There's not much in-between with this one. A win over Georgetown and we feel very good about this Puerto Rico trip. After all, if it's October and I tell you the Rams are going 2-1 with a win over Georgetown, after a win at Virginia, do you sign up for that? Of course you do. Don't pretend any differently.
However a loss and those dramatic questions begin to creep into conversations. Some of those questions are very fair, and some are ridiculous. It's the nature of the beast. Here's my takeaway: win or lose, this is the neighborhood we're playing in. It's a nice neighborhood, this "ranked team" gated community. Gary Parrish writes nice things when we win, and finds excuses when we lose. It's the narrative that goes along with being nationally relevant. I don't write that with arrogance; it just a fact.
No matter what happens tomorrow, we still have to mow the grass and clean the gutters. They will kick us out of this neighborhood if we're not careful, and won't bat an eyelash. But I'll take this neighborhood, and don't you forget it. Look at it this way: win or lose, I'd rather disappoint people now and rebuild over the course of December, January, and February to hopefully not drop further than an eight seed in the NCAA tournament over hoping we can get a win over Georgetown to use as a statement victory and one of the final at large berths.
That's our neighborhood, and it's a good one–warts and all–so don't lose sight of the big picture.
A quick start matters. Georgetown got out to a 9-0 lead on Northeastern (but lost), and a 10-0 lead on Kansas State. The Hoyas are going to run their stuff and pound the paint. They are a system team, which can be defeated. I think this game is very much about pace. Georgetown has a pair of big men, Josh Smith, especially, that cannot keep pace. However the Rams have to be able to run.
Georgetown has a lot of tweeners: 6-5 to 6-8 players who are interchangeable on the wing and baseline. They are not a great three-point shoting team (30.3% is 243rd nationally), but their two-point field goal percentage (57%) is 27th nationally. That means halfcourt defense is at a premium.
The pace is also important in wearing down the Georgetown guards. Both play a ton of minutes.
DeVaun Smith-Rivera (17.3 ppg) is the main three-point threat (8-19) and has hit 19-21 from the foul line. He had 25 points Friday against Kansas State. He is a sophomore who was on the Big East all freshman team and is the man that runs the show.
His alter ego and the offensive firebomb is Markel Starks (14.8 ppg). Straks has 18 assists and five turnovers on the year and is also agreat foul shooter (15-17). Starks was named preseason first team All Big East this year.
Josh Smith is a UCLA transfer who is huge, as in he can be run out of the gym. At 6-10 and listed at 350 pounds, Smith is a force in halfcourt situations because of his soft hands and large body. Smith has a pile of talent and can take over a game. Amazingly, 12 of his 16 rebounds on the year are offensive rebounds. Smith is 13-26 from the line.
Nate Lubick is a 6-8 senior who does the in-between stuff (five ppg and six rebounds per game). Jabril Trawick is the fifth starter and averages 8.8 ppg and is their best perimeter defender. He had three steals to go along with 16 points in the Kansas State win.
The first guy off the bench is Mikael Hopkins (7.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), a junk yard dog. He is also a 50% free throw shooter (6-12). Hopkins is a long 6-9 who can disrupt the Rams on offense. Aaron Bowen is an active guard and big at 6-5. He's missed all six three-point attempts but has five steals and eight assists
Reggie Cameron gets about 12 minutes per game and is a three-point specialist. Cameron is 5-11 from the field on the year, 4-8 from three. At 6-7 he can get his shot off when he likes.
You know what? This game is about VCU. And here's an admission: I've written those words from time to time in an effort to remain respectful to an overmatched opponent. This is the first time I've written them in a moment of clarity of purpose.
The pace needs to be fast and VCU needs to do VCU things. That will wear out the guards and send Josh Smith to the oxygen tank. This is the ultimate game where a system prevails. If VCU is able to muster the spirit and the connectivity to fully unleash havoc, it will be a fun plane ride home.
A big part of that includes a simplistic notion: run nice offense, and knock down shots. The defense will set up the open court offense, and if we're defending in the halfcourt on one end and knocking down shots on the other end, our new neighbors will be appreciative.
Ken Pomeroy has this game a tossup. I love that.
Either way, no matter what happens, I'd rather be us than them.