jalen Brunson, also takes his minutes in the guard position. The Illinois-native is knocking in 10.7 points per game in his first year of college ball.
Even if the Hoyas can remedy their weakness against opposing guards, they still have to protect the paint from the 6-11 senior forward Daniel Ochefu, who averages 10.3 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game this season.
“I think he’s worked on his offensive game from the tape,” observed Hayes of Ochefu. “I think he’s knocked down a couple jumpers, he’s put that into his arsenal now, so you gotta have a hand up on him out there. And he’s gotten a lot more physical.”
“He’s not only doing it with his right hand. He’s doing it with his left hand also,” added Thompson. “His package, his offensive package has improved also, and they’re going to him.”
As powerful as the Wildcat offense is, Villanova is even more intimidating on the defensive end. ‘Nova boasts an average of 60.6 points allowed per game this season, good for ninth in the nation.
Thompson has stressed ball movement to combat the petrifying Villanova defense.
“The ball just has to move, and we have to see if we can get them chasing, which they’re good at. They’re good at chasing. But when you’re stagnant, their defense it elite.”
Hayes will have the responsibility of duelling Ochefu, the third-highest shot-blocker in the Big East at 1.71 blocks per game. But despite the Wildcat big’s prolific ability to send shots back, Hayes still plans to pound the paint.
“I think that’s always our goal [to get the ball in the paint]. Try to get our bigs in the game early and try to take advantage of the game down low. And if not, then we let our guards go to work.”
Hayes is averaging 8.9 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game in his first season in a starting role.
The Hoyas will benefit on both ends of the floor from the return of freshman forward Marcus Derrickson, who sat out against St. John’s due to an injured knee.
A win against Villanova would allow the Hoyas to usurp the Wildcats’ first place position in the conference standings. But in terms of the rivalry between the two schools, both original Big East programs, a win would mean much more.
“It’s a big game,” said Hayes. “I kind of compare it to Syracuse, back when Syracuse was in the Big East. This is right up there with them, and I think we try to get that message across to our freshmen and our sophomores and our underclassmen, let them know that this is a serious game not just because of the position we can be in if we win, but also because of the history between the two schools.”
“It’s just the history,” reflected Thompson. “What causes a rivalry, what causes the tension, what makes the game special is the tough losses, the great victories, the plays you wish you would have made, the plays you did make, being in hostile conditions up in Philly, them being in hostile conditions down here. We have history.”
After a 2014-2015 season that witnessed a 20-point Georgetown blowout over then-No. 4 Villanova in Verizon Center and a subsequent court storming, but also a one-sided 16-point Wildcat victory over the Hoyas in Wells Fargo Center, both clubs will be looking to send their rival a message in the new year.
The Villanova game is just the first matchup in a brutal upcoming stretch for the Hoyas, who face four ranked opponents in their next six games.
“We had a lot of tough losses early, a lot of losses that we didn’t think we were gonna have,” said Hayes. “I think this upcoming part in our schedule is gonna give us a chance to show people that we’re not that team that lost in those games. We’re a hard-fought team, and we play well.”
If Georgetown can scrape a few wins out of the upcoming stretch, the Hoyas could potentially begin to redeem themselves as a team worthy of NCAA Tournament consideration.
Of course, Thompson is only concerned with one opponent right now.
“This group cannot live past the here and now,” said Thompson. “And I mean, this possession. We cannot live past that. And so, you keep doing stuff the right way. You have enough good possessions, they become good halves. You have enough good halves, they become good games. You have enough good games, you’re OK.”
For the Hoyas, the here and now, as it has been so many times in the past, is Villanova.