Pregame Primer: Men’s basketball looks to avenge regular season loss to Marquette in Big East Tournament

March 9, 2021

Photo by John Picker/The Georgetown Voice

On Wednesday, the Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team (9-12, 7-9 Big East) will face off against the Marquette Golden Eagles (13-13, 8-11 Big East) in the first round of the Big East Tournament. The Hoyas will look to erase the stain of their last loss on the road at Connecticut (14-6, 11-6 Big East) in which they were punked again, losing the physical battle and suffering from stagnant offense when the game was still in doubt. Wednesday’s game tips off at 3:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

Their last time out, the Hoyas lost to a full strength Connecticut team that has big aspirations, as the Huskies are surging to the NCAA Tournament and gunning for a deep run. Head coach Patrick Ewing called their performance selfish to a man, a conclusion difficult to avoid after the team posted just 1 assist in the first half. They will be looking at another early exit from the Big East Tournament if they continue such play against Marquette, who have also been ascending as of late.

To count this Hoyas team out would be a serious error though, especially considering all the elements of their play in this stretch. Since January 30, the Hoyas are 6-4, with their only losses to the top three teams in the Big East (Villanova, Creighton, and Connecticut). Key to their play has been the ascendance of senior forward Jamorko Pickett and graduate forward Chudier Bile. Pickett is living up to his full potential as the clock winds down on his Georgetown career, averaging 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game and shooting 43.5% from deep. Bile has raised his game and become more accustomed to the Big East style of play, averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds a game on 50.0% shooting from three. Both forwards are playing within themselves, taking their shots when they have them and not trying to force anything. When they see an open three, they are able to pull the trigger with confidence, understanding that they are taking efficient shots. Pickett is making good use of the pump fake, taking a dribble inside and hitting the midrange as well. Defensively, they utilize their length to disrupt opposing wings and their versatility helps in switching when necessary. They are at their best when they avoid  taking too many dribbles and clean glass.

Freshman guard Dante Harris has also taken a step up after the Hoyas’ COVID pause. Though his numbers may not jump off the page like Pickett or Bile, you only need to watch a few plays of a Georgetown game to understand the impact he has on this team. As a freshman, he is due for occasional silly turnovers and mental lapses, but he has a short memory and always bounces back quickly. Playing nearly 35 minutes and averaging 4.4 assists per game in this stretch, Harris is almost too selfless in setting his teammates up. His first step is explosive and he relishes contact at the basket. Defensively, there isn’t a player on this team who gets after it like he does, good for several steals each game and excellent intensity on the boards for a 6-0 player. He harassed two of the Big East’s best guards and NBA hopefuls in David Duke of Providence and Paul Scruggs of Xavier, holding each to just 5 points when they matched up. Forget the sky, the moon is the limit for Dante Harris.

With these key players revitalizing the Hoyas, they have played much-improved team defense in the last 10 games. Though there have still been mistakes against the league’s elite, they have done an excellent job sharing the ball in their wins and no individual players have been hunting shots. Buoyed by the improved play, Ewing’s team has dealt crippling blows to several NCAA Tournament hopefuls in Providence, Seton Hall, and Xavier. They have displayed tremendous growth in being able to recover from slow starts and holding on to leads in crunch time. To overlook this team, as the other Big East coaches did, would court doom for any opponent.

Their tournament opponent is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery and surrounded by doubt. Marquette has won 4 of their last 5, including an impressive victory at the Dean Smith Center against North Carolina and another one over Xavier on their senior night. Prior to that, they had lost 6 of 7, including an extremely uncharacteristic loss to last-place DePaul. Within the conference, they are the worst team in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 1.06 points per possession and forcing a paltry turnover rate of 15.0% while allowing teams to shoot 37.1% from three. These metrics suggest a relatively easier time for the Hoyas, who suffer from turnover problems (21.6% turnover rate) but are the best three-point shooting team in the Big East (37.6% from deep). In light of Marquette’s recent performance, however, it truly is anyone’s game.

The Golden Eagles are led by consensus top-40 freshman forward Dawson Garcia, who does much of his work inside but forces opponents to respect his three-point shot. Sophomore guard D.J. Carton facilitates their offense, but he has had struggles at times with 3.0 turnovers per game. Top-100 freshman forward Justin Lewis has also been productive, picking up their team at times with his mobility and two-way play inside. Elsewhere, seniors Koby McEwen, Jamal Cain, and Theo John bring experience to this younger team. McEwen and Cain can be called upon for scoring in a pinch, and John is one of the better interior defenders in the Big East, giving up nothing easy with 1.5 blocks per game.

The last time these two teams faced off, the Hoyas blew an 18-point lead and turned the ball over 17 times in one of their worst losses of the season. Both teams have done a lot of growing since then, and they enter the Big East Tournament in far better form. Cain dropped a season-high 25 points, and the Hoyas will have to contain individual scorers if they hope to collect their first win in this tournament since 2016. Generating drive-and-kick opportunities for three will be the most reliable way to neutralize John on the defensive end and take advantage of Marquette’s less-adept defenders. Defensively, the Hoyas must use their length and versatility to force Carton into turnovers and get into passing lanes for transition opportunities. If I had to bet right now, I would go for the Hoyas to avenge a difficult loss against an opponent they can certainly handle.

The game tips off on Wednesday, March 10 at 3:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on Fox Sports 1. For coverage of men’s basketball and all Georgetown sports, follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter.

Nathan Chen
is the Sports Executive. He was born and bred in the DC Sports Bog and is ready to die in it.

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