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Eternal Optimism: Hoyas’ Path to the 2019 NCAA Tourney

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With 13 non-conference opponents and 18 Big East games, what will it take to dance in March?

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Georgetown Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With recent news on the non-conference schedule coming out for Georgetown and the Big East schedule released on Thursday, there have been plenty of good discussions on what it might take for Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas to make the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Are the non-conference teams a step up from last season? Is the Big East “down” this year? Is 20 wins the magic number?

Of course, there is a new metric in use this year, the “NET,” which is the NCAA’s proprietary tool that apparently hybridizes results-based values (e.g., RPI) and predictive metrics (like KenPom) and powered by the Google Cloud. However, it appears that for Georgetown this year, there may be a really simple way to have a role in March Madness: win a boatload of games.

More specifically, the question is—considering Georgetown’s non-conference schedule—how many of those 31 games does Coach Ewing and the Hoyas actually have to win to make the NCAA Tournament?

Rather than begin by examining Georgetown’s non-conference schedule, the starting focus should likely be on the Big East season. How many Big East games can Georgetown win and how many does it have to win? For instance, if Georgetown goes 5-13 again this year, their non-conference schedule just doesn’t matter, but what if the Hoyas go 11-7, 10-8 or 9-9?

The (new) Big East has been fairly successful in getting conference teams into the tournament (even if the teams do appear to be heading into March a little more black-and-blue than teams from some other conferences) and this year should hopefully be no different. For instance, looking at the standings over the past 5 seasons, a simple trend appears—i.e., if you win over 10 Big East games, you go to the NCAA tournament.

Big East Standings 2014-2018

2014 School Conf-W Conf-L W-L% Overall-W Overall-L Overall-W-L% SOS Notes
2014 School Conf-W Conf-L W-L% Overall-W Overall-L Overall-W-L% SOS Notes
1 Villanova 16 2 0.889 29 5 0.853 7.5 NCAA Tournament; Reg. Season Champion
2 Creighton 14 4 0.778 27 8 0.771 7.2 NCAA Tournament
3 Providence 10 8 0.556 23 12 0.657 7.9 NCAA Tournament; Conf. Tournament Champion
3 Xavier 10 8 0.556 21 13 0.618 8.1 NCAA Tournament
3 St. John's (NY) 10 8 0.556 20 13 0.606 6.6
6 Marquette 9 9 0.5 17 15 0.531 6.6
7 Georgetown 8 10 0.444 18 15 0.545 8.3
8 Seton Hall 6 12 0.333 17 17 0.5 5.6
9 Butler 4 14 0.222 14 17 0.452 7
10 DePaul 3 15 0.167 12 21 0.364 7.5
2015 School Conf-W Conf-L W-L% Overall-W Overall-L Overall-W-L% SOS Notes
1 Villanova 16 2 0.889 33 3 0.917 7.6 NCAA Tournament; Reg. Season Champion; Conf. Tournament Champion
2 Butler 12 6 0.667 23 11 0.676 8.6 NCAA Tournament
2 Georgetown 12 6 0.667 22 11 0.667 9.8 NCAA Tournament
4 Providence 11 7 0.611 22 12 0.647 9.5 NCAA Tournament
5 St. John's (NY) 10 8 0.556 21 12 0.636 9 NCAA Tournament
6 Xavier 9 9 0.5 23 14 0.622 9.5 NCAA Tournament
7 Seton Hall 6 12 0.333 16 15 0.516 7.6
7 DePaul 6 12 0.333 12 20 0.375 7.5
9 Creighton 4 14 0.222 14 19 0.424 7.1
9 Marquette 4 14 0.222 13 19 0.406 9
2016 School Conf-W Conf-L W-L% Overall-W Overall-L Overall-W-L% SOS Notes
1 Villanova 16 2 0.889 35 5 0.875 9.7 NCAA Tournament; Reg. Season Champion; NCAA FF; NCAA Champion
2 Xavier 14 4 0.778 28 6 0.824 8.4 NCAA Tournament
3 Seton Hall 12 6 0.667 25 9 0.735 8.3 NCAA Tournament; Conf. Tournament Champion
4 Providence 10 8 0.556 24 11 0.686 8.5 NCAA Tournament
4 Butler 10 8 0.556 22 11 0.667 7.5 NCAA Tournament
6 Creighton 9 9 0.5 20 15 0.571 6.4
7 Marquette 8 10 0.444 20 13 0.606 5.6
8 Georgetown 7 11 0.389 15 18 0.455 8.5
9 DePaul 3 15 0.167 9 22 0.29 8.3
10 St. John's (NY) 1 17 0.056 8 24 0.25 7.9
2017 School Conf-W Conf-L W-L% Overall-W Overall-L Overall-W-L% SOS Notes
1 Villanova 15 3 0.833 32 4 0.889 9.3 NCAA Tournament; Reg. Season Champion; Conf. Tournament Champion
2 Butler 12 6 0.667 25 9 0.735 10.2 NCAA Tournament
3 Creighton 10 8 0.556 25 10 0.714 8.9 NCAA Tournament
3 Seton Hall 10 8 0.556 21 12 0.636 9.3 NCAA Tournament
3 Providence 10 8 0.556 20 13 0.606 7.8 NCAA Tournament
3 Marquette 10 8 0.556 19 13 0.594 8.6 NCAA Tournament
7 Xavier 9 9 0.5 24 14 0.632 11.5 NCAA Tournament
8 St. John's (NY) 7 11 0.389 14 19 0.424 8.4
9 Georgetown 5 13 0.278 14 18 0.438 9.3
10 DePaul 2 16 0.111 9 23 0.281 7.8
2018 School Conf-W Conf-L W-L% Overall-W Overall-L Overall-W-L% SOS Notes
1 Xavier 15 3 0.833 29 6 0.829 9.4 NCAA Tournament; Reg. Season Champion
2 Villanova 14 4 0.778 36 4 0.9 10.2 NCAA Tournament; Conf. Tournament Champion; NCAA FF; NCAA Champion
3 Seton Hall 10 8 0.556 22 12 0.647 10.1 NCAA Tournament
3 Creighton 10 8 0.556 21 12 0.636 8.1 NCAA Tournament
3 Providence 10 8 0.556 21 14 0.6 10.2 NCAA Tournament
6 Butler 9 9 0.5 21 14 0.6 10.6 NCAA Tournament
6 Marquette 9 9 0.5 21 14 0.6 9.7
8 Georgetown 5 13 0.278 15 15 0.5 5.3
9 St. John's (NY) 4 14 0.222 16 17 0.485 10.7
9 DePaul 4 14 0.222 11 20 0.355 8.5
https://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/conferences/big-east/2018.html

Of course, winning 10 games in the Big East is not an absolute lock for the NCAA Tournament (e.g., 2014 St. John’s), and losing 10 BE games may not preclude an invitation in a very special SOS circumstance, but by looking at the 10-8 and 9-9 teams of yesteryears we might learn more about how/when Big East teams may make or miss the cut when they are hovering around .500 in conference play.

In the Big East, and certain other conferences, there has been a lot of talk about the word “parity” and why upsets are more commonplace these days. Some commentators attribute it to the distribution of one-and-dones, many point to the three-point attempts rising, and others believe film study and coaching are the biggest factor.

Regardless of the reasons, Big East play is a grind and anyone can lose a game home or away. Winning 10+ games in the conference has to be the season’s goal for any Big East team with tournament aspirations. Play well at home, beat up on inferior teams, and hope to steal wins from a top team and/or on the road is the recipe for a Big East team to be in the top third or half of the standings.

By many accounts, Georgetown is expected to be right there in the mix at 5th or 6th place (i.e., about 10-8 in any prior year):

Andy Katz also had a summer power ranking:

1. Villanova

2. Marquette

3. Providence

4. St. John’s

5. Georgetown

6. Seton Hall

7. Butler

8. Creighton

9. Xavier

10. DePaul

In August, Jeff Borzello of ESPN picked Georgetown as 7th, only ahead of Creighton, Seton Hall, and DePaul. That might be 9-9 more often than 8-10 (e.g., 2016 Marquette (20-13; no bid)).

As of June, D1CoachCorner predicted Georgetown as third place with 11+ wins in the Big East, behind Villanova and Marquette. They’ve had ample time to lower that and have not.

On a podcast with Andy Katz (9/11/2018), Villanova Coach Jay Wright believes Georgetown has potential to be at the top:

“Butler will be really good,’’ said Wright on the latest edition of the NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365. “I’d put Butler first. Marquette will be really good. Georgetown and St. John’s will be really good. I think they’ll be up there. Any one of the rest of us could be up there. DePaul will be good this year. We may not have the defined top teams like we’ve had. We’re going to have incredible parity this year.”

(However, no one else seems to think Butler escapes the basement or that DePaul... never mind)

So the Hoyas going 10-8 in the Big East as a baseline seems feasible right now. That said, if Georgetown loses to a team ranked in the 200s via any metric, they may have to add a win or two against the top of the Big East, beyond the 10 expected games, to feel secure. Still it might be a close call; let’s consider a couple scenarios:

(A) if Georgetown loses to Illinois, SMU, and Syracuse (heaven forbid!), going 10-3 in non-conf, but goes 11-7 in the Big East (21-10 overall, pre-BET) they likely have a case to be in the tournament (i.e., no 11-win teams in new Big East have missed the tournament). Winning more non-conference or BE games would probably secure a spot, but 21-10 seems like a good benchmark for sliding into the tournament if the Big East is still considered a top conference.

(B) if Georgetown goes 10-8 in the Big East and only loses to 2 of those 3 from Illinois, Syracuse and SMU (11-2) in non-conf (21-10 overall) they may still have a decent case to be in the tournament based on past standings and selections (e.g. bids: 2014 Xavier (10-8, 21-13), 2015 St. John’s (21-12), 2016 Butler (22-11), 2017 Marquette (19-13), 2018 Providence (21-14); no bid: 2014 St. John’s (10-8, 20-13).

(C) if Georgetown goes 10-8 in the Big East AND loses to Illinois, Syracuse and SMU (10-3 in non-conf) (20-11 overall) they would look more similar to 2014 St. John’s (10-8, 20-13) that didn’t dance.

(D) if Georgetown goes 9-9 in the Big East and loses at least 2 of 3 from Illinois, Syracuse and SMU (11-2) in non-conf (20-11 overall), they will likely be on the wrong side of the bubble (e.g., bids: 2018 Butler (9-9, 21-14), 2017 Xavier (24-14), 2015 Xavier (23-14); no bids: 2014 Marquette (17-15), 2016 Creighton (20-15), 2018 Marquette (21-14)).

(E) if Georgetown beats Illinois, Syracuse and SMU (going 13-0) in non-conf, but goes 9-9 in the Big East (22-10 overall, pre-BET) they have a glimmer of hope to be on the right side of the bubble, but it will more than likely depend on which conference opponents they beat and how strong the Big East is overall.

So basically, if Georgetown loses a non-conference game, it looks like they will have to win at least 11 Big East games to feel good about a potential to be selected for the tournament. Assuming the conference maintains its recent strength, and you knock off a few teams above you in the standings, 11 wins in the Big East and 21+ wins overall should still get you in to the tournament (knock on wood!). Yes, there is a new metric and, yes, selection depends on how other programs across the nation are performing, but if a Big East team’s bubble bursts it is likely the committee found them in the bottom half of the conference standings and skipped deliberations.

Again, there was only one time in past 5 years that the fifth place team (10-8) was not selected for the NCAA Tournament and that was the 2014 St. John’s squad (20-13). 2014 was the first year of the new Big East and is often pointed to as the conference’s weakest showing (collectively 7-29 against AP 25 teams).

That said, if the Big East is as good and balanced as it has been since 2014-15, then .500 conference play and knocking off Syracuse on the road could potentially be enough for a bid. Maybe? Let’s not let it get to that.

It’s not like last year the Hoyas (5-13, 15-15 overall) were far off, right? I mean, maybe they only needed 5 more wins to have been on that bubble...

Well, if we can’t be optimistic in September, when can we be?