MEN'S BASKETBALL | No. 5 Cards Seek New Start at Verizon
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 03:01
In a conference schedule full of landmines, Georgetown (13-4, 3-3 Big East) will face its toughest test to date when it plays host to No. 5 Louisville (16-3, 4-2 Big East) Saturday at Verizon Center.
Despite their lofty rank, the Cardinals have dropped their last two games, including a disappointing road loss to unranked Villanova on Tuesday. Georgetown, on the other hand, rebounded from a difficult defeat at South Florida to win at No. 24 Notre Dame Monday evening.
“We didn’t have a good day at South Florida and we had a very good day at Notre Dame,” Thompson III said. “I thought our defense was very, very good [against Notre Dame]. They did an outstanding job helping and covering each other.”
Since joining the Big East in the 2005-06 season, Louisville has secured a winning record against every conference team except Georgetown. The Hoyas secured a narrow 71-68 win last season over a Cardinals squad that reached the Final Four.
Although he has won three in a row against Louisville, Head Coach John Thompson III could not cite a specific factor that explains Georgetown’s recent run of success in the matchup.
“I don’t think we have a magic formula for them,” Thompson III said. “We’ve gotten some lucky bounces, and I think that’s about it.”
Senior guard Russ Smith has led Louisville in points this season, playing alongside point guard and preseason Big East player of the year Peyton Siva in a potent backcourt. Couple that with Head Coach Rick Pitino’s signature pressing defense, and Georgetown is sure to have a lot on its hands.
“We just have to play. We can’t control the fact that they have lost two in a row,” Thompson III said. “Their guards are terrific. Their wings are terrific. They pose a lot of problems.”
Smith, nicknamed “Russdiculous” by Pitino and the Louisville faithful, has displayed a frequent explosiveness offensively but was relatively quiet in the Cardinals’ loss to Villanova.
“He’s too good. I don’t think there was a question of what someone was doing to him [when he struggled],” Thompson III said. “Kids have bad nights, and even with him not having a great night, he still puts pressure on you and still makes you react. [For] some guys [when they] are having a bad night you don’t have to worry about them. You still have to keep attention on [Smith].”
The Cardinals also boast a strong frontcourt, with junior center Gorgui Dieng a proven shot-swatter and sophomore forwards Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear both serving as scoring and rebounding threats.
“[Dieng] is much improved and much more of a factor. He’s making more of the midrange shots,” Thompson III said.
With sophomore forward Greg Whittington still suspended, the Hoyas will have to be more aggressive on the boards, something his classmate Otto Porter Jr. acknowledged.
“Even the guards have to get in there and rebound with the bigs,” Porter Jr. said. “We have to do a better job of that.”
In addition to rebounding, Georgetown’s diluted frontcourt has been hamstrung by foul trouble. In particular, junior center Mikael Hopkins played only 15 minutes and junior forward Nate Lubick just 20 against Notre Dame, as each was limited by early fouls.
“I’m always concerned about foul trouble, but if they get in trouble, we’ve got guys who can step up,” Thompson III said.
The Blue and Gray may also have to make use of substitutions for the simple reason that the Cardinals’ pressure frequently exhausts their opponents and becomes a factor in late-game situations. Still, the forecast for Georgetown has brightened with the emergence of junior center Moses Ayegba, who had 10 rebounds at Notre Dame.
Tip-off against Louisville is scheduled for noon Saturday at Verizon Center. The game will also be televised on ESPN.