Georgetown-Providence Preview

The Associated Press

Georgetown's much-improved defensive identity is something Providence found out about earlier this season.

The 10th-ranked Hoyas try for a season sweep of the last-place Friars and a seventh straight win in the series Saturday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

Georgetown (19-5, 9-4 Big East) is limiting opponents to 58.9 points per game for the second-best mark in the conference. The Hoyas were 11th in that department at 66.3 a season ago.

"This year we've just bought into the philosophy of playing hard, playing defense together," said center Henry Sims, averaging a team-high 1.5 blocks. "Being a team on the court, being able to pick each other up on the court, being able to talk to each other on the court. I think it's just a different mindset, a different environment, a different philosophy, that we've brought this year as opposed to the last few years."

Georgetown has held five Big East teams to 50 points or fewer, including a 49-40 victory over Providence (13-14, 2-12) on Dec. 31. The 40 points are 30 below what the Friars average this season, and their lowest total since a 75-34 loss to Holy Cross on Dec. 11, 1948.

Providence shot 25.5 percent, yet rallied from a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 35-all with 8:03 remaining.

"Georgetown is playing as well as anybody in the country," coach Ed Cooley said. "We know we'll have our hands full. They're a different team than when we played them the first time. A lot of guys have stepped up, different roles. John (Thompson III) has done a phenomenal job with this group."

The Hoyas seem to have better balance now on offense to complement their strong defense. Five players reached double figures in Sunday's 71-61 home win over St. John's, led by freshman Greg Whittington's season-high 12 points.

"I think that this group has gotten pretty good at understanding that there are a lot of different players that can make that shot," Thompson said.

The Hoyas have a huge edge with a bench that is logging 68.9 minutes per game for the Big East's fourth-highest figure. Providence is second-worst in that category at 39.7.

The Friars have dropped four straight. The first three defeats of the stretch were by a combined 12 points before Wednesday's 81-66 loss at Cincinnati.

"I think we're playing decent basketball," Cooley said. "Obviously our depth issue has been a concern all year. Our lack of numbers has shown up in a lot of games. We're competing in every single game, coming down to the last minute or two of the game."

Sophomore guard Bryce Cotton is fourth in the country with 1,039 minutes, and that may be taking its toll. Cotton is second on the team with a 14.4 scoring average but has totaled six points on 2-of-17 shooting in his last two games after going scoreless against the Bearcats.

Georgetown is trying to avoid losing three straight Big East road games for the first time since a five-game slide Jan. 5-Feb. 14, 2009.