Before the season tipped off, the Big East coaches picked reigning conference champion Villanova for a repeat performance. For second place, Georgetown. Entering the first matchup of the year between longtime rivals, the standings showed exactly that.
Yet the overall body of work showed a clear difference. The Wildcats are a nationally ranked team, No. 6 to be exact. The Hoyas' solid January couldn't overshadow baffling results in November and December. This matchup would let us know how far coach John Thompson III's squad truly grew.
With the Big East race in mind, the answer is not enough, not yet.
Georgetown rallied late, but couldn't overcome shooting a season-low 32.7 percent from the field as No. 6 Villanova exacted revenge from last season with a 55-50 win Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored 15 points for the Hoyas (11-7, 4-2), who never truly found rhythm against Villanova's smothering defense. The Wildcats (16-2, 6-0) lead the Big East in field goal percentage defense. Georgetown sank seven 3-pointers, but only hit 10 of 33 two-point attempts.
The poor shooting covered both halves equally. Trailing 26-22 at halftime, the Hoyas only scored five points in the opening 10 minutes of the second half -- and yet were in position for the upset late. Trailing by 12 points in the second half and 43-31 with less than eight minutes remaining, Georgetown twice closed within three points. Reggie Cameron's 3-pointer cut the lead to 49-46 with 1:11 remaining.
"Early in the second half, a large chunk of the second half, it was hard to get a rhythm," Georgetown coach John Thompson said. "We just stayed with it."
That's when bad luck crept in. After forcing a Villanova long miss, the rebound fell to Georgetown center Jessie Govan, but the freshman lost an uncontested rebound out of bounds.
Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono scored 15 points and closed out the win with six straight free throws. Josh Hart (Sidwell Friends) had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“Great road victory for us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We have so much respect for Georgetown, the program and this team. We knew it was going to be this kind of game. Georgetown wouldn’t go away."
Isaac Copeland had 11 points and Cameron 10 for the Hoyas, a team known for scoring droughts. Yet credit the Wildcats' defenders for much of Georgetown's woes. The Hoyas often forced attempts late in the shot clock after finding no passing or penetration opportunities inside. Georgetown only had six assists and Smith-Rivera matched his career-high with six turnovers.
"They were just being ultra aggressive like they like always are," Smith-Rivera said. "Part of it was we had some shots that we usually make that didn't go in, and part of it was they packed the paint."
The Hoyas rebounded from a rough non-conference start as their 7-4 record included stunning home losses to Radford, Monmouth and UNC Asheville. The scheduling gods hooked Georgetown with a favorable schedule opening Big East play and the Hoyas took advantage. Their four wins, including Wednesday's 93-73 victory over St. John's, all came by at least 10 points.
Starting with Saturday's matchup, the schedule picked up dramatically with three games against teams currently ranked among the top 12 in the latest AP poll. For a shot at an NCAA Tournament at-large berth, Georgetown probably needs 12-13 Big East wins with some over those elite foes.
One chance went by the wayside Saturday.
* If Smith-Rivera or Copeland didn't make a basket in the first half, neither did Georgetown. That was literally the case until Cameron's 3-pointer with 6:05 remaining. DSR and Copeland finished 7 of 14 while their teammates shot 1 of 11. When adding Cameron to the mix, Georgetown's top three scorers shot 14 of 29 from the field. Everyone else, three of 23. Villanova's packing the paint strategy combined with aggressive guarding stymied Georgetown. Centers Bradley Hayes and Govan combined to shoot 1 of 10 from the field. Wing L.J. Peak, who prefers attacking the basket off the dribble, finished 2 of 9. "I thought our defense was pretty tough tonight," Wright said.
* Forward Marcus Derrickson returned to lineup after sitting out the St. John's matchup, but wasn't a major factor with two points in 10 minutes. The freshman banged knees during a prior practice and told coach John Thompson III he could not go.
* One obvious difference with the makeup of the Hoyas entering this season involved a deep group of perimeter shooters. Those deep threats found the mark plenty during the opening five games of Big East play, shooting a league-high 41 percent on 3-pointers. However, opponents nearly matched them (39.4%). Georgetown hit 7 of 19 from deep, yet held Villanova to 3 of 18.
Villanova, despite deep shooting threats like Arcidiacono, entered with the opposite profile. Overall, the Wildcats were last in 3-pont shooting, but first in 3-point percentage defense, holding opponents to 31.5 percent.
* The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Hoyas. The next two game are on the road, starting with a house of horrors matchup at No. 7 Xavier followed by a trip out of conference against former Big East rival Connecticut. Then back-to-back home games against Creighton, which beat Georgetown 79-66 earlier this month, and No. 12.