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Georgetown will challenge the Texas frontcourt

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One of the nation’s best big men, Omer Yurtseven, is set to provide an early-season test for Jericho Sims and company.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly eight months after winning the NIT in Madison Square Garden, the Texas Longhorns are back in New York City on Thursday for the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic against the Georgetown Hoyas.

Coached by former New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, Georgetown is 3-1 and ranked as the No. 70 team nationally in’s adjusted efficiency metric, making this an intriguing early-season matchup — the Longhorns should be the better team, but the Hoyas present a unique challenge to head coach Shaka Smart’s undersized lineup.

That’s because of seven-foot center Omer Yurtseven, a North Carolina State transfer who also has extensive experience playing for the Turkish national team. While Smart is familiar with Yurtseven after recruiting him, that won’t make him any easier to defend — Yurtseven is currently leading the Hoyas by scoring 17 points and grabbing 12.5 rebounds per game.

As a high-usage player prone to turnovers — 3.5 per game so far — Yurtseven can be boom or bust with the basketball, but he’s most dangerous on the offense glass, where he leads the nation with 25 offensive rebounds.

Playing almost exclusively with three guards and a small forward, Texas has struggled to end defensive possessions, currently ranking No. 286 nationally by allowing opponents to rebound 33.3 percent of their missed shots.

By himself, Yurtseven is rebounding 25.6 of all misses by Georgetown, putting significant pressure on junior Jericho Sims, the only frontcourt player for Texas who is currently performing at a high level — freshman Will Baker and sophomore Kamaka Hepa are still yet to score this season. Baker in particular has struggled to start his career, turning the ball over on more than 40 percent of his possessions and missing all eight of his shot attempts.

Sims, on the other hand, is off to the best start of his career at Texas, playing with more of the violence that the Texas coaching staff demands of him rolling to the basket, finishing with authority, and cleaning up on the glass, where he’s grabbing offensive rebounds at a top-15 rate nationally.

He’s also hitting 65 percent of his shots from the field and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line, needed efficiency for a team that is shooting only 30.1 percent from beyond the arc to start the season.

The concern is that the Longhorns aren’t always making the extra pass as junior guard Jase Febres struggles with the extra attention now afforded to him as a key cog of the Texas offense — his ability to get shots off quickly and under duress is a detriment at times as he adjusts to the reality that opponents are focused on forcing him to take heavily-contested shots.

So the emphasis from Smart is for his team to focus on playing team basketball as sophomore guard Courtney Ramey works to get into a more consistent rhythm as a shooter after his preseason wrist injury cost him multiple weeks of practice and limited the time he spent playing with junior guard Matt Coleman.

Defensively, Ramey and Coleman will share the task of stopping the Georgetown guards, a group that includes YouTube sensation Mac McClung, whose 47-inch vertical helped him achieve viral fame as a high schooler in Virginia. He’s tied for second on the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game along with James Akinjo, the team’s leader in assists at 4.5 per game.

Texas will try to force those players into playing one-on-one basketball to the detriment of Yurtseven and should have success keeping Georgetown from making three-pointers — no player for the Hoyas has made more than five on the season and the team ranks No. 321 nationally in percentage points coming from beyond the arc. gives the Horns a 68-percent chance of winning this game with a projected score of 74-69. The game tips off at 6 p.m. Central on ESPN2.