File Photo: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA Freshman forward Otto Porter is leading the team with 6.9 rebounds per game this season.
File Photo: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA
Freshman forward Otto Porter is leading the team with 6.9 rebounds per game this season.

The Georgetown men’s basketball team will return to the court Saturday, a week after earning its 16th victory of the year in an ugly 52-50 win over Rutgers. The No. 9 Hoyas(16-3, 6-2 Big East) will take on Pittsburgh (12-9, 1-7 Big East) at the Petersen Events Center. The Blue and Gray last appeared in the Steel City on Jan. 20, 2010, when they snapped then-No. 9 Pitt’s 31-game home winning streak.

That game, seen as a modest upset for a then-No. 12 Georgetown squad, could not be much different from the one that is expected to play out tomorrow afternoon. The Panthers are led by Ashton Gibbs, who scored 22 points in a nationally-televised blowout of the Hoyas at Verizon Center last January, but the senior guard’s team-high 16.7 points per game masks what has been a pretty mediocre year for the New Jersey native. Forced to play more point guard in the absence of injured redshirt junior TravonWoodall, Gibbs is scoring less than he did last year despite playing more minutes. The senior’s assist numbers are slightly up, but so are his turnovers. He has also struggled shooting the ball more than at any other point in his career. This season, Gibbs is shooting just 39 percent from the floor and 35 percent from behind the arc, well below his career averages of 43 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

The return of Woodall should help Gibbs and the Panthers, though, as the junior finally returned to game action in last Saturday’s loss to Louisville after missing 11 of the team’s previous 12 games with a groin strain and abdominal tear. Before his injury, Woodall had been averaging 14.1 points and a spectacular 8.3 assists per game. The junior tried to take the court in Pitt’s conference opener against Notre Dame but played 18 ineffectual, scoreless minutes before sitting for five more games. Wednesday night, however, Woodall lit up Providence for 17 points and nine assists. Not coincidentally, Gibbs also scored more points (22) than he had at any point during Woodall’s absence, and the Panthers cruised to their first Big East win of the year.

The talent to go on a late-season run is certainly there for the Panthers, who were ranked No. 10 in the country in the preseason AP poll. The Georgetown guards’ perimeter defense will go a long way toward determining whether or not the Hoyas can avenge last season’s humiliating defeat. Senior Jason Clark will likely spend much of the game chasing Gibbs around, while sophomore Markel Starks should start the game guarding Woodall. If Starks — who has struggled at times with foul trouble this year — is unable to contain Woodall, the Blue and Gray could be in for a long afternoon in Pittsburgh.

The Georgetown frontcourt could also have its hands full, particularly with senior forward NasirRobinson. Robinson is the team’s second-leading scorer with 12.1 points per game and also averages a team-high 6.8 rebounds, part of a team rebounding effort featuring four Panthers averaging 5.8 rebounds per game or better. A fifth, freshman big man and former McDonald’s All-American Khem Birch, averaged five boards per game but transferred to UNLV just 10 games into the season, contributing to the Panthers’ sudden fall from grace.

Mercifully for the Hoyas — who shot an astonishingly poor 29.3 percent from the field in last Saturday’s win over the Scarlet Knights — Pitt has struggled defensively this year. The Panthers allow 67 points per game and allow teams to shoot 44.3 percent from the floor, second-worst in the Big East. The Blue and Gray should also find it relatively easy to avoid turnovers, something that plagued them in recent losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati, against a Pittsburgh defense that forces the fewest turnovers in the conference.

The Panthers have undeniably failed to live up to expectations this season. But with the return ofWoodall, Georgetown can’t afford to overlook a possibly rejuvenated Pittsburgh squad.

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