FILE PHOTO: MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA Senior forward Mikael Hopkins may see some playing time at the center position when the team travels to Providence this Saturday.
Senior forward Mikael Hopkins may see some playing time at the center position when the team travels to Providence this Saturday.

In its fourth Big East conference game of the season, Georgetown (10-4, 2-1 Big East) has the opportunity to break out of the five-way tie for second place in the league when it faces Providence (12-4, 2-1 Big East) in Rhode Island on Saturday.

The Hoyas’ biggest challenge is the Friar duo of senior forward LaDontae Henton, who leads the conference in scoring with 21.3 points per game, and sophomore guard Kris Dunn, who is fifth in the country in assists with 7.3 per game.

“Those two pose huge challenges. They are both playing at such a high level right now,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “But they also have shooters, they have size, guys that can score inside. You truly can’t just hone in on those two.”

Limiting turnovers and continuing to dominate the offensive boards will be key to a Georgetown victory over last year’s conference champions, but the Hoyas will also need to avoid an offensive drought similar to the 12-minute long stretch without a field goal that they endured in their win over Marquette on Tuesday. After watching the game tape, Thompson had diagnosed the problem.

“We were very, very stagnant,” Thompson said. “We didn’t change sides of the floor enough.”

The fix?

“We have to use the low post a little more.”

That means more passes inside to senior center Joshua Smith, who has recorded three double-doubles this season. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the nimble big man under the basket, but here’s a telling stat: With the exception of their loss to Kansas, the Hoyas’ three other losses all came in games in which Smith scored 10 points or less.

Smith and fellow senior Mikael Hopkins both see minutes at center though Hopkins has consistently been starting at forward, and Smith at center. The Hoya offense can look very different depending on personnel.

“I get a lot more assists when I’m in there in the center position,” Hopkins said. “The offense flows a little differently because we’re able to run a true press offense with more backdoor cuts. When Josh is in the game, it’s more of a low post focus, getting him the ball, drawing the defenders in and then knocking out open shots.”

Hopkins said the decision of who plays in a particular position depends on the matchup and the size of the opposing team. The Friars have size on their side and Georgetown will likely continue to use the two in combination.

The other obstacle the Hoyas will face is playing on the Friars’ home court. So far in conference play, only two Big East teams have won on the road. It’s still early in the season, but Thompson is hoping Georgetown can be “one of the blips on the radar.”

“Home teams are winning, that’s how it’s played out so far,” Thompson said.

Senior guard Jabril Trawick said the Hoyas’ tough nonconference schedule helped prepare the team for their Big East competitors.

“Even the games we lost back to the Bahamas, those were games that helped us finish these tough games that we’re having in the Big East right now. Every game in the Big East is going to be a game that you have to grind it out,” Trawick said.

Georgetown tips off against Providence on Saturday at 12 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

Staff writer Tyler Park contributed to reporting.

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