The Hoyas enter the lion’s den tomorrow night in search of their third straight victory, traveling to Rhode Island to take on the Providence Friars. The game is pivotal for Georgetown, with a victory surpassing last season’s win total and helping the Hoyas keep pace with Notre Dame and Syracuse in the Big East West division.

A number of players have played vital roles in Georgetown’s success to this point, most noticeably junior point guard Kevin Braswell and power forward Mike Sweetney, who was named last week’s Big East Rookie of the Week and has been dominant in Georgetown’s two most recent victories. The 6-foot-8 freshman has averaged a career-high 22 points in the two wins.

Nonetheless, the Hoyas’ fortunes have most closely followed those of their 7-foot senior co-captain.

One week ago, Georgetown was reeling after three straight Big East losses that had dropped the previously undefeated Hoyas to 4-3 in conference play. Senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje fell into a funk that mirrored Georgetown’s fortunes, going scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time in his Hoya career against Notre Dame and Syracuse.

Boumtje-Boumtje, a preseason Second Team All-Big East selection, is a three-year starter and has anchored the middle in his time as a Hoya. This season he leads Georgetown in blocked shots, is second in rebounding and third in scoring.

As Georgetown hit its three-game skid in late January, Boumtje-Boumtje followed, averaging just two points, four rebounds and one block while playing tentatively and shooting just 2 of 13 from the field during that stretch. In contrast, he has averaged 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in Georgetown’s 19 victories, including eight points and 10 rebounds in each of the Hoyas’ two most recent wins.

Up front, the Friars have five players 6-foot-7 or taller, led by 7-foot-2 senior Karim Shabazz, and will be able to match the Hoya frontcourt size-wise better than most teams. Nonetheless, as goes Boumtje-Boumtje, so go the Hoyas. For Georgetown to take down Providence, he will have to continue his recent resurgence and be the aggressive anchor inside he has often been.

Providence is coming off an 83-68 loss at Connecticut on Tuesday, ending its five-game Big East win streak. Nevertheless, the Friars (16-6, 7-3 Big East) have been one of the nation’s biggest surprises this year, coming off an 11-19 campaign last season and facing expectations of another season in the cellar of the Big East.

Instead of listening to its critics and succumbing to a mediocre 4-3 start to the season, Providence has been a model of consistency over the past two months, winning against St. John’s, Villanova and Connecticut and ascending to second place in the Big East’s West division.

When the Friars have struggled, it has generally been a result of a team-wide breakdown, often at the defensive end, as they give up 82.7 points per game in Big East losses while only allowing an average of 67 points. In particular, sophomore guard Abdul Mills has struggled in Providence losses. Mills has shot just 5 of 23 in the Friars’ Big East losses while averaging 5.7 points per game, less than half his average in Providence victories.

The job of smothering Mills will likely go to sophomore Demetrius Hunter, with senior Anthony Perry also seeing time after his work in holding Pittsburgh guard Julius Page to just nine points and one three-pointer in Georgetown’s last game. In a battle of the two men who lead the Big East in steals, Braswell will go head-to-head with fellow junior point guard John Linehan, who has averaged 14.7 points per game in Providence’s last three contests.

Georgetown is back on track and has the ability to put Providence away, but they will face the daunting task of playing in the Providence Civic Center, one of the toughest courts in the Big East. The game is sold out and the crowd will probably be raucous and loud. The Hoyas’ best opportunity to neutralize the sixth man is to be aggressive and make an early run like they did in their most recent game against Pittsburgh, avoiding the tentativeness and poor shooting that allowed the Orangemen crowd to take over last week’s game at Syracuse.

The Hoyas have learned there are no guarantees in Big East play, and that lesson ought to help Georgetown on the road against a solid Providence team with a substantial home-court advantage.

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