It was 11 months ago that Patrick Ewing and Georgetown were back on top of the Big East. Another losing season became something very different, the Hoyas pulling off one stunner after another to claim the conference tournament crown for the first time in 14 years.
Then the offseason came, and familiar problems resurfaced. Ewing couldn’t keep his best player on campus. Star big man Qudus Wahab transferred to Maryland. His best transfer, Tre King of Eastern Kentucky, never appeared in a game. And now, less than a year after that crowning achievement at the Garden, it is fair to wonder if Georgetown should make a change.
In Ewing’s fifth season, the Hoyas are clearly the worst team in the Big East, suffering through one of the uglier winters in the program’s 115-year history. They may not win double-digit games for the first time since the 1971-72 season. They are 0-10 in conference play, dropping those 10 contests by an average of 13.5 points, and 6-15 overall. They are ranked 206 by KenPom. That would be the sixth-best ranking in the MAAC.
This year was always going to be a step back, even had Wahab returned and King produced. Georgetown was rebuilding with a top-20 recruiting class. But even more has been asked of the building blocks of that class, five-star guard Aminu Mohammed and four-star center Ryan Mutombo, and the duo have not lived up to expectations. Muhammed, in particular, has struggled in the Big East, averaging 12.4 points on 38.1 percent shooting. This team is last in the Big East in field-goal percentage, last in field -goal percentage defense and last in scoring margin.
This isn’t exactly Chris Mullin’s failed tenure at St. John’s, a first-time coach who was unwilling to put in the necessary time and hire the right people. Ewing spent 15 years in the NBA as an assistant coach. He has worked hard and recruited well. But it is clearly not working. This isn’t even a conversation if not for the Hoyas’ miraculous Big East Tournament title run last March. Ewing’s record is 26-54 in league play, a dismal .325 winning percentage.
Those four wins in as many days, however, can’t hide the obvious. Player retention is a problem that isn’t going away under Ewing. If you can’t keep the best players in your program, it doesn’t matter how well you recruit unless you’re landing the very best high school prospects and transfers on a yearly basis.
Think about this: Georgetown hasn’t been nationally ranked in seven years. Under Ewing, it hasn’t finished with a winning league record in five seasons, and has been over .500 overall just once. This program is too good for that, too strong of a school in too fertile of a recruiting ground.
I think Ewing is a quality coach who cares deeply about Georgetown basketball. I just don’t believe college is for him. The results, aside from one four-day stretch, speak for themselves. I doubt Georgetown would outright fire the legendary player, especially after giving him a contract extension last April. But an amicable parting ways would be the best thing for both parties.
RAC your brain
At home, Rutgers edged Iowa, beat No. 4 Purdue at the buzzer and overwhelmed No. 13 Michigan State. On the road, it has lost to the likes of Northwestern, Penn State (by 17 points), Minnesota (without three of its starters) and UMass.
There are two Scarlet Knights teams. At Jersey Mike’s Arena, they look like an NCAA Tournament team capable of doing damage. On the road, Steve Pikiell’s squad is one of the worst power-conference teams in the country. The home victories have given them an outside shot to go dancing for the second straight season after a 30-year drought. The road losses have undermined that pursuit, leading to a woeful NET ranking of 100.
This, of course, isn’t new for Rutgers. Two years ago, it was 18-1 at home and 2-8 on the road. It is glaring, though, and somewhat bizarre.
Game of the Week
No. 18 Illinois at No. 4 Purdue, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
It will be an old-school showdown in the paint when Kofi Cockburn and Illinois face Zach Edey, Trevion Williams and Purdue. Foul trouble limited Cockburn in their first meeting, won in double overtime by Purdue. In his three games since, Cockburn is averaging 25.3 points and 9.6 rebounds, as Illinois has taken over the top spot in the rugged Big Ten.
1: Auburn, Gonzaga, Purdue, Kansas
2: Duke, Baylor, Kentucky, Wisconsin
3: Houston, Texas Tech, Arizona, UCLA
4: Providence, Illinois, Marquette, Villanova
Chet Holmgren — Up
It didn’t happen immediately for Gonzaga’s stud freshman. He didn’t wow us in November and December. But he’s hitting his stride now, and so is Gonzaga. The 7-foot phenom had one of the more ridiculous stat lines you will see in Saturday’s 33-point pasting of BYU: 20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. That came after the projected top-three NBA draft pick went for 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in a rout of San Diego. He has reached double figures in eight straight games, and the Zags have won 12 in a row by an average of 29.3 points.
Jordan Walker — UP
Walker showed very brief flashes of promise as a freshman at Seton Hall four years ago, glimpses of what he could one day become. UAB is seeing that firsthand. The 5-foot-11, Port Washington, N.Y. native has blossomed in Alabama, keying the Blazers’ strong season. He scored a program-record 42 points in a win on Saturday and is one of the more dynamic little guards in the country, averaging 19.4 points and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range Led by Walker, UAB is a March threat. It is just a game behind Conference USA West leader North Texas and dropped tight games to tournament contenders West Virginia and San Francisco by a combined eight points.
Hubert Davis — Down
North Carolina wanted to keep the job in the family. It wanted someone with Tar Heels bloodlines replacing Roy Williams. That narrowed down the options, a move that — albeit very early in the process — has backfired. North Carolina is in real danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. It is 0-7 in Quad 1 games after it was embarrassed at home by Duke on Saturday night, and has lost those contests by a whopping 130 points. There is a fair amount of talent on this roster, especially in a frontcourt featuring Armando Bacot and Brady Manek, but Davis has yet to get it to mesh. The defense, in particular, is a sieve, barely ranked in the top 100 in efficiency at 96.
UConn — Down
Less than a week ago, the Huskies were considered a Big East title contender. After two ugly losses, they don’t even look like a lock to get a bye in the conference tournament as one of the top five teams in the league. After falling at home to Creighton, offensively challenged UConn was manhandled by Villanova despite the absence of star guard Justin Moore. Danny Hurley’s team is in the midst of a brutal stretch in its schedule, having to host No. 24 Marquette on Tuesday and visit No. 21 Xavier on Friday before a trip to the Garden to face St. John’s on Super Bowl Sunday. It only has one league win of note, a victory at Marquette, and could easily tumble down the standings if this poor stretch mushrooms.