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January 25, 2008

Georgetown braces for trip to West Virginia

MORE: Head-to-Head Breakdown

West Virginia can turn the Big East into a big mess with an upset of Georgetown on Saturday in Morgantown.

The Mountaineers (15-4 overall, 4-2 in the Big East) sit in second place in the conference race, tied with Pittsburgh , Louisville and surprising DePaul . The Panthers and Cardinals are heavy favorites to win Saturday, while the Blue Demons will have their hands full at Marquette . If WVU wins, it's conceivable there could be a four-way tie atop the league standings come Sunday.

It's the last thing the defending Big East champion Hoyas (15-2, 5-1) want to see. But they're in for a serious challenge. The Mountaineers have a 15-game home-winning streak, and no one has come close to winning at WVU Coliseum this season, the program's first under Bob Huggins. Only St. John's has come within double digits, falling 73-64. Marquette lost by 15, and Syracuse got whipped by 20.

The Mountaineers hope to push the tempo. The Hoyas won't go for it. They're a deliberate team in the halfcourt and will make WVU guard deep into nearly every possession. Both teams play outstanding defense, ranking in the top three in the Big East in points allowed.

The Mountaineers have one injury concern. Second-leading scorer Joe Alexander (15.4 points per game) is coming back from a groin injury and is listed as day-to-day. He missed WVU's victory over South Florida on Sunday, then played 25 minutes off the bench against Marshall on Wednesday.

Here's a closer look at the Hoyas-Mountaineers matchup:

No. 9 Georgetown (15-2, 5-1) at No. 5 West Virginia (15-4, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Jonathan Wallace vs. Darris Nichols
EDGE: West Virginia Wallace, a 6-foot-1 senior, is a good decision-maker and an excellent outside shooter. He's averaging 10.5 points and shooting 50 percent, including 44.3 percent from 3-point range. Nichols, a 6-3 senior, is dangerous from the outside (28 3-pointers) and he can penetrate and score (11.0 points per game) or drop off. He also makes good decisions with the ball (2.4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio).
Jessie Sapp vs. Alex Ruoff
EDGE: West Virginia Sapp, a 6-3 junior, is one of Georgetown's most improved players. He leads the Hoyas in assists (3.7 per game), averages 9.3 points and is a solid defender. Ruoff, a 6-6 junior, is one of the best-kept secrets in the Big East. He leads the Mountaineers in scoring (15.8 points per game), assists (3.4), steals (1.7), 3-pointers made (63) and 3-point percentage (45.7).
Roy Hibbert vs. Jamie Smalligan
EDGE: Georgetown Hibbert, a 7-2 senior, leads the Hoyas in scoring (13.2 points per game), rebounding (6.6) and blocks (1.8). He also is an adept passer who takes good care of the ball. Smalligan, a 7-foot senior, is a starter in name only. While he has started all 19 games, he averages 12.8 minutes and 2.6 points.
Austin Freeman vs. Da'Sean Butler
EDGE: West Virginia Freeman, a 6-4 freshman, is a former five-star prospect who has worked his way into the starting lineup. He's shooting a sizzling 58 percent, including 41.5 percent from 3-point range. Butler, a 6-7 sophomore, is a terrific athlete who can shoot from the perimeter and score going to the basket. He's averaging 13.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and shooting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc.
DaJuan Summers vs. John Flowers
EDGE: Georgetown Summers, a 6-8 sophomore, is the Hoyas' second-leading scorer (11.0 points per game) and rebounder (5.6), but he has struggled mightily in Big East play. He's shooting just 30.8 percent in conference games. Flowers, a 6-7 freshman, has played in all 19 WVU games but will make just his third start. He's averaging 6.2 points in just 14.2 minutes per game.
EDGE: West Virginia The Hoyas' chief reserves are 6-8 senior [dd]Patrick Ewing Jr.[/db] (6.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-4 sophomore Jeremiah Rivers. The Mountaineers turn to Wellington Smith (5.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg), a 6-7 sophomore, up front and 6-2 sophomore Joe Mazzulla (6.1 ppg) in the backcourt. It's possible you could see Joe Alexander (15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), but he could be limited by a groin injury.
EDGE: West Virginia John Thompson III has been unable to develop any quality depth this season, and Summers' struggles in Big East play are hampering the Hoyas. Fortunately, Thompson still has Georgetown playing excellent defense, and he has made a concerted effort to get more shots for Hibbert since the conference season began. Huggins has done a solid job of reshaping the Mountaineers as a more athletic, up-tempo team that plays good defense. He even has shown some flexibility by mixing in different zone defenses, a big leap for a staunch man-to-man coach.
It will be interesting to see how Huggins elects to play the Hoyas defensively. He has used several zone looks, but Georgetown moves the ball well and has some excellent outside shooters. If the Mountaineers go man, Hibbert should kill them inside and/or command a double. The Hoyas' chief concern on the defensive end is the playmaking ability of Ruoff. With Georgetown looking vulnerable in Big East play and West Virginia being so tough at home, the upset looks like a good call.
West Virginia 71, Georgetown 68

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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