Wednesday Preview: #12 Georgetown at #4 Louisville

December 27th, 2011
There are three games on Wednesday matching ranked teams, but in terms of a conference title race the matchup between #12 Georgetown (10-1) and #4 Louisville (12-0) may have the greatest impact at the end of the regular season. John Thompson III's Hoyas have matured at a rapid rate but this will be their toughest test to date, and the same goes for the Cardinals (until they face Kentucky on Saturday). One reason to watch is the individual battle between two of the Big East's best centers, and their responsibilities are drastically different due to the systems both play in.

Georgetown senior Henry Sims (12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.7 apg) is called upon to be a facilitator of sorts in the Hoya offensive system, and he's done a very good job of it thus far. An afterthought (to put it kindly) his first three seasons in the nation's capital, a very good case can be made for Sims being the Big East's most improved player. But the same can be said for Louisville sophomore Gorgui Dieng (10.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.9 bpg), whose primary responsibilities are to defend and rebound and he's done a very good job of that. While these two have far different roles there's no underestimating the importance of either as both teams look to win a Big East title.

While Louisville may be able to shuttle in more "true" big men the two teams enter Wednesday's game with identical rebounding margins of plus-6.9. Rick Pitino can call on freshman Chane Behanan (8.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Josh Swopshire (5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Rakeem Buckles (5.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) for interior play, with Buckles' return resulting in fewer minutes for Swopshire of late. Georgetown on the other hand attacks the glass by committee, with four players averaging at least five rebounds per game. Junior wing Hollis Thompson (14.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is a versatile player who's shooting 54% from the field and 48% from three in addition to leading the Hoyas in rebounding.

Starter Nate Lubick (4.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is also the team's second-leading assist man (Sims) and freshman reserve Otto Porter (8.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is Georgetown's second-leading rebounder. The key for Georgetown will be two-fold: keep Louisville off the offensive glass (the Cardinals corral 40.1% of their misses) and account for Kyle Kuric at the foul line should they decide to go zone. Kuric (13.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg) was the spark Louisville needed in their win over College of Charleston, as the strategic move of the versatile senior to the four took advantage of the "sweet spot" all teams want to get the ball to when dealing with a 2-3 zone.

The two teams are only two possessions per game apart with regards to their season averages, but what happens within those possessions will determine the outcome at the KFC Yum! Center. Jason Clark (15.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Markel Starks (9.7 ppg, 1.6 apg) have to control things for the Hoyas in the face of an intense Louisville defense. Peyton Siva (9.0 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Chris Smith (10.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.9 apg) are both very good athletes who can make plays in the passing lanes (as can Kuric), and in redshirt freshman Russ Smith (10.5 ppg, 2.5 spg, 1.9 apg) the Cardinals have one of the top reserve guards in the Big East.

His decision-making can alternate between electrifying and infuriating as if flipping a coin, but Smith's aggressive nature can pay dividends when Louisville needs him the most (see: College of Charleston). Louisville forces an average of 17.5 turnovers per game while Georgetown only turns it over 11.8 times on the average. With the Cardinals essentially breaking even in assist-to-turnover ratio and both teams forcing opponents to hand the ball over at least 23% of the time (Georgetown: 23.3%, Louisville: 25.5%), turnovers and the points scored off of them will be something to keep an eye on.

Also in the Big East, top-ranked Syracuse hosts one of the season's pleasant surprises in Seton Hall. Seniors Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope (who's 100% after never being his full self last season) have done an excellent job of leading Kevin Willard's team on the floor and in the locker room, and in sophomore Fuquan Edwin the Pirates also boast the nation's best thief (3.25 spg). Syracuse should be more than ready for this one as Seton Hall stunned the Orange in the Carrier Dome last season. And Villanova visits West Virginia in a game that could be a separator in regards to the last NCAA Tournament bids for the Big East, but the Mountaineers (led by forward Kevin Jones) look to be a much safer bet for the Field of 68 at this point in the season.

There's also a marquee non-conference matchup on the slate with #14 Mississippi State taking on #7 Baylor in Dallas. For the Bulldogs to be able to truly compete inside against Scott Drew's front court they need Renardo Sidney to show up. Arnett Moultrie has been outstanding for much of the season but to ask him to take on the Bears' deep front line by himself would be a tall task (no pun intended). The Big Ten's got some big match ups as well, with Northwestern visiting Ohio State and Indiana visiting Michigan State. The Wildcats rely on Drew Crawford and John Shurna, but what they're able to do with Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas will determine whether or not they can win in Columbus.

The Hoosiers, arguably the most-improved team in America, are still undefeated but it's going to be tough to beat the Spartans in East Lansing. Tom Izzo's team hasn't lost since that North Carolina/Duke stretch to begin the season, and young guards Keith Appling and Travis Trice seem to become more comfortable running things by the game (inside Adriean Payne has shown signs of maturation as well).

And in the Missouri Valley be sure to catch Missouri State visiting Creighton, with two of the Valley's best players taking center stage. Kyle Weems won the league's Player of the Year award last season as the Bears won the regular season crown, but Doug McDermott has played at an All-America level for the Bluejays. Buffalo taking on Temple and Fairfield visiting Drexel will make for a good night of hoops in Philadelphia, and there's the rematch between New Mexico and New Mexico State (the Aggies won the first meeting this season in Albuquerque) to account for out west.

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Seton Hall at (1) Syracuse (ESPN3)
5:30 PM Northwestern at (2) Ohio State (BTN)
8:30 PM Lamar at (3) Kentucky (ESPNU)
7:00 PM (12) Georgetown at (4) Louisville (ESPN2)
9:00 PM (14) Mississippi State vs. (7) Baylor* (ESPN2)
9:00 PM (9) Connecticut at USF (ESPN3)
7:30 PM (15) Indiana at (17) Michigan State (BTN)
8:00 PM Missouri State at (19) Creighton (ESPN3)
10:00 PM Central Arkansas at (20) UNLV

NCAA Division I Games
3:00 PM North Carolina A&T at Houston
6:00 PM UNC Asheville at Western Carolina
6:30 PM Oklahoma State vs. SMU* (ESPNU)
7:00 PM UAB at George Washington
7:00 PM Buffalo at Temple
7:00 PM Liberty at Richmond
7:00 PM Villanova at West Virginia (ESPN3)
7:00 PM UMBC at Niagara
7:00 PM Monmouth at Lafayette
7:00 PM Loyola (MD) at Bucknell
7:00 PM Quinnipiac at Colgate
7:00 PM Bowling Green at Duquesne
7:00 PM Siena at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM Columbia at Marist
7:00 PM Army at Presbyterian
7:00 PM Wofford at South Carolina (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Morgan State at Saint Joseph's
7:00 PM Lehigh at Saint Peter's
7:00 PM Cornell at Stony Brook
7:00 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at NJIT
7:30 PM Binghamton at Canisius (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Erskine at Charleston Southern
7:30 PM Fairfield at Drexel
8:00 PM Charlotte at Arkansas
8:00 PM Wichita State at Bradley
8:00 PM Albany at Maryland
8:00 PM Southern Utah at South Dakota
8:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at Rice
8:00 PM Oakland at North Dakota State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Samford at Sam Houston State
8:00 PM IPFW at South Dakota State
8:00 PM UC Riverside at UTSA
8:00 PM Cleveland State at Toledo
8:05 PM Oral Roberts at UMKC
8:05 PM Indiana State at Drake
8:30 PM Huston-Tillotson at Texas State
8:30 PM Morehead State at Southeast Missouri State
9:00 PM New Orleans at Colorado
9:00 PM New Mexico at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Portland at Gonzaga (ROOT NW)
9:00 PM Colorado State at UTEP
9:05 PM Eastern Washington at Montana State
9:05 PM Portland State at Montana
9:30 PM Mercer at Tulsa
9:30 PM Purdue at Iowa (BTN)
10:00 PM Cedarville at Nevada
11:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Jacksonville State*