The Cincinnati Bearcats (19-6 7-5) return to the floor at 5/3 Arena on Friday night to take on the streaking #15 Georgetown Hoyas who have won 6 consecutive Big East games and sit in a 3 way tie atop the conference with Syracuse and Marquette.
The game sets up as two strong defensive units that have each had their fair share of struggles on the offensive end. The Hoyas enter the game second in the Big East in scoring defense allowing 55.7 ppg while Cincinnati is right behind in 3rd at 58.4, but Georgetown is 14th in offense averaging only 64.3 per in large part because they have failed to break the 50 point mark 4 times on the season.
Of late they have been better on the offensive end, but have still shown to be vulnerable when facing the tougher defensive units in the league. In their 4 games against teams in the top half of the league on the defensive end the Hoyas are 1-3 and average only 51 points per game so it would appear their ability to run the modified Princeton offense has hit a snag against teams that excel on the defensive end.
The Hoyas are led by all everything forward Otto Porter who leads the team in points (15.3), rebounds (7.9), FG% (50.4), 3pt % (44.3) and steals (1.86) while sitting 2nd in assists and blocks. At 6-9 he is playing mostly the small forward spot, and will be a very difficult match up for JaQuon Parker who will most likely get the nod from the opening tip. His versatility has Porter in the drivers seat for conference Player of the Year and containing him as much as possible is the key to taking down Georgetown for the 5th time in a row.
Junior point guard Markel Starks is the second leading scorer at 12.4 ppg and is tied for the team lead in assists at 2.9 per. His strength is knocking down perimeter jumpers, and he is currently 5th in the conference at 42.2% from distance on the season. Starks is a perfect system guy for head coach John Thompson III and he is counted on to get the team into their sets and work off the ball to hunt jumpers as it moves from side to side. If he is properly tagged as the primary shooter it can bog down the passing lanes and stall their offense.
With sophomore forward Greg Whittington sidelined with an academic issue Georgetown is without its 3rd leading scorer, and have had to trade his 12.1 ppg and 6-8 size for Jabril Trawick who is only producing 5.4 ppg and makes the Hoyas much smaller out top. Trawick can connect from deep if open at 32%, but he isn't going to bring the variety of skills missing in the absence of Whittington and can be a guy the defense backs off of a little to stop some of the flow produced in the Princeton system.
Porter is joined on the front line by 6-9 sophomore Mikael Hopkins and 6-8 junior Nate Lubick. Hopkins isn't a true back to the basket guy, but can do some damage in that role and has seen his opportunities increase as his minutes have increased with Whittington sidelined. He is around 10 ppg over the last 4 games and starting to gain confidence. Lubick is an excellent passing big man that often slides into the high post looking for either a mid range jumper or a back door cutter as evidenced by his 2.9 assists per game to tie him with Starks. Lubick is also second on the team in rebounding at 5.5 a game.
At this point JTIII is relying heavily on a 6 man rotation with former Xavier commit D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera starting to emerge as an offensive threat with his ability to force the action driving to the rim. He is averaging 9.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 2.5 apg over the last 9 games and giving the team a much needed boost in ripping off 8 wins in that 9 game stretch.
Forwards Aaron Bwoen and Stephen Domingo along with center Moses Ayegba pick up spot minutes off the bench to buy some rest for the primary 6 guys, but all three have been mostly ineffective when on the court. If Cincinnati can create some foul trouble getting to the Hoya bench could be a big factor in the game.
This is very likely to be a typical Big East rock fight with the score hovering around the upper 50s by the final horn. The key for Cincinnati will be hitting the defensive glass hard to limit Georgetown to one shot on their misses and trying to use some depth to make things tough down the stretch.
If Cincinnati can replicate the type of intensity for 40 minutes that was on display Tuesday against Villanova they can pick up another big win that puts them right back into the mix of a very cloudy Big East race.