- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

BOISE, Idaho Tonight's first-round NCAA tournament matchup between Georgetown and Arkansas should be subtitled "Titans and Turnovers."

The 10th-seeded Hoyas (23-7) can't take advantage of their immense size advantage unless their backcourt can handle the Razorbacks' famed "40 Minutes of Hell" pressure.

"The key to the game for us is turnovers, no question," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said yesterday. "Our ability to handle the ball will probably decide the game. If we can get a shot off almost every time down, then I feel confident that we can win, because there aren't too many teams who can keep us off the boards. If we can get a shot, then I think we can get another shot if we miss. The teams who have gotten shots at the basket, instead of turnovers, have done pretty well against them."

The numbers generated by the Arkansas defense are staggering. In 30 games, coach Nolan Richardson's patented 94 feet of fury forced teams into 643 turnovers, the most by any Division I team. And the Razorbacks' record can be directly related to exactly how much chaos they create. Arkansas is 16-2 when it forces more that 17 turnovers and just 4-8 when teams avoid the bobble bug.

"Everybody knows our entire game plan is predicated on pressure," Richardson said. "If you're sloppy with the ball, we'll shred you. It's that simple."

That's not good news for a Georgetown team with just two dependable ball-handlers and a nasty habit of booting the ball about.

Against Big East teams, none of which can match Arkansas' level of defensive intensity, Georgetown averaged 16.8 turnovers, a total which puts them on the brink of the Razorbacks' magic number. And against the only three teams who pressured them extensively (Syracuse, Providence and St. John's), the Hoyas averaged 20.8 turnovers and finished 1-3.

Much of the Hoyas' turnover troubles can be traced directly to a lack of backcourt depth. Georgetown has just two primary ball-handlers in junior point man Kevin Braswell and sophomore shooting guard Demetrius Hunter. Neither has ever played in an NCAA tournament game, and neither is completely healthy.

"What concerns me as much as anything probably is the health of those two guys," Esherick said. "Kevin has been bothered by a [strained] finger on his shooting hand. And Demetrius hasn't had more than a handful of full practices since early February. First, he had the Achilles [tendon] problem, and in the last couple of weeks he's been nursing a turf toe. I thought he looked a little bit rusty against Seton Hall in the Big East tournament."

The whole team looked downright rusted last week against Seton Hall in the Big East tournament opener, shooting just 29 percent from the field during an embarrassing 58-40 loss to the unranked, underachieving Pirates.

But senior forward Lee Scruggs claims the Hoyas have no psychological scars left from the loss.

"That game's ancient history," Scruggs said. "That wasn't us, but it's a whole new season now."

Scruggs could be the Hoyas' secret weapon against the Arkansas press. Unlike starting center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje, a plodding player with no handle, the 7-foot Scruggs should flourish in a free-flowing game.

"We watched a lot of tapes [of Arkansas], and Kentucky did a great job against their press using [6-9 forward] Tayshaun Prince to bring the ball up against their bigger guys and trigger the offense. We practiced that a lot this week with me in that role, and we're ready."

And hungry. If Georgetown has an edge other than size, it could be the emotional steam the NCAA selection committee gave the Hoyas when it slighted them with a No. 10 seed.


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