FILE PHOTO: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA Hollis Thompson, shown against American, leads the Hoyas in three-point shooting
Hollis Thompson, shown against American, leads the Hoyas in three-point shooting

This weekend, the Hoyas face a legitimate challenge from a Big East rival that has not been this dangerous for years. Rutgers (11-8, 3-3 Big East) is a young, talented squad with a penchant for using stellar defense to upset some big-name teams.

That could be bad news for a Georgetown team that continues to struggle with turnovers, the only major blemish on an otherwise impressive season for the Blue and Gray. Yet while the No. 10 Hoyas have surprised nearly everyone in bursting onto the national scene, the Scarlet Knights are making some noise in conference play.

“They’re rolling right now, they’re playing really well, and we expect a competitive game,” senior guard Jason Clark said Thursday.

At 3-3 in the Big East, Rutgers owns marquee wins against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. The Panthers, who at 0-6 in Big East play are having their worst season in recent memory, was embarrassed in a 62-39 blowout loss to Rutgers at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. The Scarlet Knights held the Panthers to 21 percent shooting from the field in their worst home loss in the past decade.

Yet the highlight of Rutgers’ season thus far was a 10-day stretch in which they defeated Florida andUConn, both top-10 teams at the time. Turnovers were key to both wins, as the Scarlet Knights forced 20 against the Huskies before committing just 11 against the Gators in a double-overtime win.

“They’re very good, and they work on defense,” Head Coach John Thompson III said of Saturday’s opponents. “They do a good job with mixing up their defenses.”

However, Rutgers is by no means a dominant team. The Scarlet Knights rank in the middle of the Big East in nearly every statistical category. They average nearly eight steals a game in conference play and hold opponents to 33 percent shooting from beyond the arc, but struggle on offense and hold the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big East at 0.8.

While the Scarlet Knights have notched some marquee wins, they also have some embarrassing losses, including a defeat at the hands of South Florida and two 20-point losses against West Virginia. And while the wins over Florida and UConn are impressive, seven of Rutgers’ nine other wins have come against teams ranked 200 or lower in the RPI.

Nevertheless, freshman guard Eli Carter has been a nice surprise for the Scarlet Knights, averaging 13.7 points per game. The rookie was particularly impressive against the Gators, whom he scorched for 31 points.

Already at 11-8, it’s unlikely the Scarlet Knights will make the NCAA tournament unless they come close to running the table. They could, however, earn an NIT bid and take a big step toward leaving the Big East cellar, especially once Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia leave the conference.

Look for Rutgers to mimic the Hoyas’ past opponents by trying to wreak havoc with a full-court press. Georgetown should have the advantage on the boards, however, and its length could bother the Scarlet Knights’ shooters in the halfcourt game.

Tipoff is slated for Saturday at noon at Verizon Center.

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