CHAMPAIGN — Georgetown embodies head coach Patrick Ewing — big, tough and physical.
The task for the Illinois men's basketball team (1-0) is to try to negate the clear height advantage the Hoyas bring in to State Farm Center at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Georgetown (2-0) is led by center Jessie Govan and his multi-faceted game that's built to lead him to the NBA. He's averaging 19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks this year.
“Georgetown is very good," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "Govan in the middle is a legit pro prospect. He’s a guy who was a double-double machine last year. He has proven that this year. He’s one of the most efficient offensive players I’ve seen."
First up in slowing Govan is Illinois freshman big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who had seven points and 10 rebounds on Thursday in a 99-60 win over Evansville.
The best news for Bezhanishvili against Evansville was that he stayed out of foul trouble, picking up his first personal foul in the second half. Underwood said Bezhanishvili didn't miss a coverage defensively. Without much height on the floor against Evansville, the challenge ramps up with defending Govan.
“He’s one of the best big guys in the nation," Bezhanishvili said. "It’s a good chance for me as a freshman. I’ll do my best. My mentality will be defense first, rebound second and everything else will come naturally to me."
Though the Illini lack height, there are other ways to reduce the impact of Govan, particularly not allowing him to get the ball, which starts up top with perimeter defense.
For as good of a defender as Bezhanishvili is, it's going to take an army to slow Govan.
“(Bezhanishvili) is a guy who is a great anticipation, but Giorgi needs help," Underwood said. "Anytime you’re going against an elite center, somebody usually has to get him the ball. We’ve taken a lot of pride in the fact that our best post defense at times is our perimeter defense."
What Illinois lacks in experienced big men, it makes up for on the perimeter. Heralded five-star freshman Ayo Dosunmu stuffed the stat sheet against Evansville, scoring 18 points with six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
But the Purple Aces are in the past, and replaced with a Hoyas team with a pair of standout freshman guards in Mac McClung and James Akinjo.
"It’s a great test for me and the team to come out and play hard," Dosunmu said.
Dosunmu's rebounding ability helped Underwood keep the "three-headed monster" of Trent Frazier, Andres Feliz and Dosunmu on the floor against Evansville. The question entering that game was if the Illini could rebound enough with those three on the court together.
Test passed, and the three ended up combining for 44 points against Evansville.
“It was an opportunity for you guys to see it in the first game," Underwood said of the three guards. "We’ve been able to see it a few other times everyday in practice.
“That’s a pretty good three-headed monster. I say it because they’re all different. They all do a little bit of something and yet, the game like Trent had, we all know Trent’s capable of 30 every night. He got in the flow, made the right passes and got the ball to the guys on time. He was exceptional in pick and rolls, his reads were great and that’s affecting the game as well."
Georgetown will also be the first game against a serious uptick in talent. After Georgetown, the Illini head to the Maui Invitational against No. 3-ranked Gonzaga to open the tournament.
“We’re playing all high major programs for the most part and they’re all capable of playing ranked teams," Underwood said. "You start looking at Georgetown and they’ve got guys who are next-level guys. How they play out through the course of the season with wins and losses is to-be-determined.
"Evansville is a pretty good team if you let them catch and shoot it. I don’t want to take anything away from them. We’re going to play guys who are next-level guys and we’re going to face teams who have experience and are legit top-25 teams; some on the road, some home and some neutral.
"That’s what we’ve signed up for with this program. We’re going to continue to play really, really good people. To become one of the best you’ve got to beat the best and we’re doing it."
After missing Thursday's game Alan Griffin (injury) and Samba Kane (suspension) are both available to play, and graduate transfer big man Adonis De La Rosa is to be decided. De La Rosa will give then Illini a size boost when he returns from a torn ACL suffered last year while playing for Kent State. He's been "full speed" in practice.