The current era of college sports means that fans have become used to conference foes meeting for the first time in a season in late February, as is the case with #18 Notre Dame (20-9, 12-4) visiting #8 Georgetown (21-6, 11-5) on Monday night. Both teams lost games in the tri-state area over the last five days with the Hoyas getting blown out at Seton Hall and Notre Dame losing at St. John's on Saturday, but these are still teams that can make noise in New York next week. On the line at the Verizon Center is (at the very least) the inside track for one of the two remaining double-byes in the Big East Championship, a perk Mike Brey's team would clinch with a win.
Neither team was expected to be in this position early in the season, with the prognosticators selecting the Hoyas to finish tenth in the Big East and Notre Dame expected by many to be an NIT team (or worse) when Tim Abromaitis went down with a torn ACL. That's why both head coaches, Brey and John Thompson III, have to be considered Big East Coach of the Year candidates and while the teams have different styles the tempo's about the same. Georgetown will use their big man, senior center Henry Sims, as a distributor within their system and he's done well in the role.
Sims leads the team with an average of 3.4 assists per game while also scoring 11.3 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds, a far cry from the numbers he put up in his first three seasons as a Hoya. Sims' emergence has relieved some of the pressure on Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson offensively while also giving Georgetown an added dimension at the five that was missing with Julian Vaughn there last season. Both Clark and Thompson, who lead the team in scoring, shoot better than 48% from the field and no Hoya who averages 19 minutes or more per game shoots worse than 45.5%.
Notre Dame has become well-known for their "burn" offense, a system first instituted when Luke Harangody went down with a knee injury two seasons ago. The move got the Irish to the NCAA tournament that season, but at this point it's difficult to figure out if Notre Dame is running the special offense of if this is just how they play at this stage. Young guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have been major factors for the Irish, and their maturation has resulted in Notre Dame being a better team than many anticipated. The primary frontcourt scorer is Jack Cooley, a 6'9" forward who has no problem with physical play and shoots 62.8% from the field.
One area the Hoyas have to keep an eye on defensively is the three-point line, as Notre Dame has some players who can get hot from deep. Their percentage of 33.2% may not be the best (Georgetown shoots 35.1%) but Notre Dame isn't shy about putting shots up, with Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Alex Dragicevich being three of the most likely options. The Irish have done a good job of taking care of the basketball (10.0 turnovers per game) and they'll need to continue that against a Georgetown team that forces turnovers on 20.8% of their opponents' possessions as well as keep the Hoyas off the offensive glass (Hoyas have an OR% of 36.4%) in order to win.
#5 Kansas will look to keep on the right track towards a one-seed in the NCAA tournament with a win at Oklahoma State, and #14 Baylor shouldn't have a problem with Texas Tech in Waco. Mississippi Valley State looks to move to 17-0 in SWAC play as they visit Jackson State, with last week's hero (Paul Crosby) having the versatility to have an impact in multiple facets of the area.
In the MEAC there are two games remaining in the regular season with three teams separated by a game atop the standings. Savannah State (12-2) hosts North Carolina A&T while Delaware State (11-3) hosts Morgan State and Norfolk State (11-3) visits Florida A&M. NSU's Kyle O'Quinn is the likely Player of the Year but he and his teammates have a little work to do if they're to win the regular season crown.
The most important games on Monday take place in the Big South as seeds seven through ten meet in the first round of the Big South tournament. Radford, who has had a tough season due to the lack of success on the court along with NCAA sanctions being handed down, visits a VMI team that swept the regular season series but by a total of just nine points. The second meeting, a 65-60 VMI win at Radford, featured 42 combined turnovers with the Highlanders squandering a 52.6% first half with 16 turnovers. If Radford can slow down Stan Okoye they'll have a shot, and RU's Javonte Green put up 23 and 11 in that meeting.
The other first round game matches Gardner-Webb and High Point, who split their season series with the home team winning each meeting by four points. Scott Cherry's Panthers won 81-77 in overtime on February 4th, shooting an impressive 15-for-28 from beyond the arc to make up from their 32% shooting from inside of it. Nick Barbour was on fire in that contest as he scored 34 points, making seven of ten shots from three-point range. It's pretty clear who the Bulldogs are going to focus on slowing down Monday night. Tashan Newsome is the lone Bulldog averaging double figures (12.0 ppg) but four Gardner-Webb players finished in double figures in the February meeting.
Top 25 Games
9:00 PM (5) Kansas at Oklahoma State (ESPN)
7:00 PM (18) Notre Dame at (8) Georgetown (ESPN)
9:00 PM Texas Tech at (14) Baylor (ESPNU)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Mississippi Valley State at Jackson State (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Radford at VMI
7:30 PM Norfolk State at Florida A&M
7:30 PM Hampton at Bethune-Cookman
7:30 PM Morgan State at Delaware State
7:30 PM Gardner-Webb at High Point
7:30 PM Coppin State at Maryland-Eastern Shore
7:30 PM North Carolina Central at South Carolina State
8:00 PM Texas-Pan American at North Dakota (FCS)
8:00 PM North Carolina A&T at Savannah State
8:30 PM Alabama State at Prairie View A&M
9:00 PM Northern Arizona at Montana State
9:00 PM Longwood at Gonzaga (ROOT)
9:00 PM Alabama A&M at Texas Southern
9:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Grambling State