Patrick Ewing returning to coach his alma mater was Georgetown’s 2017-18 story. No way anybody could ruin this feel-good scenario. Well, about that…
The Hoyas created a historically brutal non-conference schedule with 11 games primarily against truly overmatched foes. This became the national narrative/joke despite Ewing's presence and an 8-0 start. Realistic fans know this isn’t just sports hate. Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. home matchup against historic rival Syracuse offers the Georgetown men’s basketball team their first true test of the season.
Competitively lose by a little and perhaps some plan validation emerges. Lose by a lot, coast-to-coast laughs from pundits and opposing fan bases. The latter is what Hoyas nation should brace for against the 8-1 Orange who already own wins over Maryland and Connecticut.
Here’s a thought: What if they win?
Seriously, think about it. What if the Hoyas win?
You know who is laughing then? The Georgetown fan base, from the alums tying one on at The Tombs to the students in Harbin Hall to the casual interneter’s message boarding their hearts out.
It’s not just about dealing with college basketball know-it-alls cracking wise over a non-conference schedule that overall – sorry, Patrick – makes virtually no sense for any program remotely contemplating a postseason appearance or entertaining their fans.
Yes, the Hoyas enter undefeated, but their strength of schedule, a key component in determining at-large berths and seeding for the NCAA Tournament, is stupifying last among 351 Division I programs. That’s crazy. Beat Syracuse and some will say genius. Especially those supporters who pre-Ewing endured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since before anyone named Thompson coached the Hoyas.
You know who else will be cackling like mad? John Thompson Jr., who pushed his most famous player for the job, which opened when the university fired his flesh and blood.
We have discussed this bizarre scenario, but let’s do so one more time. Georgetown ousted John Thompson III in April after 13 seasons. Turns out missing the NCAAs three out of four campaigns won’t keep your job safe even though your dad’s name is literally on the on-campus basketball practice facility.
Yet Big John remains a looming figure. Thompson’s other son, Ron, helps Ewing in various unofficial ways. (Seriously, what was that Thompson Thanksgiving dinner like?) The Thompson’s weren’t walking away from a basketball program the old man put on the national map. Should the player who was the centerpiece of his lone national title beat his old coaching nemesis, Jim Boeheim, an excited John Thompson Jr. will be audible from Chinatown to the Hilltop.
Defeat Syracuse and no doubt the players will be in hysterics, even though juniors Jessie Govan, Marcus Derrickson and Kaleb Johnson are 2-0 against the Orange. The trio arrived in 2015, part of a recruiting class expected to help the Hoyas contend for Big East titles. Instead, they suffered through back-to-back losing seasons and the man who recruited them fired.
There’s been no suffering through eight games. Govan, a double-double machine with a 3-point touch, is playing like a worthy part of Georgetown’s Big Man U heritage. Johnson, a wing threat who never took off under his former coach’s read-and-react offense, is thriving under Ewing’s up-tempo scheme. Should Georgetown win Saturday, it’s a good bet those two and the powerful Derrickson led the way.
Famous friends like the coaching Van Gundys, Michael Jordan and Pat Riley will surely enjoy a hearty chortle should the Hoyas thrill. They know how much he wanted an NBA head-coaching job. No doubt his pals celebrate if their guy shines brightly in his first big head coaching test.
Then there is Ewing, who has Mutombo’d all questions about his scheduling choices. There’s no doubting the 55-year-old put in his dues with unglamorous assistant work. No offers came on the pro level. Ewing jumped when Georgetown called.
The Basketball Hall of Famer played against Boeheim in the early 1980s, often coming out on top. Imagine the thrill doing so in his first try as the head coach. Even for a certified legend that’s a cause for celebration.
Now, here’s the likely scenario. Syracuse, already battle-tested against the likes of No. 2 Kansas, likely prevails though it’s worth noting Saturday marks its first true road game. The Orange’s starting lineup offers impressive size and length not to mention 20-points per game scorer Tyus Battle. Boeheim has 1,012 career wins. Ewing has coached eight games.
Syracuse will likely have a large contingent of fans inside Capital One Arena. It’s tough knowing how many Georgetown backers show. There hasn’t been much excitement the last couple of years. Thanks to the unexciting schedule, empty seats dominated the scene in seven home games under Ewing.
These Hoyas are unproven, untested, unknown. Despite the sweet start, odds suggest this season ends sour with Ewing navigating the college ranks for the first time. That’s the most likely season-long scenario entering Saturday.
It’s just not set in stone. Besides, what if they win?