The Hoya Snaxa convenience store at the south end of Georgetown’s football field has the “S” in its name X’d out in red tape, the sign with the “Hours” has been reduced to “Hour,” and they’re not open “Sat-Sun” but “ at- un.” The letter S is verboten on the Georgetown campus this week, crossed out everywhere. Syracuse will face the Hoyas in men’s basketball Saturday afternoon at Capital One Arena. Why not hype the matchup? Why not have some fun?
“I think everybody knows the magnitude of this game,” Georgetown junior Jessie Govan said.
Which is to say, at least it has some magnitude.
You may have missed it, but Georgetown has opened the Patrick Ewing era — the coaching era, that is — by winning its first eight games of the season. The Hoyas (8-0) are one of just six Division I men's teams without a loss. Those two sentences can be simultaneously true and totally meaningless because Georgetown's schedule has been so bad — and we'll get to quantifying that momentarily — that the Hoyas have both won games and achieved nothing of substance.
What, Coach Ewing, could you have possibly learned about your team thus far?
“Everyone is getting confidence,” Ewing said. “Everyone is working hard and getting better, getting ready for the Big East.”
Now, it is Ewing’s prerogative — not to mention his responsibility — to get his team ready for conference play in the way he feels is best. But let’s list those eight opponents to this point, shall we?
Jacksonville, Mount St. Mary’s, Maryland Eastern Shore, Richmond, Maine, Coppin State, Howard, North Carolina A&T. After what might be a compelling matchup with the 8-1 Orange come dates with North Texas and Alabama A&M.
Really? You get the feeling that if Ewing could set up a quick two-game tournament by inviting Texas Southern, Arkansas Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State to the District, he would. Those are three of the remaining six Division I teams yet to win a game — and the Hoyas have already beaten one of the others (Coppin State) and have another forthcoming (Alabama A&M).
So what we have learned is, perhaps, that Georgetown has an early lead in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
This is dreadful.
"Georgetown's schedule will end up being the worst nonconference schedule for as long as I have been tracking . . . power conference or not," none other than Ken Pomeroy wrote in an email Thursday. Pomeroy's rankings at KenPom.com are somewhere between guidelines and gospel in college basketball. He began evaluating teams based on who they had beaten and who they had lost to — strength of schedule — in 2002, and his site includes loads of interesting metrics about how efficient teams are at various aspects of the game.
Sift through that, and trust this: If Ken Pomeroy says it’s bad, it’s bad. There are 351 teams playing Division I ball this year. Georgetown’s strength of schedule ranks 351st . Richmond, which counts as the Hoyas’ only road game, was also the only opponent in the top 300 in Pomeroy’s rankings entering Friday. The others: 328, 301, 343, 335, 344, 339, 323.
Not inspiring enough to X out, say, the “H” in Hoya Snaxa when Howard came downtown.
And apparently, this isn’t just for Ewing as he gets his battered program up off the canvas.
“My scheduling philosophy is the same way as the way it was this year,” he said. “Going to play whatever game I see fit.”
Now, this is not new at Georgetown, where John Thompson Jr. — who coached Ewing to three national title games and the 1984 national championship on the Hilltop — shared the current coach’s scheduling philosophy. Essentially, that’s, “Why get your brains beat in in December?” And that’s fine and that’s fair. To each his own.
But even Ewing’s freshman year, when Thompson was really getting the Hoyas going, there was a trip to the Great Alaska Shootout and a matchup with Ohio State, as well as games against UNLV and Missouri. The following year, the Hoyas played No. 1 Virginia, Wisconsin, Alabama and DePaul out of conference. It can be done. It has been done. And there are real ramifications to making Hoyas fans — and all local college basketball fans, really — wait till mid-December for the one (and only) palatable game on the nonconference schedule.
First, is this the best way to awaken a slumbering fan base, by playing Maine on a Tuesday night followed by Coppin State on a Sunday? The largest crowd of Ewing’s tenure came in that opener against Jacksonville, 9,212 — which still leaves Capital One Arena (capacity for basketball: 20,356) feeling cavernous, half-full (or half-empty, depending on your life view). The other home crowds: an average of 5,247, with none even reaching 6,500. If the Hoyas are gaining confidence, they’re doing so in near solitude.
Second, this is just a shame for college basketball fans that this national brand right in our back yard isn't taking on all comers — or at least some comers. When Ewing and the Hoyas decided to drop out of the 16-team PK80 tournament last month in Portland, Ore., maybe he saved himself three losses and some measure of humiliation. Maybe. But he also squandered an opportunity to remind the nation that, "Hey, isn't that Patrick Ewing coaching the Hoyas? That's intriguing. Let me see how he does."
Finally, there is a real impact on the Hoyas’ NCAA tournament chances, not that this group is favored to get there anyway. Still, in the future, that’s supposed to be a bare minimum of a goal. The committee that chooses and seeds the 68-team field has put a premium on playing at least something of a schedule, relying heavily on the Rating Percentage Index, which consists of a team’s winning percentage against Division I opponents, its opponents’ winning percentage (which counts twice as much) and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage.
Georgetown’s opponents’ winning percentage through Friday night? That would be .273 (24-64).
So, then, bring on the Big East, starting with Butler on Dec. 27?
“I would guess 12-6 in conference would be completely safe,” Pomeroy wrote in regards to the Hoyas’ NCAA chances. “11-7 would be an interesting case.”
What would be better than an interesting case would be interesting basketball. We’ll have that Saturday — or, make that “aturday” — at Capital One Arena. Syracuse is coming, and it’s a reason to get hyped. Too bad it’s the only one.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.