If Wednesday night's Big East showdown between Louisville and No. 22 Georgetown were being played at the YMCA in front of 13 fans and no television audience, it wouldn't change the fact that the game is easily the biggest of the season for the Cardinals.
But when you mix in the small details that the game will be played in front of what should be one of the largest crowds of the season in Freedom Hall, on a night where the floor will be dedicated to an icon who led U of L to 675 wins and a pair of national championships during his tenure as head coach, and that the game is the prequel to Duke/North Carolina on ESPN, well, it's safe to say there's some added pressure on a young Cardinal team already dealing with the fact that it's February and they're sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
While Louisville is searching for the proverbial signature win for their NCAA Tourney resume, the Hoyas have their minds set on bigger things, namely a Big East regular season championship.
For John Thompson III's club, Wednesday marks the bginning of a crucial three-game stretch that includes games against the Cards, No. 11 Marquette and West Virginia, three teams with a combined 14-5 league record.
Georgetown has won five straight (all by 10 points or more), but all five wins have come against teams with losing records. The Hoyas are also looking for some quality wins, with their only win of any significance being an 18-point drubbing of No. 21 Notre Dame in Washington.
Still, on paper the crucial conference game looks like mismatch with a decisive advantage going to the visitors.
Georgetown is allowing just 57.1 points per game (sixth best in the country) in conference play and have allowed league foes to shoot just 42.2 percent overall and 29.3 from three-point range, three glowing stats that you'd expect would be improved upon after 40 minutes against one of the league's most offensively challenged clubs. U of L is shooting just 40.6 percent from the field in conference play, and is hitting a hideous 31.1 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. The Cards shot only 34.5 percent against Villanova and have shot better than 40 percent just once in the last five games.
Stopping the Hoyas on the other end of the court is another unenviable task entirely. Georgetown leads the Big East in field goal percentage at 54.6 percent, and finds the net on just under 41 percent of their three-point attempts. They've hit more than half of the shots they've put up in 15 of their 21 games, and if they're lighting up Freedom Hall then look out, the Hoyas are 30-2 under Thompson III when they score 69 or more points.
"I know they'll give it everything they have, but we're so erratic offensively," said Rick Pitino. "We've got to win with our defense, preparation, being meticulous with every little facet of the game and hope we will shoot the ball a little bit better. If we beat Georgetown we're a good basketball team, that's the way I look at it because this team is big-time, they really are. They have the size, passing, defense ... they have it all, the entire package. If we beat them, I'll be pleased, to say the least, in terms of what we're doing."
The key to the Hoya offense is 6-9 junior forward Jeff Green, whose combination of size and athleticism guarantees that in a year or two he'll be able to buy and sell 99% of the people reading this.
Green has averaged 20 points over the last three games, and scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting in Georgetown's most recent game, a blowout of St. John's. On Jan. 13 Green became the 37th player in GU history to score 1,000 points, and he currently ranks 30th on the school's all-time scoring list. In addition to his scoring proficiency, his rebounding average ranks tied for 20th all-time at the school, and he stands 16th all-time in total assists (273).
As good as Green is, often times its fellow Junior Roy Hibbert who garners the majority of attention on the team. Of course being 7-2 and talented tends to turn a lot of heads.
Hibbert has scored just three points less than Green, and leads the team in rebounding and blocked shots. He's shooting a conference-leading 69.9 percent from the field overall, and has hit 76.9 percent of the shots he's taken in conference play. Over his last six games Hibbert is 32-of-43 from the field.
Dominance inside usually leads to open shots from the perimeter, and Jonathan Wallace is living every shooter's dream.
The 6-0 junior is hitting just under 50 percent from three, having connected on 41-of-84 attempts from downtown on the season. At 11.3 ppg, Wallace is the third Hoya averaging double figures, and is part of a junior class that is producing nearly two-thirds of the team's offense. He leads the team with 14 games in double figures.
"I watched four Georgetown tapes during (Sunday's) Super Bowl and each one got me sicker," Pitino said. "I think they're one of the more talented teams in the country, a legitimate top 10 team. The polls are such a joke I don't think people even watch anymore. This team has two potential NBA lottery picks in Hibbert and Green, and Wallace is as fine a shooter as you'll see."
A loss to the Hoyas would drop Louisville to 6-4 in the conference, and leave them just two more opportunities to pick up a win over a highly regarded opponent before the Big East tournament. Those two games are at Marquette and Pittsburgh, the top two teams in the league.
As I said before, this isn't a must-win, but it's about as close as you can get.
Time/TV: 7 p.m./ESPN
Site: Freedom Hall, Louisville
Favorite: Louisville by 1
All-Time Series: Georgetown leads 3-2
LOUISVILLE (16-7, 6-3)
Terrence Williams, F.... 13.0 pts.
Juan Palacios, F........ 10.0 pts.
David Padgett, C........ 9.8 pts.
Brandon Jenkins, G...... 4.7 pts.
Edgar Sosa, G........... 10.9 pts.
GEORGETOWN (16-5, 6-2)
DaJuan Summers, F....... 8.7 pts.
Jeff Green, F........... 12.4 pts.
Roy Hibbert, C.......... 12.3 pts.
Jonathan Wallce, G...... 11.5 pts.
Jessie Sapp, G.......... 8.9 pts.
Notes and Quotes:
---The playing court at Freedom Hall will be dedicated to former coach Denny Crum during a ceremony held 15 minutes before the start of the game. Fans are being asked to please make plans to arrive at the game in time for the ceremony.
"It's really significant for our program that we recognize him, because he is Louisville basketball. We're just carrying the torch that he lit a long time ago." (Rick Pitino)
"You can't spend 30 years at a place and not grow to love it or you'd have been gone long before. The fact that I loved it here and they seemed to want me here and it just seemed to go on for a long time (is special). It's not a common thing in this business for coaches to stay at one place. There's only a few of us who get a chance to do that." (Denny Crum)
---Freshman Earl Clark scored a career-high 14 points in Louisville's loss to Villanova on Saturday, and was the focus of a Brian Bennett piece in this morning's Courier-Journal.
"He is playing with a lot more confidence. He's just doing it all right now: blocking shots, scoring points, getting rebounds and coming into his own. He's starting to be the player everybody thought he could be." (Edgar Sosa)
"People talk. They'd post messages or tell us that Earl should leave. It got to the point that his father and I were calling the coaching staff, asking them if Earl wasn't doing something right. He was determined to be at Louisville for the long haul. He told me, 'I worked really hard to get here. Why would I want to take 10 steps back?'" (Earl's mother Brenda Clark)
"Once you're comfortable out there and not worried about things, you can be more aggressive. Right now I'm out there feeling comfortable and just trying to play basketball like I know I can." (Earl Clark)
---Terrance Farley suffered a sprained ankle in practice Monday and won't play against the Hoyas. Pitino said that will probably mean more playing time for freshman Earl Clark, and that he may play Clark and starting forward Juan Palacios together some of the time. He also added that seldom-used sophomore Jonathan Huffman may alsoe see some court time.
---Another big guy who won't see any playing time is Derrick Caracter, who it seems more and more likely won't be seeing the court any more this season.
"I'm too tied into other things to worry about a guy who hasn't helped us win basketball games. I don't mean to sound callous, but my mind is elsewhere." (Rick Pitino)
"I thought Derrick would have been back over a week ago and the fact that he's not is quite disturbing, and his lack of motivation is bothering me a little bit. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt every step along the way, but his self-motivation is very lacking and Ellis is going to have to deal with that because I'm not dealing with it anymore.
Life is a two-way street. He's been treated extremely well here, with a lot of care and concern, a lot of love, and he hasn't given back. That's disturbing. You've got to thank people who give you all that attention. Derrick has to grow up and understand it's not the world according to him. He's got to be very thankful for the opportunity he's been given and show some thanks by creating a two-way street, one that gives back." (Pitino)
---Despite the fact that this is the first meeting between the Cards and the Hoyas since Louisville joined the Big East (the two didn't meet last season), Pitino does have a little history with Georgetown. It was the top-seeded Hoyas that his Cinderella Providence team shocked 88-73 to earn a trip to the 1987 NCAA Final Four.
---Georgetown has won three straight over Louisville, the most recent being a 70-63 win in Freedom Hall on Dec. 5 of 2000.
---Louisville has lost 12 games in a row to ranked teams. The last time they defeated a ranked team was their 93-79 win over number one seed Washington in the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.