A men’s college basketball season for Power Five programs can be thought of as a slightly modified three-course meal. You start with appetizers, which are early-season marquee matchups like Duke vs. Michigan State at the Champions Classic. Then, a team will typically proceed to the dessert portion of its schedule, feasting on cupcakes in the form of non-Power-Five opponents. Finally, the unit will turn its eyes to the main course of the year, hunkering down for a daunting conference slate of opponents, or in Georgetown’s case, Big East giants such as No. 6 Villanova, No. 17 Xavier, and No. 23 Seton Hall.
This year, however, the regime led by new head coach Patrick Ewing has other ideas about digesting its competition. With a sugar rush from umpteen early-season cupcakes, combined with forgoing appetizing primetime matchups, Georgetown basketball has risked spoiling its appetite for Big East competition.
Many became aware of Georgetown’s scheduling ideology on Aug. 2, when the school announced that it would be withdrawing from November’s PK80 tournament, an event commemorating the 80th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight and featuring programs such as No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 9 North Carolina, and unranked Oregon. However, we did not gain a full understanding of the historic weakness of Georgetown’s schedule until the full slate was released on Sept. 12. Out of 11 nonconference matches, seven of the Hoyas’ opponents are ranked No. 320 or worse, according to Kenpom.com. Only one of Georgetown’s opponents can be considered a “mid-major,” which is No. 90 Richmond, and the sole Power Five foe is Syracuse, whom the Hoyas have a contractual obligation to play. Compare the Hoyas’ schedule with that of the current crown jewel of the Big East, No. 6 Villanova: The Wildcats are slated to play a primetime matchup against the reigning national runner-ups, No. 18 Gonzaga, as well as likely matchups against nationally-ranked programs such as No. 20 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
In an interview with the Washington Post in August, Ewing revealed his motivation for the Hoyas’ empty-calorie schedule, saying, “the Big East schedule is going to be tough enough to handle. It’s always been tough. It was tough when I was playing. So, you know, you don’t have to play the toughest nonconference schedule.”
Ewing’s point, as well as the general view that the Hoyas play a difficult enough schedule through the Big East, does not hold water. As evidenced by the nonconference slate played by Villanova and other rivals, Georgetown is alone among Power Five programs in its approach to scheduling. Georgetown actually puts itself at a disadvantage by loading up on cupcakes in the nonconference, having had fewer opportunities to play Big-East-caliber opposition by the time conference season rolls around.
Furthermore, there is hardly any guarantee that the Hoyas will summarily dispatch their nonconference opponents, as weak as Georgetown’s challengers are. In the last two seasons, Georgetown has dropped early-season games to the likes of Arkansas State, UNC-Asheville, and Radford. Compare that with Georgetown’s recent performance in marquee games, including wins against a Final Four Oregon team and a Sweet 16 team in Wisconsin, and close losses to Maryland and Duke. If anything, it appears that players have had a harder time getting up for so-called guaranteed wins, rather than for the televised matches around Thanksgiving.
The Georgetown men’s basketball program has correctly identified its recent issue, which is losing. However, the remedy to losing is not filling the team’s schedule with cream-puff opposition. A balanced schedule, featuring light opposition to go along with motivating matchups, would facilitate the turnaround of Hoya basketball and help fulfill the mission that Ewing & co. have been tasked with: getting fans excited about Georgetown hoops once again.
Image Credits: Emma Francois