GAME NOTES: A pair of Big East Conference teams dealing with different emotions do battle in the nation's capital on Saturday afternoon, as Georgetown Hoyas play host to the fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville sprinted out to a 15-1 record, which included wins in each of its first four conference bouts. The Cardinals were rewarded with the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll, but then came last Saturday's 70-68 loss to visiting Syracuse. They fell from the top spot but had the opportunity to make amends on Tuesday night in Philadelphia against Villanova. Unfortunately, the Wildcats had other plans and pulled off the 73-64 upset, meaning the Cardinals come into this clash seeking an end to a two-game slide.
Georgetown also got off to a fast start, going 10-1 to earn a spot among the nationally-ranked as well. The Big East schedule hasn't been as kind to the Hoyas however, as they dropped their first two conference bouts (Marquette, Pittsburgh) before rebounding to win their next two (St. John's, Providence). A tough 61-58 loss at USF stung, but coach John Thompson III's club came back to post arguably its biggest win of the year as GU topped No. 24 Notre Dame in South Bend this past Monday, 63-47. On the season, the Hoyas are 13-4 overall, which includes a 3-3 league ledger, and they have won nine of their 10 home games.
Georgetown has doubled-up Louisville in the all-time series, 8-4, and the Hoyas have won the last three meetings.
Louisville has one of the top performers in the Big East on its roster, as junior guard Russ Smith is averaging 18.7 ppg, and he has a team-high 45 steals as well. Coach Rick Pitino has other standout performers on which to rely, as Peyton Siva (11.5 ppg, 6.1 apg, 41 steals), Chane Behanan (10.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Wayne Blackshear (9.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Gorgui Dieng (8.8 ppg, 10.1 ppg, 29 blocked shots) help make up one of the top starting fives in all of college basketball. The team as a whole is putting up 75.7 ppg in hitting 45.1 percent of its total shots, including 32.8 percent from 3-point range. But where the Cards really shines is at the defensive end, as foes are netting just 58.0 ppg on typical shooting efforts of .400 overall, including .315 from beyond the arc, and they commit nearly 20 turnovers per outing. UofL is also +5.5 in rebounding. Poor shooting and a slew of mistakes were the primary reasons why the Cardinals fell for the second straight time in Tuesday's game at Villanova. Pitino's crew hit just 39.7 percent of its field goal attempts, and was guilty of 17 giveaways. A 22-12 deficit at the foul line also proved costly. Blackshear led the team with 17 points, and Siva turned in a double- double with 15 points and 13 assists. Dieng nearly did the same, logging 10 points and nine rebounds.
Georgetown has also played some pretty stingy defense en route to its solid record, yielding a mere 55.8 ppg behind opposing shooting percentages of .383 overall and .314 from long range. When the Hoyas have the ball, three double- digit scorers, only two of which are active at the moment, help lead them to 64.0 ppg. Otto Porter paces the unit with 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, shooting 51.5 percent from the floor while also logging a team-high 30 steals and 19 blocks. Markel Starks (11.2 ppg, 2.8 apg) has been asked to up his game in the wake of second-leading scorer Greg Whittington's (12.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) suspension. Porter drained 3-of-4 3-point attempts on his way to 19 points, and he added nine boards and a pair of blocks, helping push Georgetown past Notre Dame earlier in the week. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera came off the bench to contribute 14 points, and his 6-of-12 shooting performance went toward the team's overall effort of .533 overall, which included a 7-of-15 showing from 3-point range. Moses Ayegba also played an integral role during his 24 minutes off the pine, grabbing 10 rebounds as the Hoyas claimed a 35-24 edge on the glass. The Fighting Irish were limited to 34.7 percent field goal efficiency, and they were off the mark on 14 of their 16 3-point tries.
Considering this game features two of the top defensive teams in the Big East, a relatively low-scoring affair is likely. The Cardinals are simply too good for the losses to continue to pile up, and despite the Hoyas' best effort, expect the visitors to break out of the doldrums and get back in a positive frame of mind.