Seven inches of powdery white stuff has fallen from the sky this morning, which means it's a perfect time to stay home and analyze basketball statistics. From a tempo-free standpoint, today's game between Duke and Georgetown is an elite matchup. The Hoyas are ranked 15th in the nation by Pomeroy, but have an adjusted offense (19th) and an adjusted defense (32nd) ranking below their overall level. The reason for this is that most teams around their level in the Pomeroy rankings have one excellent score and one mediocre score (e.g. Villanova: 3rd on offense, 71st on defense).
Georgetown's strength of schedule also boosts their Pomeroy ranking. The Hoyas are coming off a blow out loss at Syracuse (3rd Pomeroy), and overall they rate as the 4th toughest schedule in the nation, and have played against the second toughest slate of defenses of all the division 1 teams. While this means that G-Town is battle tested, it also means that their raw offensive and defensive scores are much lower: they have averaged 108.7 points/100 possessions (58th) while giving up 93.1 points/100 possessions (46th). Part of the low offensive output has come while on the road against good teams-- they failed to crack the 1.0 points/possession mark at both Syracaue and Villanova.
Duke, meanwhile, is a well-kept tempo free secret this year. For whatever reason, Duke always seems to be near the top of the Pomeroy rankings in January and February, and this season is no different. Duke currently sits behind only top-ranked Kansas overall, and the Blue Devils continue to have the best adjusted offense in the country. In fact, it has only been in the past week (since the loss at NC State) that Duke has not also had the highest raw offensive efficiency as well (and are still in the top five). Clearly those numbers were going to come down with ACC play, but like Gerogetown, Duke is playing against some pretty tough defenses (6th toughest defense against).
It's hard to put a finger on what exactly is making Duke's offense so good. Pomeroy lists the "four factors" he believes are most critical to consistent play, regardless of the game's pace. Duke is a top 20 team in two of these factors: turnover rate (16.8% of possessions, 14th) and offensive rebounding percentage (40.1% of missed shots rebounded, 15th). Less impressive is the effective field goal percentage (52.9%, 41st) and FTA/FGA (36.4%, 202nd). Clearly the Duke alums have not been paying the refs off enough this year, because they are not getting to the free throw line very often at all. On the bright side, Duke's 77.0% FT% is fourth in the nation.
This is a game that will be won underneath the baskets. The first issue is Duke's shooting ability: while Duke has their characteristic 3-point shooting ability, they have struggled at times shooting from close range, and rank 79th with just 50.6% from inside the arc. Georgetown, meanwhile, struggles to keep opponents' percentages down. Because this game is being played at the Verizon Center, Duke can be expected to miss their fair share of shots. This shifts the focus to a battle between an elite offensive rebounding unit (Duke) and an elite defensive rebounding unit (Georgetown). For Duke's big men, the goal should be to grab that rebound and then go up strong through the usually foul-conscious Greg Monroe. But if the Hoya sophomore can handle Zoubek and the Plumlees, it could be a long afternoon for Duke.
In the rare event that Duke has a lights-out shooting performance on the road, the final tally could get quite high-scoring. One of the things Georgetown does do well is shoot the ball, with a 55.4% eFG% (12th). However, they are not very skilled at the other four factors (offensive rebounding, limiting turnovers, and getting to the free throw line). It's a strange game to predict because if the game were played at Cameron, one could see Duke making their shots and limiting their opponent's strength on the defensive glass, while the Blue Devils dominate their own defensive glass after limiting Georgetown's shooting ability.
But the game is being played in DC's downtown Chinatown, which adds expectation to Georgetown's shooting ability and detracts from Duke's. That's bad news as Georgetown has four players (Freeman, Vaughn, Wright and Clark) who put up eFG% north of 55. A cold shooting night from Duke and road defense as dismal as shown at NC State, and Duke looks to fall in a big way. However, more recent games have shown Duke's defense to be back on solid ground, and so if Georgetown's shooters are cooled, then look for a fight to the finish.
Prediction: Mason Plumlee and Brian Zoubek, combined, have about as much playing time (86.7% minutes played combined) as Greg Monroe (84.7%). Whoever has the most rebounds (MP2 + Zoo vs Monroe) will be on the victorious team.