Four wins in four days. Head Coach Patrick Ewing’s (CAS ’85) first NCAA tournament appearance. Finally, the Georgetown men’s basketball program was heading in the right direction.
And though the miracle run in 2021 happened in a flash, the subsequent demise was a stuttering, slogging affair that still may not have reached its end.
Over two weeks out from Georgetown’s March 9 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament, and I’ve finally recovered. I’m ready to evaluate the worst Georgetown season I’ve ever seen. What went wrong? And what can the Hoyas do on the court next season to address the problem?
Though expectations are typically high after a program wins a conference title, Georgetown was still picked to finish 10th in the conference in the preseason coaches poll. The reality was far worse than that prediction.
Georgetown was in trouble after the season opener alone. Despite missing the entire previous season due to COVID-19, Dartmouth came to Capital One Arena, hit 42.1% from 3-point land, and left with a win. This horrendous loss set the tone for the season.
Georgetown then won six of its next 10 games with one notable victory over its biggest rival, Syracuse. First-year guard Aminu Mohammed continued making jumps, especially against Syracuse, graduate guard Donald Carey proved to be an excellent leader and the rest of the roster showed occasional flashes.
Then Georgetown lost 19 straight Big East games, going winless in conference play for the first time in program history. In the Big East tournament, Georgetown fans wishing for at least one Big East win were once again disappointed after the Hoyas let a winnable game against Seton Hall slip through their fingers March 9 despite leading with less than a minute left.
While there are undoubtedly issues within the program as a whole, the problems on the court were perhaps especially bad. All season long, Georgetown struggled mightily on the defensive end. The Hoyas finished the season allowing 77 points per game, good for 336th out of the 358 teams in Division 1 basketball.
A large part of the Hoyas’ defensive struggles stemmed from their inability to defend the 3-pointer. Georgetown ranked 336th in the country in opponent 3-point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot at a clip of almost 37%.
The absence of a significant interior presence was clear and exacerbated their atrocious 3-point defense. Many times, Georgetown was forced to overhelp in the paint, leaving shooters free to rain shots on them.
The poor 3-point defense wasn’t the only glaringly obvious problem: Georgetown also had a lack of size on the perimeter all season. For their final game of the season, the Hoyas started sophomore guard Dante Harris, Carey, Mohammed, sophomore forward Collin Holloway and junior center Timothy Ighoefe.
Villanova, a Big East rival and the consummate example of basketball excellence in the conference, starts two 6’7” forwards who are over 220lbs, and a 6’4” guard. These bigger athletes can bully their way inside and either finish at the rim or find shooters outside the arc.
This is not to say Harris is too small to be a college guard, but it does point out the obvious disadvantage Georgetown will face almost every time they step on the court. Georgetown needs to develop a better plan to stop the three ball, and solving their size disadvantage and subsequent need to overhelp can go a long way.
Offensively, Georgetown needs to do more of what other teams have been doing to them: getting the ball in the paint. The Hoyas’ inability to get paint touches is reflected in their low assist numbers. Georgetown ranks 270th in assists per game, averaging only 11.8.
Georgetown spends its possessions slinging the ball around the perimeter, often taking contested jump shots at the end of the shot clock. If the Hoyas want to get back to playing winning basketball, they need to establish a consistent presence near the rim.
Entering next season, Georgetown has many questions to answer, beginning with how to control the battle in the paint, particularly when undersized at certain positions. Georgetown will go nowhere by allowing 77 points per game, particularly when they do not have a high-powered offense.
Georgetown men’s basketball is in a dire state. Perhaps the transfer portal will be kinder to the Hoyas this offseason. Perhaps Coach Ewing can right the ship, land some big recruits and design a more effective gameplan. But if the Hoyas fail to stop opposing shooters and consistently penetrate the paint, the program cannot be restored.