Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:38PM

#15/23 Georgetown Hoyas 64, Texas Longhorns 41

Rick Barnes and the Texas Longhorns knew they needed to control the basketball against an athletic, talented Georgetown team at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “We talked over and over about turning the ball over,” Barnes told reporters after the game.

Those talks didn’t seem to have much effect, however, as Julien Lewis coughed it up on the very first possession. It was the third straight game in which Texas turned it over on their first trip down the court, and it was one of six miscues the Longhorns would log in the first four minutes of the game.

The Georgetown defense flustered Texas all game
(Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

That disastrous opening to the game set the tone for the entire night, as Texas turned it over 22 times, wasting 32% of their possessions. It marked the third time this season the Longhorns posted a turnover percentage of 32% or more, and it raised their season mark to 28.3%, seventh worst out of 347 Division I teams.

The problems started at the top, with point guard Javan Felix having one of the worst games of his young career. The freshman turned it over five times while logging just three assists, and he was a hideous 1-of-9 from the field. Although Felix was able to drive the lane against the Georgetown defense, he missed numerous shots, had others blocked, and had no touch on his preferred weapon of choice, the floater.

The poor shooting was a team-wide epidemic, with the Longhorns making just 29.2% of their shots on the night. Although Georgetown made Texas work for their looks, there were far too many missed opportunities when the Horns did manage to get the ball to the rim. Texas missed 13 shots that were classified as layups on the play-by-play, while Cameron Ridley actually came up short on an embarrassing dunk attempt.

It’s certainly worth noting that Georgetown has length up and down the lineup to a degree that Texas had not yet faced. The Hoyas started four players at least 6’8″ tall, although big man Mikael Hopkins only ended up playing nine minutes on the night.

While that kind of height and length can make it incredibly difficult to score inside or to get off good outside looks against quick closeouts, the Longhorns will soon face many more teams with similar makeups. North Carolina, Baylor, and Kansas all have rosters loaded with athleticism and length, and the Longhorns will face the latter two teams twice each. If Texas can’t figure out a way to make their opportunities count when they get to the rim, the rest of the season is going to be a long, painful journey.

What makes the team’s woes in the paint even more worrisome is that the Longhorns are also not taking advantage at the free-throw line. Ridley made just three of his nine attempts at the charity stripe, dragging the team’s percentage down to 52.4% for the game. It was certainly productive and a sign of progress that the big man earned so many touches in the paint against Georgetown, but he can easily be rendered useless when opponents can simply hack him to prevent scoring. With his season free-throw mark now under 40%, there’s no reason why any opponent should ever give Ridley an easy layup or dunk.

This game also underscored the problems this team will face if Sheldon McClellan is going to be the only player able to create his own looks. Felix is shooting just 34% on the season, including a horrendous 7.7% mark behind the arc. Defenses don’t have to respect his shot and can easily sag off to take away his driving threat. Julien Lewis has proven to be a catch-and-shoot guy, so he’s not one that can be counted on to penetrate and force the defense to react.

Texas is still trying to answer the same old questions
(Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

At this point, all the eggs are in the Kabongo basket, as the team waits to learn the fate of their sophomore point guard. Although he struggled at times to capitalize on his drives as a freshman, even the mere possibility that he has improved in that regard is better than the options on the table with the current roster.

Texas is also anxiously awaiting the return of Jaylen Bond, a forward who plays much bigger and tougher than his size. The Hoyas repeatedly beat Texas to 50-50 balls in last night’s game, and even ripped a rebound right out of the arms of Jonathan Holmes. If the Longhorns are going to be a poor-shooting team this season, they simply have to show some toughness on the boards. Being held to 28.9% on the offensive glass isn’t going to cut it against the upcoming schedule, so Bond’s return cannot come a minute too soon.

Texas has to bounce back quickly, as a showdown with UCLA awaits on Saturday in Houston. Although the Bruins are under-performing to a shocking degree this season, the Longhorns will still face an uphill battle to earn the win. If they continue to repeat the same mistakes and show the same lack of focus that they have displayed during the first four weeks of the season, this could be the start of a very long December.

Up next: vs. UCLA (5-3), in Houston; Saturday, 4:15 P.M. CT

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:44AM

Texas Longhorns (5-2) vs. #15/23 Georgetown Hoyas (5-1)
Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #228

Since suffering a shameful loss at the hands of Division II Chaminade on the island of Maui, the Longhorn defense has been downright stingy. After the Silverswords lit up the Texas D for 1.11 points per possession, the team has allowed just .740 points per possession in its last four games, and hasn’t allowed a single opponent to score more than .853 per trip. With their D-II loss not factoring into team statistics, the Longhorns now have the third-most efficient defense in the country, and have the best defensive mark in effective field goal percentage.

While the numbers are dominant, they haven’t come against a gauntlet of juggernauts. Mississippi State, Sam Houston State, and UT-Arlington are all averaging less than .9 points per possession on the season, with Southern Cal’s .95 not much better. Tonight’s game against a very talented and versatile Georgetown team will be the first true test for the Longhorn defense, and is only the beginning of a daunting stretch. Texas faces UCLA, North Carolina, and Michigan State in the next three weeks.

By the numbers

The Hoyas are known for their Princeton sets under Coach John Thompson III, and that patient offensive philosophy leads to some low-possession, low-scoring affairs. Georgetown has an adjusted pace of just 63.5 possessions per game so far this year, a tempo that puts them among the 40 slowest teams in D-I. On Friday night, Georgetown and Tennessee combined a 54-possession game with some terrible shooting to provide a glaucoma-inducing 37-36 final.

Georgetown’s length has frustrated opponents all season
(Photo credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)

While the Hoyas mix in some traps and use a quick, active 2-3 zone to pressure opponents, they don’t typically force a ton of turnovers. Georgetown opponents have only given it up on 20.1% of their possessions, just a bit below the national median of 21.1%. Despite not forcing mistakes, the Hoyas still have a solid defense that is ranked 20th nationally in efficiency. As Texas fans know all too well, these young Longhorns have had far too many careless turnovers this season. Against a defense that is already oppressive even without the aid of turnovers, the Horns cannot afford to frequently waste their possessions with lazy or inaccurate passes.

Although Georgetown starts four players that are 6’8″ or taller, their offense does a poor job at extending possessions with rebounds. With their offensive sets often stretching the D across the floor, the Hoyas aren’t usually in position to crash the boards. As a result they have only won 23.3% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, ranking them just 333rd out of 347 D-I teams.

On the other end of the court, Georgetown is dominant on the glass. Opponents reclaim just 26.8% of their missed shots, a stat that is even more impressive when you consider how often the Hoyas use a 2-3 zone on defense. Without any specific box-out assignments in the zone, those kind of defensive rebounding numbers are very difficult to achieve.

Meet the Hoyas

Georgetown uses a balanced attack on the offensive end, as four of their starters average more than 10 points per game. The starting five features four players who are 6’8″ or taller, and all four of them are athletic, versatile players who can switch easily on defense and play a variety of roles in the smooth-flowing offense.

The one starter who doesn’t eclipse that 6’8″ mark is junior guard Markel Starks (No. 5), who checks in at 6’2″. While Starks can go quiet for long stretches, he heats up in a hurry and can score from anywhere on the court. He’s hit more than 44% of his three-point attempts this season, but will also put the ball on the floor to blow by defenses when they close out hard on the perimeter. In two games at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, Starks lit up for 43 points against UCLA and Indiana, hitting 4-of-7 from beyond the arc against the Hoosiers.

Even though Starks typically brings the ball up the floor, big man Greg Whittington (No. 2) can also handle the basketball. He’s surprisingly deft with the ball for a 6’8″ guy and can play any position from one through four. Whittington has a nice midrange game and can quickly knock down a shot with very little space, but he can also beat defenders off the bounce when they are overzealous with the ball pressure. The sophomore is also doing a beastly job on the glass, averaging nearly nine boards per game. Even when he’s out of position, it seems that Whittington seems to glide through traffic to snatch rebounds out of the air.

Thanks to the length throughout the Georgetown lineup, Whittington also often gets the chance to take advantage of his size on the offensive end, as many teams have to use smaller shooting guards to defend him. On the very first possession of the Indiana game, Whittington drove the ball against 6-footer Jordan Hulls, forcing immediate help defense and rotations from the Hoosiers. With opposing bigs unable to keep up and opposing guards too small to shut him down, Whittington is averaging a team-leading 12.7 points per game.

Otto Porter is expected to have a big season for the Hoyas
(Photo credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)

The biggest star on the roster is sophomore Otto Porter, Jr. (No. 22), who is primed for a breakout season. After starting nine games in his freshman campaign, Porter was named to the Big East preseason first-team this year. He has a great jumper that’s accurate even out to three-point range, and he is an impressive passer for a big man. With an offense predicated on backcuts, post-ups, and flares, that ability to quickly and accurately find a teammate is paramount. Porter is actually second on the team with 14 dimes, giving him an excellent assist rate of more than 22% early in the season.

The team leader in assists is 6’8″ Nate Lubick (No. 34), who has 16 so far this year. While Lubick has always been a great passer out of the high post, the Hoyas are looking for some more confidence this year when it comes to his shooting. The junior has filled that role so far, often popping it from the elbow when defenses sag off of him to take away the passing angles. Although those midrange jumpers aren’t falling consistently yet, his looks from the blocks have kept his shooting percentage at a nice 57.1% mark.

The tallest member of the starting five is 6’9″ sophomore Mikael Hopkins (No. 3). Hopkins is yet another versatile player for Coach Thompson, as he can knock it down all the way out to the perimeter. Although he’s 0-for-1 from three-point range this season, he did sink an early bucket against Indiana with his feet on the arc. That shooting threat coupled with above-average handles also give Hopkins the ability to take opposing bigs in face-up situations from the mid-range.

Even though he can shoot it and put the ball on the deck, the main role for Hopkins is that of the go-to post player. He has so many good post moves in his repertoire, but so far this season, he has been struggling to hit the great looks he earns. If and when the sophomore can start consistently making his shots from within a few feet of the rim, he is going to be a big-time scorer for the Hoyas.

With such a solid starting five, Georgetown really only relies on two key bench contributors, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (No. 4) and Jabril Trawick (No. 55). Smith-Rivera is an exciting freshman guard who is a very stout 6’3″ that can finish through contact inside. He’s also an outside shooting threat, as evidenced by his collegiate debut against Duquesne, where he knocked down all four of his three-point tries.

At 6’5″, Trawick allows Coach Thompson to still retain a size advantage against most standard lineups. Like his teammates, Trawick is a good shooter that can hit from anywhere, and his burst with the ball makes him a constant threat to get to the rack. In that ugly win over Tennessee, Trawick’s brief scoring surge in the second half was one of the lone bright spots for the Hoya offense.

Stephen Domingo (No. 31) also has made an appearance in every game so far, but only averages a few minutes per contest. The freshman arrived at Georgetown ahead of schedule after finishing his high school requirements early and skipping his senior year. He was a Top 100 recruit in the Class of 2013 before reclassifying, and impressed as a starter on the USA’s U17 team at the World Championships in Lithuania.

Keys to the game

1) Communicate on defense – No matter how the Longhorns choose to tackle this Georgetown offense, good communication and quick help will be key. The Hoya offense has looked stagnant against zone defenses this year, often just swinging the ball around the perimeter instead of getting it into the high post. Although the offense has come a long way since facing Florida’s zone in The Game That Never Was on the USS Bataan, but the Hoyas still look much better against the man.

The Longhorns certainly have the length available to match up with the Hoyas in a man-to-man look, but that would mean giving more minutes to the likes of Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, while taking their best shooter off the floor in Julien Lewis. While it’s highly unlikely that those two bigs could keep up with the likes of Porter and Whittington, it’s even more unlikely that Cameron Ridley could handle extended minutes playing against a player who can stretch the floor like Hopkins.

Rick Barnes has favored the zone so far this year, and it looks like that’s the best approach against this Hoya lineup. That means that Texas will have to communicate as they pass the cutters off and that the Horns will need to find somebody to box out in defensive rebounding situations.

2) Value the basketball – As previously mentioned, the Hoya defense does a very good job at shutting down opponents without the benefit of turnovers. Unfortunately, the Longhorns have helped out their opponents by turning it over very frequently, and oftentimes without much pressure from the defense. Texas has to avoid those types of careless mistakes tonight in a low-possession game against a defense that doesn’t need any help. The Horns must squeeze every point they can out of their possessions, and throwing bad passes to some New Yorker on the front row will quickly sink their chances of an upset.

3) Move the ball – The Texas offense has looked rejuvenated over the last few games, with good motion off the ball and great passing to find the open man. With Javan Felix not having to dribble the air out of the ball while teammates stand around, the Longhorn offense hasn’t wasted time or possessions, and shooting percentages have skyrocketed.

This Hoya defense is going to make the Longhorns knock down shots, so they will have to use that same approach to get open looks and make them count. When you also consider that the Longhorns have scored nearly 24% of their points from the line this season, while the Hoyas are one of the best in the country at not sending opponents to the charity stripe, it’s clear that Texas will have to score from the floor. Good ball movement can make that happen, while stagnant, clock-burning possessions will only result in challenged jumpers and desperation heaves.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:34AM

#15 Kansas Jayhawks 87, #3 Oklahoma Sooners 78 – With Blake Griffin out of the game as a precaution following his Saturday-night concussion, Kansas was hoping to exploit their advantage inside by pounding it to Cole Aldrich. While the big man certainly made a difference for the Jayhawks with his 15-point, 20-rebound performance, it was the three point shooters who stole the show late in the game. The two teams combined to shoot 20-of-43 from behind the arc (46.5%), with Sherron Collins and Willie Warren trading bombs from long range. Collins finished the night with 26 points, while Warren had 23 in the losing effort.

With the win, Kansas grabbed sole possession of first place heading into their Sunday showdown with Border War rival Missouri. The Tigers are one and a half games behind the Jayhawks in the standings, but won the first meeting between the two teams back on February 2nd.

#6 Louisville Cardinals, Georgetown Hoyas 76 58 – The Cardinals converted their first seven three-point attempts against Georgetown on Monday night and never looked back, cruising to an 18-point win at the Verizon Center. Terrence Williams had a ridiculous stat line for Coach Pitino, nearly earning a triple-double with his ten points, twelve rebounds, and seven assists. On the other side of the court, DeJuan Summers was nearly non-existent for the Hoyas in the defeat, scoring only four points in his thirty minutes of play. The loss was the ninth in the last eleven games for Georgetown.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:22PM

National Broadcasts (All times Eastern)

West Virginia Mountaineers (13-4, 3-2 Big East) at #12 Georgetown Hoyas (12-4, 2-2) | 7 PM, ESPN
The Hoyas are looking to start piling up wins in conference play now that the toughest stretch is behind them. Despite the league placing eight teams in the top twenty-five, the next six games for Georgetown include only one ranked opponent. The Mountaineers, unfortunately, have no such luck. After traveling to face Georgetown tonight, they will take on Pitt and Louisville before the end of January. For two teams stuck in the middle of a packed conference, this could very well be a turning point.

#18 Purdue Boilermakers (14-4, 3-2 Big 10) at #21 Minnesota Golden Gophers (16-2, 4-2) | 7 PM, ESPN2
Michigan State’s home loss to Northwestern has cracked the door open in the Big 10, and these two teams are the ones best positioned to take advantage. Sure, the Golden Gophers had their own loss to the Wildcats on Sunday, but they have the privilege of only playing the Boilermakers once — and having home court in tonight’s match-up. The Spartans, who now lead the conference by only one game, still have two-games on tap with Purdue. If Minnesota can hold home court tonight, they could reap the rewards as the other contenders knock each other off.

St. Louis Billikens (11-6, 2-1 Atlantic 10) at Temple Owls (9-7, 1-1) | 8 PM, CBS College Sports
If you’re fortunate enough to get this channel, you might be disappointed that the A-10 game on the air tonight isn’t Dayton’s visit to Foggy Bottom. But if you happen to tune into this contest between two of the conference middle-tier squads, you’ll be treated to the play of star Dionte Christmas, who is leading the way with 21 points and six boards.

St. Mary’s Gaels (17-1, 4-0 WCC) at San Diego Toreros (12-7, 4-0) | 9 PM, ESPN2
The WCC has quietly built itself into a power conference at the top, with Gonzaga still statistically ranked as one of the best teams in the land. But it’s the emergence of St. Mary’s and San Diego that have made the league stronger. San Diego crashed the NCAAs last year with a win in the conference tournament before shocking the country with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Meanwhile, the Gaels have earned all sorts of pub with their Australian pipeline, which has brought previously unheralded players such as Patty Mills and made them stars in the states. While this may seem like an unimportant game to the casual viewer, it’s actually a must-win if either team hopes to challenge the Zags this year.

#13 UCLA Bruins (14-3, 4-1 Pac-10) at Washington State Cougars (11-6, 3-2) | 9 PM, FSN
After stumbling early in the season against Michigan and Texas, the Bruins have quietly plugged along, having won ten straight games prior to Saturday’s overtime loss to Arizona State. The loss dropped the Bruins into a three-way tie for the league lead with Cal and Washington, who they will face this weekend. Ben Howland’s team can’t afford to look ahead to that match-up, though, as guard Taylor Rochestie lit up Oregon this weekend to the tune of 30 points. And the Cougars will certainly be fired up in front of the home crowd, as they hope to exorcise the demons of an eight-game losing streak to the Bruins.

USC Trojans (12-5, 3-2 Pac-10) at Washington Huskies (13-4, 4-1) | 11 PM, FSN
Coach Tim Floyd has brought a frustrating brand of defense to Los Angeles, which has turned the Trojans from a conference also-ran to a contender in just a few seasons. Never was that defensive transformation more apparent than Thursday night, when USC absolutely shut down Arizona State’s National Player of the Year candidate James Harden. The super soph, who has averaged 22 points per contest, was stifled by the Trojans, going 0-for-8 from the field and finishing with only four points from the line. USC will have to spread out that solid defense tonight, though, as the Huskies run a balanced attack with four players averaging double-digits in scoring.

ESPN Full Court

Not a lot to choose from on the pay package tonight, but if you want to be the guy who predicts the 14-seed upsets come March, you might get some added intel from this set of games.

Vermont Catamounts at Hartford Hawks | 7:30 PM, ESPNFC1

UW-Milwaukee Panthers at Valparaiso Crusaders | 8 PM, ESPNFC2

New Mexico State Aggies at Boise State Broncos | 9 PM, ESPNFC4