This is the game fans on the Hilltop wanted, Georgetown versus Virginia Commonwealth. Sure, they would have preferred the opportunity to avenge the 2011 NCAA Tournament loss to the Rams without suffering Thursday's stunning opening round loss to Northeastern. However, after recovering with a 27-point rout over Kansas State on Friday followed by an off day, all Hoya nation can do is embrace the path. Shaka Smart and his No. 10 ranked Rams are on deck, providing the Hoyas a chance to salvage their trip.
Georgetown (2-2) and No. 10 VCU (4-1) meet at 2 p.m. (ESPNU) on Sunday in the fifth place game. The matchups comes less than three years after the Rams shot and ran past the Hoyas 74-56 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It comes after VCU rallied to defeat Long Beach State 73-67 on Friday one day after getting routed 85-67 by Florida State.
Other than both head coaches, including Georgetown's John Thompson III, most of the players have changed. For the Hoyas, the primary challenge remains the same in addition to other keys specific to this season's matchup:
1) Handle "Havoc" - By now everyone is familiar with the Rams defensive trapping schemes, which gained a national audience during their run to the 2011 Final Four. With guard Briante Weber heading up the 1-2-1-1 zone press, VCU has trapped and forced opponents into committing at least 20 turnovers in four of five games.
Those turnovers generate offense for the Rams, who are led in scoring by swingman Treveon Graham (15.0 ppg), forward Juvonte Reddic and guard Rob Brandenburg. Otherwise they struggle to generate consistent offense; against FSU they shot 29 percent from the field.
The pressure also helps the Rams speed up their opponents, leading to mistakes beyond those classified as turnovers. Long Beach, which led 50-42 with over 14 minutes remaining, only committed 10 turnovers. However, VCU's up-tempo style led to several forced shots by Long Beach State during a stretch where the Rams scored 13 consecutive points in less than five minutes to take control from.
Georgetown, which is committing 12 turnovers per game this season, had 17 in the prior meeting with VCU. Let's not forget that point guard Chris Wright only just returned from a hand injury that game. The Hoyas faithful surely want to forget that the backcourt trio of Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason went 0 for 16 from beyond the 3-point arc.
The current guard trio of Markel Starks (14.8 ppg, 4.5 apg), Jabril Trawick and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (17.3 ppg) will need to be at their composed best on Sunday. That goes for all the Hoyas, who collectively had issues early against Oregon's pressure in the season opener. Let VCU spurt into the lead and Georgetown might not have the offense to recover
2) To Smith or not to Smith: Joshua Smith's deft passing and wide body can help Georgetown's guards navigate VCU's pressure defense. Find the 6-foot-10, 350-pound center in post-up situations and expect baskets or fouls against the Rams smaller frontcourt; Smith had 13 points on 6 of 7 shooting against Kansas State on Friday. However keeping him on the court has been an issue; since playing 27 minutes versus Oregon in the season opener, his have declined each game including 15 against Kansas State. If the Rams are able to speed up the tempo, coach John Thompson III might have no choice but to take Smith out rather than have the big man chase and chase.
3) Free throws - The Hoyas gave away points from the foul line in losses to Oregon and Northeastern. It won't be enough if the referees whistle VCU for fouls if Georgetown doesn't make the subsequent shots. Against Kansas State, the Hoyas made 18 of 22 free throws. In the other three games, the team shot 64 percent from the line.