COMMENTARY | Small Lineup Excels, Puts GU Back on Tournament Bubble

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee loves big wins. Spending a few moments listening to people predict the field of 68 is impossible without hearing something about quality wins and bad losses. This season, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (12-7, 5-2 Big East) has had plenty of the latter, dropping three games at home to unranked small-conference schools.

But the Hoyas had been in search of a tournament-worthy victory ever since their lone quality win, which is generally considered a win over a team ranked in the RPI Top 50: a 79-72 victory over the then-No. 14 Syracuse Orange (13-7, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) who tanked thanks to starting 0-4 in conference play. However, this past Tuesday night, Georgetown got just what it was looking for — and more — in the form of a dominant 81-72 road win against No. 5 Xavier (16-2, 4-2 Big East).

ESPN and other news outlets have called the Hoyas’ win one of the best road wins of the 2015-2016 season, and the stats back it up. Georgetown, previously ranked 102nd in the RPI rankings, shot up 29 spots after Tuesday’s win. For more perspective into how impactful a win against Xavier is: Georgetown’s strength of schedule ranked 74th in the country entering Tuesday. After playing Xavier, it is now 47th.

Georgetown, though inconsistent throughout the season, has sported one of the best two-point percentage defenses in the entire country and kept that number up against Xavier, holding its inside threats of senior and junior forwards James Farr and Jalen Reynolds to a combined 15 points and just six shots.

Moreover, the Hoyas were able to matchup against the Musketeers’ small lineup featuring four guards and either Farr or Reynolds. Georgetown countered with a similar lineup of freshman center Jessie Govan, sophomore guard Tre Campbell, sophomore guard L.J. Peak, junior forward Reggie Cameron and senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. This lineup helped close the game for the Hoyas and helped Campbell break out for a career-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three-point range.

“I thought our guys did a good job of sharing the ball, hitting the open man, being ready to shoot. That was a part of it,” Head Coach John Thompson III said of Campbell’s shooting performance and the team’s as a whole. “We made the extra pass and got open shots.”

Campbell got a significant portion of his open looks from the Hoyas’ effective breakdown of the Musketeers’ 1-3-1 zone. They attacked the zone fundamentally using a four-out approach and reversing the ball for Campbell to get open looks. Georgetown also broke out in transition to get the sophomore guard crucial scoring opportunities.

The Hoyas needed Smith-Rivera’s 20 points to help ward off the Musketeers’ attack, which lost for the first time with a fully healthy roster this season; Xavier’s only other loss came from No. 4 Villanova (16-2, 6-0 Big East) while it was missing freshman guard Edmond Sumner. Smith-Rivera came out with a balanced attack, dishing out seven assists and turning it over just three times to go along with his 20 points.

And in Smith-Rivera’s last game at the Cintas Center, he helped the Hoyas capture what may have been their last opportunity to make a statement before fading into tournament irrelevancy. Now, Georgetown holds sole possession of second place in the Big East at 5-2 in the conference and will travel to the University of Connecticut (13-5, 4-2 American) Saturday for their final non-conference game. UConn possesses an RPI of 63 and ranks 29th on the KenPom rankings.

A win at UConn would likely push Georgetown right into the mix of tournament teams and continue the momentum that it gained from defeating Xavier.

Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. on CBS.

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Paolo Santamaria is a sophomore in the College.

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