“The operative word for us right now is improvement,” said American Coach Jeff Jones, whose Eagles boast skilled perimeter shooters and the potential for a strong inside presence but have battled inconsistency.
Against the deeper, longer and more athletics Hoyas, American’s priority will be two-fold: setting a measured tempo to mitigate Georgetown’s explosiveness and limiting the turnovers that almost certainly would lead to easy baskets in transition.
“We can’t run up and down; we’re losing that battle,” said Jones, whose Eagles average 55.7 points per game led by senior forward Stephen Lumpkins, who has re-enrolled after spending a year as a pitcher in the Kansas City Royals’ minor league system. He leads the the team in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (8.6 per game).
American’s road only gets tougher next week, with a visit to No. 9 Kansas on Saturday.
Georgetown (9-1), by contrast, faces a different sort of challenge after Saturday’s game: free time and plenty of it, with a 13-day hiatus before its Jan. 5 Big East opener against Marquette in Milwaukee.
The extended lull came as a surprise to Coach John Thompson III when the Big East schedule came out. He had anticipated playing a league game before Jan. 1, but he said the break would afford a chance “to tighten up things.”
“We’ll be okay,” Thompson said. “They push each other in practice as hard as anyone.”
Junior point guard Markel Starks likened the break to a “love-hate” situation.
“It’s great to be able to rest your body,” Starks said. “But at the same time, Marquette would have played two games [against North Carolina Central and Connecticut] during that span of time. It’s going to be interesting to see whether it helps or hurts.”
Georgetown has won its past six games, sloughing off a shooting slump to eclipse the 80-point mark in its past two victories. And with leads well in hand, the Hoyas have seized the opportunity to develop their bench, with sophomore guard Jabril Trawick contributing impressive minutes — as well as a career-high 14 points — in last Saturday’s 81-68 victory over Western Carolina.
But defense and rebounding will become increasingly important once Big East play begins, and Georgetown has work to do on both. Although the Hoyas have held opponents to 55.4 points per game (second stingiest among Big East teams), they allowed Western Carolina to make 11 of its 22 three-point attempts. And in 10 games, Georgetown has been outrebounded five times, by Longwood and Towson included.
American should challenge the Hoyas’ perimeter defense in much the same fashion Western Carolina did. Sophomore John Schoof is shooting 50 percent (22 of 44) from beyond the arc, and senior Daniel Munoz is hitting 45 percent (14 of 31).
“We need to stay hungry on both ends,” junior forward Nate Lubick said. “We need to sharpen up what we do on offense and keep defending. Once it gets into Big East play, it’s all about rebounding and defense.”