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Georgetown’s win over Louisville showcases Big East’s balance up top

Dec 29, 2011, 1:20 AM EDT

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Prior to Wednesday night’s game against Georgetown at the KFC Yum! Center, there were plenty of people that believed Louisville was ranked too high at fourth in the country.

Those folks are unlikely to change their opinion on the matter after the Hoyas left the Commonwealth with a 71-68 win, handing the Cardinals their first loss of the season.

And frankly, they wouldn’t be wrong. Louisville isn’t one of the top four teams in the country. They may not even belong in the top ten. Their was ranking was more the result of high preseason expectations, a myriad of close wins against solid teams and the fact that the a handful of teams that should be ranked above them have lost already this season. Is Louisville a better team than North Carolina? Probably not, but since the Tar Heels fell against Kentucky and UNLV already this season, pollsters slid the Cardinals all the way up to fourth.

Don’t punish the Cardinals for the quirky early season ranking process.

Instead, you should credit Georgetown for their performance on Wednesday.

Louisville is not a great offensive basketball team, and they certainly didn’t play a great offensive basketball game Wednesday. Where they are going to win games is on the defensive end of the floor, by using their ability to pressure ball-handlers and force turnovers to keep their opponent from doing what they want to do offensively. Against the Hoyas, Louisville did exactly that.

Georgetown may not have any all-americans on their roster this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t, once again, a Big Three on this team. Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark are the three guys that John Thompson III relies on the most to make plays in the framework of their offense, to knock down big shots and to carry the bulk of the offensive load. But against Louisville, those three struggled.

Gorgui Dieng’s length bothered Sims, Clark couldn’t find any openings offensively and Thompson saved his stat line with a couple of late jumpers. All told, Georgetown’s Big Three went 8-26 from the floor, turned the ball over eight times and scored a whopping 24 points, which is about 15 points below their season average. That is precisely the kind of defense performance Rick Pitino wanted on those three players.

With their stars struggling, Georgetown’s role players provided their best basketball of the season.

Markel Starks finished with 20 points on 7-8 shooting. Otto Porter added 14 points and 14 boards. Jabril Trawick scored nine points in the first half to keep Georgetown from getting run out of the gym by Louisville.

You don’t gameplan for those three. Sure, their names and tendencies are gone over in the scouting report, but no one is going to structure their defense to figure out a way to slow down Starks or to find an answer to Porter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of the teams Georgetown will face this season will head into their matchup thinking that they’ll let Starks, Porter and Trawick try to beat them.

On this night, they did. And when that happens, all you can really do is tip your cap to your opponent: “They got us tonight.”

We are going to run into a lot of that in the Big East this season.

Syracuse is really the only team in this league that stands a cut above everyone else. Once you get past the Orange, there is much more good than there is great. UConn has been inconsistent and unable to put away lesser competition. Marquette lost to LSU. Cincinnati has gotten better while losing their starting front court. West Virginia is young but has two senior stars. Hell, even Pitt and Villanova still have enough talent and coaching acumen in their program to turn around uninspiring starts.

Throw Georgetown and Louisville into the mix, and you have eight teams that are sitting in a jumbled mess a notch below the Orange whose tangible differences will, in all likelihood, depend on which players are playing well at a given point in the season. And while its pretty easy to identify who is sitting at the upper (UConn) and lower (Villanova) ends of that spectrum, at the end of the day the Big East is, once again, a league defined more by mediocrity than it is grandeur.

In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Big East sends all nine of the teams I mentioned to the NCAA Tournament.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if everyone other than Syracuse was back at home by the time the second weekend tips off.

What We Learned

Georgetown:

- The youngsters on this team can play. Markel Starks has knocked down jumpers all year long and had a couple of promising games against lesser competition, but this performance puts a stamp on the improvement he has made as a sophomore. Otto Porter has the talent to provide many more double-doubles this season. Jabril Trawick might be Georgetown’s best playmaker off the dribble. Most importantly? The Hoyas won at Louisville on a night when their big three stunk. That’s a good sign.

- I think that Georgetown has turned a corner this year. In the past few seasons, the Hoyas have been notorious for fast starts and slow finishes, both in a single games and over the course of an entire season. This year, however, the Hoyas won a double-overtime game against Memphis in Maui and followed that up by handing the Tigers a beatdown in DC a month later. They won on the road against Alabama despite blowing a late double-digit lead. And now, they won against Louisville on the road despite allowing the Cardinals to score 11 straight in the final four minutes to tie the game at 63. Throw in the fact that Georgetown was able to keep the game close even after Louisville opened up a double digit lead in the first ten minutes of the game, and I think we can say Georgetown has finally found some resiliency.

- Is that resiliency a result of the brawl that the Hoyas were in in China over the summer? That would make sense.

- Since I wrote this about Henry Sims he is 5-20 from the floor and averaging just 9.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg in two games.

Louisville:

- Not that we didn’t already know this, but the Cardinals will never be out of a game. They are the most spurtable team in the country. Because of the way they play — chucking up threes, pressing and trying to force turnovers — any success they have on either end of the floor builds up their momentum that much quicker. When they hit a three, they can get into their press. When they force a turnover in their press, they get a good look at a three. And when they hit a couple threes in a row and start forcing some turnovers, their confidence and enthusiasm sky rockets. Against Georgetown, Louisville erased an 11 point deficit with four minutes left in the game and had the game tied at the two minute mark.

- The Cardinals need to make better decisions down the stretch. Poor shot selection from Russ Smith, Kyle Kuric and Peyton Siva on the final threes possessions or Louisville cost them this game.

- I’m still not convinced this team is healthy. Getting Buckles and Swopshire back to 100% will create a nice compliment to Chane Behanan at the four and getting Wayne Blackshear will give Pitino another weapon on the perimeter.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.