Why Georgetown's unbeaten start is merely a schedule-aided mirage

The Dagger
Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Only one of college basketball’s eight remaining unbeaten teams unequivocally should be disregarded as a schedule-aided fraud.

That’s Georgetown, which is only off to a 7-0 start because it has feasted on an embarrassingly soft non-league slate.

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The murderer’s row of opponents Georgetown has defeated so far this season includes five of the 25 lowest-rated teams in Ken Pomeroy’s index and two others rated 200th or worse. Jacksonville, Mount St. Mary’s, Maryland Eastern Shore, Richmond, Maine, Coppin State and Howard have combined for a record of 8-52 so far this season in matchups against Division I opponents.

To put into perspective how dreadful Georgetown’s non-conference schedule is, consider that it’s not just the weakest among all 351 Division I teams this season. The Hoyas’ non-conference slate is on pace to finish as Pomeroy’s lowest-rated since the 2004-05 season when a Baylor team still recovering from NCAA sanctions compiled an even worse one.

It’s not like Georgetown’s non-conference schedule this season is backloaded or anything either. Aside from a Dec. 16 home game against rival Syracuse, the Hoyas will face North Carolina A&T, North Texas and Alabama A&M, two of whom are sub-300 KenPom teams while the other is ranked 284th.

Why would a name-brand program like Georgetown assemble a schedule better suited for a MEAC program? It’s both a reflection of the state of the program and of new coach Patrick Ewing’s scheduling philosophy.

Georgetown staggered to 14-18 record in John Thompson III’s final season, dropping 13 of 18 Big East games to finish ninth in the league. The Hoyas then lost five of their top eight scorers from last year to graduation or transfers, a list that includes standout guards Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak.

When Ewing took over for Thompson last spring, he purposely put together a light schedule to instill confidence in a young team and to avoid embarrassment.

He sought home games against opponents 300 or worse in KenPom or the RPI. He refused to extend Georgetown’s non-league series with regional rival Maryland. Then in August he pulled the Hoyas out of the one-time-only Phil Knight Invitational, a tournament that would have pitted them against Michigan State in the opening round with potential matchups with UConn, Oregon, North Carolina or Arkansas looming thereafter.

“Why go out there and get my a — kicked to show my recruits that we need their help when I can stay home and watch other people get their butts kicked,” Ewing told the Washington Post in September. “Do my recruiting, keep on telling the people we need that we need them, recruit them and do my job to help my team, build them up and show them what my visions are of them and win as many games as we can.”

There was merit to Ewing’s strategy during the heyday of the Big East when the league was teeming with elite teams. Georgetown could get all the strength of schedule it needed playing the likes of St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova and UConn a couple times a year.

The new Big East has been one of college basketball’s three or four strongest league’s the past few years, but even that isn’t enough to offset a schedule as laughable as this one in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Playing a steady diet of MEAC teams also can’t prepare Georgetown for Big East play, nor does it attract recruits who want to play on a big stage or fans who want to watch high-level basketball.

Hopefully a schedule this pathetic is only a one-time strategy for Ewing as he builds his program and recruits a stronger roster.

In the meantime, disregard anything Georgetown accomplishes until league play. Only then will it become clearer how Ewing is doing in his debut season and whether the Hoyas are better than anticipated.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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