It was a risk — there were always going to be critics and naysayers, but Head Coach Patrick Ewing did not care.
When Ewing pulled the Georgetown men’s basketball team out of the inaugural Phil Knight Invitational, a 16-team tournament held in Portland, Ore., many professional analysts claimed that the Hoyas’ schedule was too nonchallenging. Still, Ewing tuned out this criticism and focused on his plan: teaching his Hoyas how to win.
The Hoyas started out the 2017-18 college basketball season squaring off against mid-major teams at home, with only one away game at Richmond. Ewing faced scrutiny from all sides: His decision would hurt the Hoyas’ resume for the NCAA Tournament, it would not prepare them for the more rigorous talent level of the Big East and, in the end, would keep attendance at home games down.
However, Ewing has not let this criticism rattle his faith in his judgement. He stressed that players on this team learned how to lose the past two seasons, but now they needed to learn how to win, regardless of who the competition is.
Seven games into the season, the Hoyas are one of only nine undefeated squads left in the nation. They have received four votes to be recognized in the AP Top 25 ranking and are slowly gaining national intrigue. Pundits are asking themselves: Are the Hoyas actually this good?
While this soft nonconference schedule has resulted in an undefeated team thus far, Ewing’s squad is far from done. In order for the nonconference schedule to be a success, Georgetown must enter Big East play undefeated.
A loss to any remaining mid-major team would show that these Hoyas are not ready for primetime and are unable to consistently compete at a higher level. A loss to Syracuse University on Dec. 16 will prove that the Hoyas are good enough to take down mid-majors, but cannot hang with bigger programs. By taking down Syracuse, its historic rival, and taking care of business against the remaining mid-major teams, Ewing will roll his newly branded Hoya team into Big East play oozing with confidence.
Competition against so many mid-major teams has aided player development early in the season, as with junior center Jessie Govan, for example. Govan is having a career year, averaging a team high of 19.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.0 block per game. Govan’s rebounding ranks fourth in the nation thus far this season. The Hoyas’ offense is at its best when Govan gets the ball in the post and takes his shot, or works the double team with his vision and passing ability.
Junior guard/forward Kaleb Johnson has also embraced his increased role on offense this season. Johnson is averaging a career-high of 12.0 points, 4.17 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Johnson’s vocal leadership on and off the court has helped give newcomers, such as freshman guards Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair, the confidence to look for their shot and know who to pick up on defense.
The Hoyas’ easy non-conference schedule has also allowed Ewing more flexibility in his coaching strategy and line-up adjustments. He has auditioned line-ups featuring speed and skill — such as senior guard Jonathan Mulmore starting with Blair — as well as those showcasing the Hoyas’ length, athleticism and versatility, with Pickett starting instead of Blair.
Though Ewing’s decision to create a soft non-conference schedule has paid dividends in many ways, there remains work to be done. The Hoyas have turned the ball over an average of 15.5 times per game this season compared to their opponents’ 12.8. Such sloppy play will certainly hurt the Hoyas when they face tougher opposition in Big East play. If Georgetown wants to continue this season’s success, they will have to improve before time runs out.
Dan Baldwin is a junior in the McDonough School of Business.