Playing basketball on boats is the newest trend, and Georgetown has decided to be a trendy team this season. The Blue and Gray will open its 2012-13 season against Florida tonight at 9 p.m. (on NBC Sports Network) in the inaugural Navy/Marines Corps Classic, which will be played aboard the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Fla. Vox will be providing live coverage from Jacksonville tonight, so be sure to follow our in-game tweets from our newest Twitter, VoiceSportsGU.
Gator backcourt in upheaval
The Gators reached the Elite Eight last year and were ranked 10th in both the preseason Coaches’ Poll and Associated Press Poll two weeks ago. Although they lost Bradley Beal to the NBA, Florida has one of the best guards in the country in all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton, who averaged 15.9 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game in 2011-12.Yesterday, Head Coach Billy Donovan suspended starting junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, which leaves talented but unproven freshman Braxton Ogbueze to start in the backcourt next to Boynton.
A speedy backcourt like theirs will certainly make their presence felt on the offensive end, but the Gators’ penchant for presses and traps on the defensive side of the ball could spell trouble for an inexperienced Hoya squad. They will need junior point guard Markel Starks in top form to counteract the pressure.
The X Factor
With the conditions predicted to be in low 50s with some slight wind, both teams could find shooting conditions a bit rough. Head Coach John Thompson III doesn’t feel it will be much of a problem considering both teams have to deal with the same elements.
“…They are young, they are used to it,” Thompson said of his players. “Everyone goes and plays in the park. Florida’s guys have to do the same thing. Is it going to be your normal basketball conditions? Obviously not.”
That said, chillier conditions will likely move the scoring inside and Florida’s success could be decided in the post with forwards senior Erik Murphy and junior Patric Young. Both averaged a little over 10 points per game last year although Young was a more effective rebounder, grabbing 6.4 per game last year. The 6-10 forward is a strong, intimidating presence in the middle who Hoya big men like sophomore Mikael Hopkins will have to be ready to body up. Murphy can also make shots from the perimeter, as he was second on the team in three-point percentage last year.
“Obviously, We are very young up front,” junior Nate Lubick admitted. “I don’t think that’s going be a problem. Mikael is going to step into the role. I think he is ready to do that. I think down low I will see more time in the five than I did last year.”
Everyone will certainly look to super-sophomore Otto Porter to put the team on his back, but the key to tonight’s game because of the emphasis on Florida’s interior game will be Lubick. Despite Hopkins’ year in the system, Lubick is the only player with extended experience in the starting lineup and will have to play a veteran presence distributing the ball in Thompson’s offense. The forward cut a significant amount of weight over the summer but still has the ability to defend the likes of Young down low.
“They are big and they are physical,” Lubick said. “Pat Young down low – he’s a big boy and we have to keep him off the boards and keep him out of the paint.”
Thompson himself said these freshmen aren’t as ready as last year’s group. That’s no indictment on them though – this year’s sophomores had a number of extra practices and five games in China to learn and acclimate to Georgetown’s system. Still, Thompson knows he needs significant contributions off the bench from players like D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and sharpshooter Stephen Domingo. Of course, with Florida’s ability in the paint, seven-foot Bradley Hayes might be needed on the defensive end as well. Because it’s the season opener, the team has had a little bit of extra time to sort these matchup problems out.
“Usually, we only have a two to three days to prepare for a team,” Lubick said. “Since it’s our first game and since it’s such a big game, we started stuff with them specifically last week with scouting. That’s something we will be very well prepared for.”
“This year’s group is probably where last year’s group was on the way to China,” Thompson added of the freshmen. “They are going to help. They are gong to be there. We are going to need them to be ready.”
Keaton Hoffman, Managing Editor. 66 – 58 Gators. Florida’s experienced defense will give the Gators the edge overall, holding the young Hoya squad below 60.
Kevin Joseph, Sports Editor: 68-62 Hoyas. Lubick and Starks anchor an inexperienced group and set up strong shooting performances from Greg Whittington and Smith-Rivera. Porter steals the show in crunch time and leads the Hoyas to victory.
Keith Levinsky, Assistant Sports Editor: 63-60 Hoyas. The conditions and Georgetown’s long defense will result in a low-scoring game. Georgetown grinds out a win as Otto Porter lives up to the hype.
Photo: Julian de la Paz