Georgetown wrapped up their non-conference schedule Thursday with a 70-59 win over the Memphis Tigers at the Verizon Center. Unlike the first meeting between the two sides this year at the Maui Invitational (won 91-88 by the Hoyas in overtime), Thursday night's game was a defense-first affair. Both teams shot 43.1% from the field (22-for-51) and cracked double-digits in turnovers (18 for Memphis and 15 for Georgetown, who committed just nine turnovers in 45 minutes of basketball in Maui). Most of Georgetown's miscues came during an 13-2 Memphis run that cut a 56-36 Hoya lead down to 58-49. Ultimately, Memphis never got closer than seven as Georgetown made enough of their foul shots to close the game out.
Georgetown, now 10-1, doesn't exactly ease into Big East conference play, as they'll open against No. 4 Louisville Wednesday evening. It's tempting to draw comparisons between this year and last year, when the Hoyas started 11-1 before struggling to 10-8 in conference play -- not to mention going one-and-done in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. But how well do those comparisons stand up?
For one thing, Georgetown has played a less challenging non-conference schedule this year than they did last year. This is looking very far down the line, but the NCAA Selection Committee will likely take a good long look at the fact that Georgetown (albeit through no fault of their own) played a Memphis team on the downswing twice, and struggled for a half with local rivals American and Howard. The strength of Georgetown's one loss even took a hit this week after Kansas lost to Davidson on a "neutral" floor in Kansas City.
Having said that, there was a lot to like about Georgetown's non-conference performances. Against Memphis, four of the five starters finished in double figures, led by Jason Clark with 18. Henry Sims, who I praised for his play in Maui, had an off night from the floor, but still managed 12 points on 3-for-12 shooting to go with nine rebounds. As has been a habit under John Thompson III, the Hoyas won the rebounding battle, 38-29.
What I liked the most about Georgetown's offensive play was their patience in the first half, and their willingness to keep going inside when the game tightened up late in the second half. The first attribute helped Clark, Hollis Thompson, and Markel Starks get open looks as Georgetown built their lead. The second attribute helped the Hoyas take 22 free throws in the second half (Georgetown finished the game 21-for-30 from the line, while Memphis only went 12-for-17).
Another factor in Georgetown's favor entering conference play is that the players seem to know their roles without deferring too much to one player. Last year, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright were the two big dogs (no pun intended) in Georgetown's offense. However, whenever one or the other (or even both) was off, matters deteriorated quickly. The two combined to go 11-for-30 from the field in Georgetown's loss to Connecticut. Freeman went 5-for-13 in a home loss to Pitt. Wright went 3-for-13 and 1-for-9 in losses to West Virginia and Georgetown, while the two combined to go 5-for-19 in a road loss to St. John's.
So far, this year, however, Clark has been joined by a rotating cast of supplementary scorers who are able to step up when needed. Sometimes, the second man in is Sims, sometimes it's Starks. Hollis Thompson hit the game-winning three-pointer against Alabama earlier this year. Even Otto Porter came off the bench to score 17 against, admittedly, Chaminade.
The Hoyas have cracked the top 50 in the nation in scoring, averaging 76.9 points per game in their first 11. They can defend and rebound, too. They're in the top 30 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 57.6 points per game. No team has cracked the 70-point mark against Georgetown since the first Memphis game, and the only other team to crack the 65-point mark was Kansas in their 67-63 win.
If the Hoyas keep to the benchmarks they've set during non-conference play, then they're fine position to surprise the coaches and media who picked them tenth in the preseason poll. However, if they don't stay healthy, or if Sims has trouble against his fellow Big East bigs, a repeat of last season's disappointment is in store.