- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Georgetown men’s basketball will look to avenge its overtime loss to Xavier earlier this month when it hosts the No. 4 team in the country Wednesday at Capital One Arena.

A Hoya victory could deal a blow to Xavier’s bid for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers are poised to join No. 3 Villanova in earning two of the national tourney’s top seeds, a sign that Big East basketball is returning to national prominence.

Xavier (24-4, 12-3) doesn’t get as much attention as traditional basketball powers like Villanova, Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. But all winter, bracket predictors like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi have reserved one of the No. 1 lines for the Jesuit university in Cincinnati.

The Musketeers have no bad losses on their resume — just a sweep by Villanova, a close loss at Providence and a loss to Arizona State in November when the Sun Devils started the season red hot. They’ve swept Butler, Creighton and Seton Hall, the Big East’s other tournament contenders. In December they beat cross-city rival Cincinnati, which was recently ranked fifth in the nation, by 13 points.

Xavier senior shooting guard Trevon Bluiett averages 19.8 points per game and shoots 44.5 percent from 3-point range, and sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin is second in the Big East with 5.2 assists per game.

How often do two teams from the same conference both garner top seeds? It’s only happened once this decade, when Virginia and North Carolina of the ACC both earned No. 1s in 2016. Before that, you’d have to look back at 2009, when not two but three Big East teams ran the basketball world — Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. The top of the conference was so dominant that year that Villanova, as a three seed, joined Connecticut in making the Final Four (where both lost).

After Villanova beat Xavier 95-79 Saturday, they remained No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in the new edition of the Associated Press poll. Wednesday’s game in Washington will be the first Xavier plays since that loss.

Conversely, it’s the first game Georgetown (15-10, 5-9 Big East) will play in the eight days since upsetting Butler 87-83.

It has been a rebuilding year for the Hoyas under first-year coach Patrick Ewing, but the Blue and Gray have fared reasonably well in February after a rough start to league play. In reverse order, they beat Butler and Seton Hall, lost to Providence by just four and nearly handed the Musketeers their first home loss of the season on Feb. 3.

Georgetown trailed by just two in the first half and stayed neck and neck with Xavier through regulation. Center Jessie Govan scored 23 points to lead the Hoyas, Jamorko Pickett added 21 and Marcus Derrickson and Jahvon Blair had 19 apiece.

But Bluiett converted a four-point play to tie the game late and eventually force overtime. Xavier outscored Georgetown 10-5 in the extra period to win 96-91. Bluiett dropped 31 points that night, a season high for him at the time, but the Hoyas showed they can hang with the top teams in the Big East.

In the rematch, expect the game to be won in the paint. Xavier and Georgetown are the Big East’s two best rebounding teams: The Musketeers average a +6.7 rebounding margin this year, while the Hoyas come in close behind with a +5.6. And Xavier will have to have a better gameplan to stop Govan down low. He posted 17 of his 23 points and six rebounds in the first half of the teams’ previous matchup.

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