September 20, 2017 - When Georgetown’s 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule was released last week, fireworks ensued, with Hoya Nation members and non-supporters alike blasting the slate. Overall sentiment concludes Patrick Ewing, in his first year as Hoya head coach has dropped the ball, while some believe the schedule embarrassing and not worthy a historically important program.
These critics admittingly make some good points. Ultimately, from a G’Town perspective, they’re wrong. Below is a list of criticisms followed by responses to them:
One salient critique is a largely abysmal Rating Percentage Index (RPI) owned by G’Town’s out of conference (OOC) teams faced this season. Obviously, these stats are computed via last year’s production:
Jacksonville (305), Mt. St. Mary’s (138), UMES (278), Richmond (72), Maine (323), Coppin St. (336), Howard (339), NC A&T (350), Syracuse (86), North Texas (338) and Alabama A&M (351).
The RPI is used as a metric to divine good schedules from bad, with a lower number equaling tougher competition faced. Mathematically, the RPI’s derived by adding a team’s winning percentage x .25, to its opponents winning percentage x .50, to its opponents-opponents winning percentage x .25.
Relied upon heavily in defining NCAA Tournament participation selection and as a secondary determination whether a season has been successful generally, the RPI has taken on a life of its own, entering the common sports fans lexicon.
Georgetown’s average OOC foe’s RPI? An unenviable 265, with both NC A&T and Alabama A&M occupying the last and next to last standings in Division I basketball. On a less esoteric level, but maybe more damning, only Mt. St. Mary’s made last year’s NCAA Tourney, or Big Dance. Of the 11 teams to be faced out of conference this season, only two are from traditional multiple BIG Dance bid leagues (more powerful conferences).
Truth be told the 2017-18 iteration of Hoya Basketball is bound to struggle, at least initially: Ewing inherited a 14-18 team (ninth of 10 BIG EAST schools), one that lost its top two scorers (Rodney Pryor at 18 ppg and L.J. Peak’s 16.5 ppg and overall best player in the latter). Add that and other production lost, and the Hoyas will not have 64.8% of points and 54.8% of rebounds drummed up last year, based on that season’s numbers
By contrast, Ewing and his staff’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, junior center Jessie Govan, accounted for 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds each contest. Only six returners dot the roster (seniors John Mulmore and Trey Mourning - who may be lost for a least a period due to injury), sophomore Jagan Mosely plus juniors Marcus Derrickson and Kaleb Johnson plus Govan. Newcomers Trey Dickinson, Chris Sodom, Jahvon Blair, Jamarko Pickett and Antwan Walker, each frosh except for the first who is a graduate senior, face possible significant playing time.
Given this landscape, realistic (read non-emotional) analysis would seemingly not focus on RPI, but forging a team – adopting a micro, not macro focus as postseason play is certainly not a given. There’s a strong chance NCAA balling is not an easily reachable goal in ’17-18.
This leads to the next criticism, one centering around G’Town getting better.
Not a way to improve
Many Hoya fans have tailored their focus to the Hoyas’ development, or expected lack thereof. “I believe things can be gained thru tough competition”, as one Premium Court poster opined is a common theme. Another shared “Doesn't help at all beating teams by 30... does help to learn the system yes... how do u (sic) make in game adjustments up 30? Doesn't help him or the team”.
Being honest, one must admit blowing teams out by 30 is not necessarily the best laboratory to improve in most situations. Ideally teams want to test themselves against top competition before facing the all-important conference slate in late December, a time that actually makes or breaks seasons. A prime example of this philosophy was former Temple head coach John Chaney’s scheduling, where he would face anybody, anywhere, before jumping into Atlantic 10 competition.
With a new coach, comes a new on court approach. Out is Thompson III’s ‘Princeton Offense’ variant. Reportedly arriving are principles Ewing learned/mastered in the National Basketball Association for well over a decade, and specifically the Charlotte’ Hornets, his last assistant coaching gig. At their core, the Hornets spread the floor and use a dynamic lead guard to initiate offense.
Whether Georgetown has that guy is yet to be seen. Senior Trey Campbell will not participate, though he is on campus finishing his degree. South Dakota/ transfer Trey Dickinson is a possibility, as are returners, Mulmore (3.5 ppg) and Mosely (4.4 ppg). Based on play in this year’s Nike DC Pro City Kenner League, none of the options are a lock for immediate success triggering G’Town offensively. Add swingman, rebounder and overall depth to point guard in summing individual position/role question marks.
A new coach brings both different offensive and defensive schemes and approaches to the table, as well as something equally important; how that bench leader runs a team off the floor. Doing so between the lines and otherwise is a new experience for Ewing.
There’s no doubt he knows basketball, given his program defining collegiate career, Hall of Fame pro work and 15 years coaching on various NBA benches as an assistant. Now he has the head chair for the first sustained time in his life, and all that comes with it.
Ewing’s learning curve is heightened by never having coached in college, at any level, and the fact there is so much more to do off the floor there than in the pros. Dealing with young men daily, being responsible for their academic, hoops and in large measure social well-being is something Ewing must master.
Of course he will, but it takes time. Wouldn’t it be easier to address the team's and his personal early learning curves, against lesser competition? It doesn’t make sense to possibly play defending national champ North Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Arkansas and more in PK80 Tournament action (which the Hoyas withdrew from), while trying to not only figure out but establish rotations and placements with kids he really doesn’t know yet.
To borrow from a Premium Court conversation, think boxing sparring partner; it’s much easier to learn how to deal with a lefty in sparing, i.e. lesser, relatively controlled (all but Richmond will be faced in DC) competition, than to do so against a potential champion in a perceivably hostile gym against a ‘chip contender.
Confidence building is crucial for a team with four seniors, four juniors, two sophomores, four frosh, in addition to a grad transfer, a list that includes walk-ons and a non-playing transfer. To put Georgetown’s task into perspective, all these players have expanded roles/expectations from those had last year, wherever that may have been.
If basketball is 90 percent mental as some say, then wins can help not only bring a jelling, but the confidence to succeed. Teams don’t generally discard wins, observers do. The extreme converse is also likely – a relatively young team (in terms of those playing) getting hammered on the national stage before having a feel for themselves in new roles, and the season could be sunk.
Not diming the league or fans
A bad preseason RPI mark – and its related suspect strength of schedule score – will hurt fellow BIG EAST Conference members to some degree. Each plays G’Town twice, with the likelihood of those contests, at least early on, depressing the their RPI standing. Last year the league placed third nationally in both RPI and SOS, while sending seven teams to the tournament.
A source has indicated league members are clearly aware of G’Town’s scheduling choices, decisions that have caused conference consternation. This is particularly relevant to the BIG EAST, as having been battered by national name school defections, counts heavily on a high RPI (and SOS) for its schools to gain Big Dance admittance.
Season ticket holder remorse, which has been expressed as a reason to howl about this year’s out of conference campaign is real, and must be accepted as valid. Premium Court posters responded to it ably, noting “As a season ticket holder, this schedule is frustrating” and “It really is a (expletive) schedule and you asked fans to buy season tickets sight unseen”.
The BIG EAST does have a right to be unhappy, as it could be impacted by G’Town’s pre-league slate. Anybody concerned about the conference must recognize such. That said, the Hoyas have provided years of benefit to the league. Think of this one as a mulligan.
Historically, G’Town has buttressed the BIG EAST: Georgetown has a 1638-1024 lifetime schedule, and since the conference’s 1979 inception, earned 28 NCAA Big Dance bids, making four Final Fours and pulling down one national championship.
The conference as a whole might be slightly hurt by G’Town’s lack of RPI gravitas going into league play, but writ large should be well situated in that department. A brief schedule glance sees Villanova taking on Temple, Gonzaga and traveling the Caribbean where Arizona, NC State, Purdue, Tennessee and others could be foes. Butler is in another PK80 bracket, one that boasts Texas, Duke, Florida, Ohio State and Gonzaga. These two are just a snapshot.
Furthermore the conference, while lacking a returning national champion like ‘Nova last season or preseason number one, looks better top to bottom; St. John’s reportedly is emerging given the growth of its dynamite backcourt and Villanova may not jump out at you but is poised to develop and jell, becoming a force by seasons end. Providence has a slew of returners added to talented new comers, as do ever powerful Xavier and Seton Hall, while the likes of Creighton, Butler, DePaul, and Marquette boast the pieces and coaching to put excellent seasons together. The league is still no joke.
Asking fans to buy tickets early on can’t be sugarcoated; if anybody is to be grievanced, it’s these people who plop money down, some before the schedule and product are known. For this group – and college hoops at large – looking at Georgetown as being a work in process, a program building for the future would help. And makes sense, as that’s what it is.
Interestingly enough both posters who touched upon this year’s slate and the ticket buying public above, conceded such.
A quasi counter-intuitive look at G’Town’s OOC slate reinforces the program’s commitment to fans; gate receipts have reportedly fallen in recent years, and scheduling unremarkable non-BIG EAST teams only intensifies that trend. In essence, the Hoyas are willing to lose money if it can improve future prospects of winning.
Harken to days of old
While some national media types have concluded “This has to be among worst non-conference schedules I have ever seen” and other apocalyptic statements, Hoya partisans have delved deeper, lamenting Ewing’s first attempt at scheduling as being reminiscent of what was faced when he played; then, the team was led by John Thompson, Jr, the Hall of Fame coach who is still a presence on campus.
In Thompson, Jr.’s day, he openly accepted scheduling fairly weakly before BIG EAST play started. Just look at his National Championship year, ’83-84, when he, Ewing and the Hoyas had 13 non-conference games played, with only two of those, DePaul and UNLV, being then national powerhouses. The Hoyas won all but the Blue Demon contest.
Basketball fans, both Hoya and non, would and do routinely attack Thompson, Jr.’s penchant for playing “the little sisters of the poor” as he’s been heard saying. Under his son, John Thompson III, that practice was eschewed. Ewing took over for Thompson III this year, and many don’t want to see scheduling occur as it did under his father. With the RPI and TV matchups looming so importantly in today’s hoops landscape, it’s understandable.
In terms of scheduling philosophy, Thompson III often alluded putting together a game slate is a yearly enterprise, predicated on each team’s needs. Two years ago, he even lamented scheduling as difficult a slate as occurred. Thompson III stressed flexibility in scheduling, as opposed to rigidly adopting a hard or soft approach. Addressing filling out a team's slate in this manner makes sense.
One has to assume a return to consistent St. Leo matchups, in THIS college environment won’t be standard operating procedure. It’s just this year’s team could be broken by too many early poundings. Returning to the boxing analogy, you don’t step into the ring with champions for actual matches, unless you are ready. Doing so risks not only career (in this case season) derailment, but the specter of being dubbed a tomato can, something that will hurt Georgetown on and off the court, particularly in recruiting.
So, we have RPI/SOS considerations for G’Town and the BIG EAST, plus team development and scheduling direction concerns driving the ‘This schedule sucks’ train. Whether emotional, analytical, or both, people on those tracks are headed in an erroneous direction.
This time, reality dictates a softer, OOC approach. That’s not a commitment to racking up questionable early wins, damaging the BIG EAST – a league in a fight for space as one of college basketball’s go-to conferences - or shorting ticket buyers.
It’s just in 2017-18, a peculiar set of conditions exist for the Hoyas, including a new coach in a different job, the entire roster in new roles, novel concepts needing to be learned and roster question marks position-wise conspire to demand soft scheduling.
It shouldn’t be viewed as a future blueprint. This is a present and necessary anomaly.