As the 2022-23 college basketball season blissfully comes to an end for the Georgetown Hoyas, one thing is abundantly clear: the Hoyas are bad. They will have made the NCAA Tournament just once over the last eight years (thanks to an improbable Covid miracle run during the 2020-21 Big East Tournament). Since 2015, Georgetown has had a winning overall record EXACTLY ONCE and has failed to produce a winning conference record during this entire stretch.
So, how did we get here?
First, a walk down memory lane with JTIII….
Coach John Thompson III’s struggles in his final two years at the helm have been well-documented: during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, his teams finished with a combined record 19-36 overall and 12-24 in conference. These back-to-back losing seasons were the first time Georgetown had suffered two consecutive losing seasons since 1971-72 and 1972-73 (the second of which was John Thompson Jr.’s first year on the Hilltop). And yet, JTIII’s fall from power was, in some respects, a product of his own success. He had led the Hoyas to three Big East regular season titles, seven consecutive top ten rankings, eight trips to the NCAA Tourney, one Big East Tourney championship, and a trip to the Final Four.
His ouster as head coach was probably the result of a variety of factors: increased expectations (for which he deserves more credit than he receives), a slow and plodding offensive style of play, ill-timed injuries (Tre Campbell, Paul White, Greg Whittington), and a series of early round NCAA Tourney flameouts (Ohio, FGCU, Davidson, VCU). But ultimately, JTIII’s dismissal probably had less to do with expectations and injuries, and more to do with his inability to modify his offensive and defensive sets in response to rule changes.
Some will remember that in 2014 and 2015 the NCAA instituted a series of rule changes that emphasized freedom of movement, reduced the shot clock to 30 seconds, and limited hand-checking. JTIII’s teams did not adjust well. During the 2015-16 season, the Hoyas committed a whopping 22.9 fouls per game (342nd in the country, which was third worst among power conference schools) and 11.2 turnovers per game (294th in the country). Following that season (JTIII’s first losing campaign at Georgetown), he diagnosed the problem, said all the right things, and brought in new personnel and players, but the result didn’t change. During the 2016-17 season, we committed 21.0 fouls per game (315th in the country, second worst among power conference schools) and 12.3 turnovers per game (239th in the country).
It became apparent that the rule changes had hindered us on both sides of the ball, and that JTIII, for a number of reasons, was unable to adjust. The perfect storm of futility occurred during two woeful nights in Maui in 2016 when Georgetown lost to Wisconsin by 16 (due to a 50-21 gap in rebounding) and to Oklahoma State by 27 (due to 28 Georgetown turnovers). This performance, on national television, marked the beginning of JTIII’s demise.
In the end, JTIII was a vastly underappreciated and very successful college basketball coach, arguably one of the best in the country during most of his tenure, until he failed to adapt his system and personnel to NCAA rule changes. (For more on JTIII’s tenure, feel free to revisit this excellent piece by OvertheHilltop)
…And then things got worse…
Which brings us to Coach Patrick Ewing. Let’s not bury the lede here. First, his record: in six seasons as head coach, he has tallied 75 wins and 108 losses. In conference play, he has 28 wins and 81 losses. He has managed only one winning season (2018-19) during this stretch. Put differently, he has had a losing record in five of his six seasons. He has had zero winning seasons in the Big East. He has won exactly two of his last 37 conference games, and zero last year. And against Creighton on March 1st, his team lost by 40 points, the worst margin of defeat by a Georgetown team since 1972.
Losing seasons at Georgetown used to mean something. In 1972, Jack Magee finished the year 3-23 and was promptly replaced by John Thompson, Jr. (who himself only had losing seasons during his first and last years at Georgetown). During 2003-04, Craig Esherick finished the season 13-15, his first losing season (if you discount his joint season with Thompson during 1998-99), and he was promptly dismissed. During JTIII’s last two seasons, he had losing marks (and was arguably only given the benefit of the doubt after his first losing year because of his previous success).
When you examine Patrick Ewing’s tenure, the first thing that jumps out is the sheer volume of losses. Most Georgetown coaches are fired after one or two losing seasons. He has had five of them. And yet, he has, remarkably, been given every benefit of every doubt. Why? Because he’s Patrick (Ch)Ewing, the savior of our program, the hero of our lone national championship, and a beloved and loyal mentor and friend to legions of former Hoya players and coaches over the last forty years. In short, everyone loves him.
The Patrick Ewing Era: By the Numbers
But let’s put aside the administration’s purported reasons for keeping him, its unwise decision to reward him with a contract extension two years ago, the transfers, and all of the other noise. Let’s focus instead on the cold, hard stats. If JTIII’s problem was his inability to adapt his ways to new NCAA rules, Ewing’s problem is that he never adapted his ways to the college game at all, and when the NCAA rules changed again (e.g., easier transfer policies, NIL influencing recruiting), his problems only worsened.
On both offense and defense, his teams have been very bad. Their performance has often resembled games at the Kenner League: high pace, lots of individual play, no transition defense, no communication.
On defense, the diagnosis is plain and simple. During Ewing’s tenure, we have had the worst perimeter defense among power conference schools in the country. The players and coaches have changed, but the results have not. Look at these numbers (from teamrankings.com):
Opponent 3pt FG%
- 2022-23: 38.8% (357) – the worst mark among power conference schools in the country
- 2021-22: 36.9% (326) – the worst mark among power conference schools in the country
- 2020-21: 33.8% (170)
- 2019-20: 36.4% (313) – second worst among power conference schools in the country (UCLA)
- 2018-19: 33.9% (145)
- 2017-18: 34.8% (161)
Opponent three-pointers made per game
- 2022-23: 9.5 (352) – by far the worst mark in the Big East; only behind Syracuse among power conference schools (10.3/361)
- 2021-22: 9.3 (341) – by far the worst mark in the Big East; only behind Syracuse among power conference schools (10.2/357)
- 2020-21: 8.3 (292) – by far the worst mark in the Big East
- 2019-20: 9.3 (344) – the worst mark among power conference schools in the country
- 2018-19: 8.8 (304)
- 2017-18: 8.6 (296)
Teams aren’t intimidated by our size. They just shoot over us. For the last six years, due to our shoddy perimeter defense, our opponents have prioritized ball movement and three-pointers and we haven’t been able to adjust:
Opponent % of points from three-pointers
- 2022-23: 36.3% (337) – notably, Syracuse is at 42.4% (362) because everyone just shoots over the zone these days
- 2021-22: 36.2% (324) – the worst mark in the Big East
- 2020-21: 34.9% (300)
- 2019-20: 37.7% (341)
- 2018-19: 33.9% (243)
- 2017-18: 33.9% (267)
Ewing’s teams have also given opponents a staggering number of opportunities to score points. In the last six years, we have cumulatively allowed teams to score more points and shoot more field goals than any other power conference team in the country. Playing at a high tempo and turning the ball over at a high clip have allowed opposing teams to score in transition very easily. Look at these numbers:
Opponent field goals attempted per game
- 2022-23: 62.6 (351) – by far the worst mark in the Big East; only behind Arizona and Alabama among power conference schools (interestingly, Alabama, despite its gaudy record, is worst in the country in this category because they play at such a fast pace)
- 2021-22: 60.5 (302)
- 2020-21: 61.9 (312)
- 2019-20: 61.0 (304)
- 2018-19: 64.0 (346) – by far the worst mark in the Big East; only behind UCLA among power conference schools
- 2017-18: 62.3 (319)
- 2022-23: 78.1 (345) – by far the worst mark among power conference schools
- 2021-22: 77.0 (327) – fourth worst mark among power conference schools (Oregon State, Georgia, Nebraska)
- 2020-21: 71.7 (200)
- 2019-20: 73.9 (276)
- 2018-19: 78.1 (314) – second worst mark among power conference schools (Washington State)
- 2017-18: 76.5 (263)
But what about the offense?
On the offensive side of the ball, things have not been much better during Ewing’s tenure. In some cases, we have stagnated or actually regressed from season to season.
The biggest problem, especially in recent seasons, is that our teams simply don’t pass enough. This should be obvious to anyone who has watched a Georgetown game this season: we settle for one-on-one play and difficult mid-range jumpers instead of MOVING, spreading the floor, and finding open shooters in rhythm.
The most glaring statistic here is our number of assists per field goal made. If you look at the stats below, our numbers have regressed during each of Ewing’s six seasons.
Assists per field goal made
- 2022-23: .464 (293) – the worst mark in the Big East (among power conference schools, only behind Oregon State, Michigan, Maryland, NC State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Louisville – some of these schools, notably, are also coached by former NBA players)
- 2021-22: .475 (260)
- 2020-21: .517 (175)
- 2019-20: .570 (46)
- 2018-19: .605 (15)
- 2017-18: .653 (2)
The situation with turnovers, while murkier, also doesn’t paint a positive picture. During the Ewing years, we have gone from atrocious (15.3 turnovers per game during 2017-18, which was more than any other power conference school in the country that year) to slightly less atrocious, to abysmal once again during 2020-21 (15.2 turnovers per game).
Turnovers per game
- 2022-23: 12.4 (181)
- 2021-22: 13.4 (243)
- 2020-21: 15.2 (297)
- 2019-20: 13.5 (213)
- 2018-19: 13.4 (226)
- 2017-18: 15.3 (332) – worst in the country among power conference schools
Assist to Turnover Ratio
- 2022-23: .964 (218)
- 2021-22: .884 (267)
- 2020-21: .843 (260)
- 2019-20: 1.106 (79)
- 2018-19: 1.221 (63)
- 2017-18: 1.140 (110)
In terms of shot selection, Ewing’s teams are notorious for settling for difficult long-range two-point attempts. Most will recall Ewing chastising Marcus Derrickson for taking a deep, off-balance one-legged jumper in January 2018. But these days, our players attempt similar shots multiple times each game. Although these high risk, low reward shots have more or less vanished from the college game, at Georgetown, which has often appeared to shun the use of analytics, the trend has not only continued, it has gotten measurably worse:
- 2022-23: 47.5% (283)
- 2021-22: 43.3% (349) – by far the worst mark among power conference schools
- 2020-21: 46.1% (295) – sixth worst among power conference schools
- 2019-20: 47.8% (248)
- 2018-19: 49.6% (203)
- 2017-18: 50.1% (167)
And of course, teams with poor shooters who opt for deep two-point attempts typically don’t make a whole lot of three-point shots. This was a glaring weakness of Ewing’s Hoyas during 2019-20, and it has been even more pronounced this season:
Three-pointers made per game
- 2022-23: 5.9 (321)
- 2021-22: 7.6 (140)
- 2020-21: 8.3 (72)
- 2019-20: 6.4 (254)
- 2018-19: 8.2 (122)
- 2017-18: 7.5 (176)
Putting aside these traditional statistics, there are also a few additional ones from recent years that are worth noting. During 2021-2022, Georgetown allowed 4.5 blocks per game (which was 345th in the country). This is another byproduct of Georgetown’s stagnant offensive sets: very few head fakes, little passing and movement, and too much predictability.
Two of the most eye-opening player statistics from the last six years involve Kaiden Rice and Primo Spears. During Kaiden’s lone season on the Hilltop, he was tied for the most three-point field goal attempts per minute (.33) in the country. This is notable, not only because he was one of the few Georgetown players who prioritized threes over twos, but because it confirms what many of us suspected all along that season: almost every time Kaiden touched the ball on offense, he threw up a shot, no matter how deep and regardless of whether it was in the rhythm of the offense.
The other stat involves Primo Spears, who this season has averaged 37.26 minutes per game, which is the ninth-highest total in the country and the highest number of minutes played by any power conference player in the country. This explains, in part, why Primo has regressed as the season has moved on. He is exhausted. Teams with better players and smaller rosters have somehow found time to rest key players. Georgetown, bizarrely, has not.
Cool stats, but what does all of this mean?
All of these statistics confirm what most casual fans have known for a while now: Georgetown’s offense and defense have been among the worst in the country for six seasons. The most glaring deficiency under Ewing has, unquestionably, been our lack of perimeter defense. But other significant problems have included our frenetic pace of play (we run like Alabama but we don’t score or defend like Alabama), our reluctance to pass the ball, our lack of transition defense, our unwillingness to prioritize threes over long two-point jumpers, and more recently, our inability to shoot well at all.
Ewing’s sole trip to the NCAA Tourney, a 23-point blowout loss to Colorado in 2021, underscored many of these deficiencies, especially on defense. Colorado scored 96 points, including a whopping 16 threes, converted over 60% from the floor, and dished out 27 assists on 34 field goals.
If the Ewing tenure is best described as watching one long Kenner League pick-up game, the administration’s evaluation of Ewing has resembled a group of doctors trying to diagnose an auto-immune deficiency disorder: each season they have seemingly just tried to rule out what isn’t the problem from among a long list of issues, all in the hopes of giving Ewing every opportunity to succeed.
After Year 1, our roster was too young and inexperienced, and Ewing didn’t have the benefit of a full recruiting period. After Year 2, despite a 32-point late season loss at DePaul, our team was trending in a positive direction. After Year 3, the Great Defection (Akinjo, LeBlanc, Gardner, Alexander) and other transfers (McClung) were the culprits. After Year 4, they blamed it on COVID until we improbably won the Big East Tourney and Ewing received a contract extension. After Year 5, they pinned it on our defense and lack of recruiting/talent, so they hired a new staff, including a defensive coordinator and recruiting guru. After Year 6, now that we supposedly have talent, Ewing will lose his job because there is no one left to blame. And sadly, his coaching career will probably end on Wednesday night in his former home, Madison Square Garden, against the very same team, Villanova, that ended his playing career with the Hoyas.
Patrick Ewing was an outstanding player who has dedicated his life to honing his basketball skills, developing NBA talent, and giving back to the university he adores. Everyone who has ever known him loves him. And he provided us with four really fun days at MSG two years ago, during a time when the country was still reeling from COVID:
But he has not been a good college basketball coach. Truth be told, he has had considerable (and unforeseen) obstacles in his path: new transfer and NIL rules, a number of key transfers following an incident on campus during what should have been Ewing’s best season, the death of his mentor and father figure, COVID, and most recently, the illness and death of his close friend and fellow coach, Louis Orr. But none of these variables should take away from the fact that Ewing’s teams have struggled from the same coaching issues throughout most of his tenure. The stats don’t lie.
Patrick Ewing was once the hero of Georgetown basketball and its most beloved son. He now needs to leave Georgetown basketball in order to save it.
So….where does Georgetown go from here?
I started this piece by pointing out that Georgetown fans haven’t only suffered through six years of below average basketball; they’ve suffered through eight straight years (two under JTIII, six under Ewing). Losing records in seven of eight years, zero winning Big East records during this stretch, and a whole lot of angst and anger that have, sadly, morphed into apathy and indifference from a once proud base of supporters. Aside from those four glorious days in New York in March 2021, there hasn’t been much to celebrate, except for a few victories against Syracuse here and there.
I emphasize the eight-year run of miserable results not to pile on JTIII (on the contrary, I still appreciate JTIII and remain in the minority of folks who never thought he should’ve been pushed out). Rather, I mention the eight years to underscore what should seem obvious to most: Georgetown needs to win now.
There is no time for a rebuild or a grace period under a new head coach. Fortunately for us, the transfer rules and NIL shenanigans offer teams the freedom to bring instantaneous results through the hiring of new coaches, the recruitment of new players, and a commitment from boosters to support the team.
As the university looks to replace Ewing, there are many factors worth considering (here are some examples from whipple and ChatGPT):
But I would prioritize four things:
- Someone who has college basketball head coaching experience,
- Someone who embraces the transfer and NIL rules and has a plan for using them creatively, consistent with all of the usual Georgetown caveats about doing things “the right way” (even though these days there doesn’t even seem be a “right way” anymore),
- Someone who has a successful track record of coaching perimeter defense (which rules out Mike Brey), and
- Someone who can reel in high-level talent immediately.
Wednesday will likely mark the end of Patrick Ewing’s tenure as head coach of his alma mater. If the Hoyas are going to succeed going forward, they need to learn from the mistakes of the past eight years and modernize this program. The college basketball landscape, and the game itself, have changed considerably in the last decade; it’s now time for Georgetown to catch up. The next head coach will be the most critical basketball hire since John Thompson himself came to the Hilltop in 1972. Here’s hoping we get it right.