- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2018

Halfway through the 2017-18 campaign, the Georgetown Hoyas are 11-4, already just three victories shy of last year’s disappointing win total. At first glance, it seems coach Patrick Ewing is ahead of schedule with his rebuild of the once-dominant men’s basketball program.

Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s clear Ewing, the former Hoya great hired in April to replace John Thompson III, still has a lot of work ahead.

According to ESPN, the Hoyas have played the weakest nonconference schedule in the nation. Georgetown won 10 of its 11 nonconference games to start the season, all 10 victories coming against teams ranked below the top 150 in terms of Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

The lone nonconference loss came in an overtime defeat to ACC foe and former Big East rival Syracuse, ranked no. 26 in RPI. In fact, Georgetown turned down the chance to play more challenging opposition, pulling out of the Phil Knight Invitational which included the likes of Michigan State, North Carolina, Duke, and Florida.

Ewing justified this decision in September, arguing the Hoyas didn’t need to play, and most likely lose, to these top programs in order to attract talented recruits.

“It’s my belief that, 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 said, per the Washington Post. “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.”

With a purposefully subdued nonconference slate, the true test for this Georgetown squad was always going to be their performance in Big East play.

So far, the Hoyas have come up lacking. Georgetown has won just one of its first four Big East contests. The single conference victory came against the DePaul Blue Demons, a team that hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade.

One area where Ewing’s team certainly can improve is turnovers. Georgetown commits the most turnovers per game, 15.7, of any team in the Big East.

The sloppy ball-handling, unpunished by weaker nonconference foes, has come back to haunt the Hoyas in their three Big East defeats. In Saturday’s lopsided 90-66 loss to Creighton, the Hoyas committed 15 turnovers, which the Bluejays turned into 18 points on the other end.

“We have to do a better job of competing,” Ewing said after the Creighton loss. “Games like this, you have to rise. You have to get up for the occasion. If we want to be one of those teams that is considered up there within the Big East, these are games that we have to step up in and play better.”

Turnovers and cupcakes schedules aside, there are encouraging signs. Junior center Jessie Govan is enjoying a breakout season, averaging a team-high 18.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Govan and junior forward Marcus Derrickson form a talented front court duo, Georgetown is leading the Big East with 40.6 rebounds per game.

Despite the early-season wins, it appears unlikely Georgetown (currently no. 204 in RPI) will end its two-year NCAA tournament drought.

Having played such a weak nonconference schedule, it’s likely the Hoyas’ only route to the NCAA tournament will be winning the Big East — a task that may be asking too much for Ewing and the Hoyas in his inaugural season at the helm.

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