- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

Marquette and Georgetown offer the Big East’s ultimate clash of contrasts.

The guard-centric Golden Eagles (21-4, 8-2 Big East) bring the conference’s best backcourt to Verizon Center today. No. 11 Marquette features the slash and flash combo of sophomores Dominic James (15.6 points) and Jerel McNeal (14.6 points). And thanks to the deadly perimeter duo, the Golden Eagles have won eight straight games, including a signature victory at league-leading Pittsburgh.

The 22nd-ranked Hoyas (17-5, 7-2) counter with the conference’s premier frontcourt, reeling off a six-game streak of their own behind the surging junior tandem of 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert (12.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) and 6-9 power forward Jeff Green (12.6 points, 6.0 rebounds). Given that today marks the centennial celebration of Georgetown basketball, it’s equally appropriate that the program that entrenched itself on the national scene as Big Man U. under John Thompson Jr., features one of the nation’s most formidable front lines.

After an inconsistent start to the season, both Hibbert and Green have been superb of late, performing in the manner expected of the pair of preseason All-Big East selections. In fact, Georgetown’s six-game winning streak has been built on two superlatives: ball security and frontcourt dominance.

The Hoyas — ranked eighth in the preseason — were up and down in starting 11-5, largely because of the inconsistency of Hibbert and Green and a turnover-prone offense that was averaging 14.8 turnovers a game and sported an ugly assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.98.

During their winning streak, however, the Hoyas have vastly improved in the turnover department, averaging just 11.3 miscues and boasting a robust assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.31.

And Hibbert and Green have grown more confident and assertive with each passing game. During the streak, the Hoyas’ big men have answered the call to shoulder the team’s scoring onus, both increasing their shots per game and posting career scoring efforts. And most importantly, that increase in initiative and expanded role in John Thompson III’s patient offense hasn’t led to a decrease in efficiency.

In fact, Green’s shooting percentage has improved during the streak, and Hibbert would be leading the NCAA in field goal percentage (71.2) if he had made just one more field goal over the team’s first 22 games to reach the NCAA’s statistical minimum (five makes a game). The pair’s collective opus came in Georgetown’s last game, as they combined to total 36 points and 18 rebounds on 16 of 20 shooting at Louisville.

“Roy, more so than any game this year, was a presence in that game,” Thompson said after Hibbert dominated on both ends against the Cardinals. “He’s always had a good work ethic. Now, what’s slowly but surely going on is that his work is playing off. He’s a lot more assertive.”

What makes today’s matchup particularly intriguing, however, isn’t just the winner’s outright claim to second place in the Big East. And it’s not that both teams are backcourt- or frontcourt-loaded, respectively; it’s that both are unbalanced, to the extreme in Marquette’s case.

Marquette starts the equivalent of four guards, and junior Ousmane Barro — the Golden Eagles’ center — still needs to develop his skills. Behind Barro, there isn’t a single Marquette post player over 6-6 who sees meaningful minutes.

“I think they start four quick guards, and a big man down low, so we’re going to look at them kind of like Villanova last year,” Green said.

The Golden Eagles are 2-3 this season against the top frontcourts they have faced, splitting with Providence, beating Pittsburgh and losing to Wisconsin and Syracuse.

Georgetown has a similarly disparate situation on its perimeter. The Hoyas have only three true guards — junior Jonathan Wallace, sophomore Jessie Sapp and freshman reserve Jeremiah Rivers. And Georgetown already has been stung twice at home this season by guard-oriented teams. Oregon was responsible for one of Georgetown’s ugliest performances to date, dropping the Hoyas 57-50 on Nov. 29. And Villanova’s guard-heavy bunch gave the Hoyas fits with fullcourt pressure a month ago, forcing a season-high 22 turnovers in a 56-52 win.

Even during its current winning streak, Georgetown’s only glaring weaknesses have involved its backcourt. Offensively, both Wallace and Sapp have trouble feeding the low post, routinely struggling or failing to make rudimentary entry passes. Neither are particularly adept dribble-drive defenders, a major concern against the likes of James and McNeal. And as a unit, Georgetown has surrendered 36 3-pointers in its last four games.

“They’re very explosive and quick, both offensively and defensively,” Wallace said of Marquette’s guards. “They play with a lot of intensity, so we have to use our size, our offense and our system of play to try and give us an advantage.”

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