Men’s Basketball | GU Looks to Take First Place in Big East Against Villanova

A 20-point blowout, a court storming and several media write-ups and TV spiels later, the 2014-15 Georgetown men’s basketball team (11-6, 4-1 Big East) sat atop the Big East after defeating then-No. 4 Villanova (15-2, 5-0 Big East) at home in a statement conference win. Almost a year to the date since the Hoyas’ win, this season’s edition of the conference rivalry will take place at Verizon Center on Saturday. A win would put the Hoyas atop the Big East standings.

Just like it was at this point in the schedule last season, Georgetown is still a team that many pundits and fans have yet to truly figure out. On one hand, the team is 4-1 in conference play, sporting the best three-point shooting offense in the Big East through five games to go along with the best two-point defense in the conference. On the other hand, the team has three home losses against small-conference schools.

As for the Wildcats, they come into D.C. ranked first overall in the Ken Pomeroy rankings, a widely popular analytics and sabermetrics-based rating system. They boast the second-best three-point percentage defense in the conference, as well as the best two-point percentage offense in the league.

Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright is known for employing a perimeter-oriented attack, using four guards and one big man. This season, the team’s big man is 6-foot-11 senior forward Daniel Ochefu. After a relatively quiet junior year, Ochefu has upped his scoring to nearly 11 points per game to go along with almost 9 rebounds per game. In addition to an improved post-up game, Ochefu’s size and strength down low allows the Wildcats to work the inside-outside game.

“They’re going to him now. His offensive package has improved also,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “It makes sense. He is a good passer and they have shooters. If you leave him one-on-one, he’s big, he’s strong. People don’t talk about that he’s [6-foot-11], a really strong kid. You have to help, double down. And then they kick it out to guys who are going to make shots.”

In the backcourt, the team sports two elite perimeter players: senior guard and reigning co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono and junior guard Josh Hart.

Hart has made impressive strides this year with both his shooting ability and inside scoring, shooting an efficient 65.8 percent from inside the arc, placing him in the top 40 among all players in Division I.

“Offensively, [Hart] has really put in hours and is a good offensive player. But beginning to end with Josh, the conversation starts and ends with how hard he plays,” Thompson III said. “He might play harder than anyone in the country.”

One additional asset of Villanova’s potent offense is that its perimeter-oriented attack can evolve into a quick and efficient small-ball lineup. While most college teams usually play a conventional big man at all times, Wright and his staff have lineups that feature a shooting forward in place of a center, forcing teams to matchup small against the Wildcats, so as not to give up an advantage in athleticism.

If Villanova breaks out its small-ball lineup Saturday, Georgetown will likely counter with a lineup featuring freshman forward Marcus Derrickson as the team’s biggest player on the court at 6-foot-7. Derrickson is quicker than both of the Hoyas’ centers, senior co-captain Bradley Hayes and freshman Jessie Govan, but is still an adept rebounder, averaging 4.4 per game. More importantly, Derrickson shoots a highly-efficient 44-percent from three-point range.

However, the Hoyas’ offense will likely run through senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who matched a career-high 33 points in a win against the St. John’s Red Storm (7-11, 0-5 Big East).

Smith-Rivera has been inconsistent with his shooting this year, and while he has made up for it with his assists and general playmaking ability, he is still the team’s leading scorer and go-to scoring option down the stretch. Moreover, when he is hitting his shots at a high percentage, the opposing defense has to ramp up its defensive pressure on Smith-Rivera, leading to easy looks for the rest of the team.

Derrickson, who missed the St. John’s game with a minor knee injury, is set to play Saturday. Sophomore forward Paul White successfully underwent hip surgery and will miss the remainder of the season; he is expected to apply for a medical redshirt, granting him an extra year of eligibility.

Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. on CBS.

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