By Lucie Peyrebrune and Jo Stephens
January 20, 2023
Design by Natalia Porras
It was bad when Barstool labeled Georgetown basketball as “The Saddest Story in all of Sports” on Dec. 6.
It was really bad when a Georgetown men’s basketball fan was ejected from Capital One Arena for holding a “New Year, New Coach” sign on Jan. 1.
It was even worse when the student section started chanting “Fire Ewing!” at the team’s Jan. 10 Seton Hall loss at home.
But somehow, the athletic dumpster fire known as Georgetown men’s basketball reached a new low when “Thompson’s Towel,” a Georgetown basketball blog and podcast, suggested that Rick Pitino, the current Iona head coach and a controversial figure in NCAA basketball, might be the answer to Georgetown’s basketball woes. When students arrived back from winter break, they were greeted by an arrangement of posters plastered over Red Square. The signs formed a checkerboard pattern of sheets of paper that said “Save Georgetown Basketball” interspersed with photos of Pitino. Georgetown fans—who once supported a basketball program that prided itself on its high graduation rates and off-the-court excellence—seem to have had enough. So what if Pitino might have bribed a player to come to Louisville, or allegedly didn’t put a stop to dancers being hired from an escort service for his players? Pitino wins big games, and that’s something Georgetown fans haven’t seen in a long time.
With the men’s basketball team currently sitting at the bottom of the BIG EAST and 233rd in KenPom.com’s national basketball rankings, it’s worth looking back at how we got here.
Expectations were quite low coming into the season. How could they not be, coming off of a 21-game losing streak? However, there were hopes that the talent infusion to the roster—thanks to the No. 4 transfer class in the nation—and assistant coaching changes might be at least a small turning point for the program. Evidently, that hasn’t been the case.
The Hoyas’ nonconference play was mediocre at best. After barely managing an overtime win against Coppin State for their season opener, they pulled off their largest win of the season, 92-58, over Wisconsin–Green Bay, a team KenPom.com ranked 360th out of 363 in the country as of Jan. 18. Georgetown followed the win up with two losses, one to Northwestern and one to Loyola Marymount.
After a close win over La Salle in the Jamaica Classic consolation game, the Hoyas lost at home to American in their first loss to their D.C. rival since 1982. The Blue and Gray closed out nonconference play with losses to Texas Tech, South Carolina, and Syracuse, throwing a pair of wins over UMBC and Siena into the mix.
Sitting at 5-6, hopes were low going into BIG EAST play. The Hoyas had yet to beat a high-major team and struggled against teams that they had historically dominated. These worries were not without reason. Georgetown’s men’s team continues to disappoint with an abysmal 0-7 BIG EAST record.
Despite being the first team in the NCAA to lead then-No. 2 UConn in the second half, Georgetown blew its lead and ended up losing by 11. This has been a trend throughout the season. The Hoyas have managed to be tied or ahead at the half in three of their most recent games, yet their smallest margin of loss in conference play so far is four points against Villanova. Their second-half total point differential is -130.
Offensively, things are going reasonably well. Georgetown has proven time and again this season that they know how to score. Sophomore guards Primo Spears and Brandon Murray are averaging 15.3 and 15 points per game, respectively, which puts them at ninth and 14th in the BIG EAST in terms of scoring as of Jan. 18.
Defensively, they’ve shown improvement in some areas since last season, ranking fifth in the BIG EAST in terms of blocks per game as of Jan. 18. The addition of junior forward Akok Akok and the return of senior center Qudus Wahab have certainly helped in that aspect. Unfortunately, their defensive scheme seems doomed for failure.
The Hoyas’ biggest weakness this season lies in defending the three-point line. Their standard defensive scheme involves doubling in the paint anytime the ball goes to the post, leaving an opposing player open for a wide-open shot beyond the arc. This weakness has been apparent since the opener against Coppin State. In theory, this issue shouldn’t be too difficult to fix, but it has continued throughout the season.
Clearly, fans have several reasons to be upset, but no issue is more pressing than the coaching.
To say that the men’s team’s coaching staff has disappointed would be an understatement. Despite the fact that all but three scholarship players from last year’s roster have transferred at this point, the recruiting staff managed to assemble a new roster that is arguably more talented than the 2021-22 team. But the Hoyas are on pace to perform even worse than their dismal 6-25 (0-19) record last year. Currently, they are once again at the bottom of the BIG EAST with a 5-14 (0-8) record.
Considering their continuing defensive woes despite the new talent on the floor, coaching is the most logical explanation for the Hoyas’ struggles. One of the more consistent parts of their gameplay is that they regularly blow any lead they have or stop keeping pace if it’s a closer game at the 10-minute mark in the second half. This is a demonstration of poor in-game coaching: If their opponents are adjusting to stop them offensively or get by them defensively, the coaches need to find a way to respond, and so far, they haven’t been able to.
That’s not to mention the slew of recent injuries that the team has faced. Murray and graduate forward Bryson Mozone have both sat out a couple of games recently due to injuries, and the third-leading scorer, junior guard Jay Heath, is out indefinitely because of finger surgery. The injuries could stem from the limited guard rotation. Starters Murray, Spears, and Heath are all averaging upwards of 33 minutes per game, while the next most-played guard, sophomore Jordan Riley, is averagig 15 minutes per game.
The women’s team has, unfortunately, also faltered in BIG EAST play, although they’ve outperformed the men’s team overall. After starting the season off strong with a 7-2 record against nonconference opponents before New Year’s, the Hoyas have gone almost winless ever since, falling to a measly 2-7 against their conference rivals.
Coming into the season, the Hoyas weren’t expected to be phenomenal or to contend for the top spot in the league. In a lot of ways, they have lived up to the expectations that reporters and other league coaches had for them. After being expected to tie for ninth with Butler’s team and to only be ahead of bottom-dwelling Xavier, Georgetown’s 2-7 record matches those preseason projections. Their first conference win of the season came in a 22-point home court drubbing of the Musketeers, with their most recent losses coming to first-in-the-conference UConn and tenth-in-the-conference Butler. (For reference, the Hoyas are presently ninth out of 11 in the BIG EAST, only ahead of the aforementioned Xavier and Butler).
This is not due to their lack of talent; in fact, as compared to the previous few years, the women’s team is theoretically stronger than they have been. The one-two punch of junior guard Kelsey Ransom and senior forward Graceann Bennett has become more consistent with the benefit of experience, and superstar freshman guard Kennedy Fauntleroy has been nothing short of sensational, snagging four BIG EAST Freshman of the Week honors in six weeks of conference play. The loss of Jillian Archer, who left Georgetown’s program to play for fellow BIG EAST school St. John’s, certainly hurt, but Fauntleroy has stepped up admirably in her scoring stead despite playing a different position.
In short, these three players—Bennett, Fauntleroy, and Ransom—form a strong core that should have given Georgetown a solid foundation and more wins than they currently have. The addition of graduate guard Kristina Moore, who played in 99 games at the University of Florida before pursuing a master’s degree at Georgetown, should have offered the starting five a fourth dependable role player. Things didn’t develop that way over the course of the season, though, and the Hoyas now find themselves right back in the BIG EAST basement, a place they had hoped to be out of by now. On Wednesday night, during their game against DePaul at McDonough Arena, the Hoyas seemed to turn things around. Whether or not their 14-point win over the Blue Demons was a fluke or a sign of things to come, though, remains to be seen.
The Hoyas started conference play with a 21-point loss to Marquette, following it up with their Xavier win. After that, they battled to a pair of close losses to DePaul and Seton Hall, both solid squads, before suffering a blowout loss to then-ranked St. John’s and another close defeat at the hands of Villanova. On the whole, although not an ideal start to BIG EAST competition, things were going as they were expected to go.
It was their loss to Butler, though, that felt concerning. Going up against a team of similar quality but lesser talent, the Hoyas tanked 72-48. Though Bennett and Ransom led the team in both scoring and rebounding by a considerable margin, the rest of the team all but disappeared, and the two upperclassmen were unable to keep their team afloat on their own.
Overall, it’s quite clear that both Georgetown basketball teams have problems to deal with. Whatever’s happening internally is directly impacting the on-court performance of both squads, albeit in different ways. Though the women have been largely consistent with the season’s predicted trajectory, their defeat at the hands of Butler on Jan. 11 made it clear that something just wasn’t clicking at the start of conference play. The players have the capacity to shine, but weren’t able to put things together until the DePaul win. It’s the coaching staff’s responsibility to keep this momentum going and to prove that their 55.6 percent 3-point shooting wasn’t a fluke. Fortunately for the women’s squad, this means that there’s still time for them to turn things around and string some wins together going into the BIG EAST tournament at the beginning of March.
The men’s team, however, is running out of time, and given the fact that their defensive problems seem to have easy fixes, it’s difficult to understand why we’re still seeing the same errors game after game. Georgetown’s athletic department needs to consider seriously what the standards of acceptability should be for the program, and make changes to try to mend the relationship with fans before it’s too late.
Lucie is the Sports Editor and a sophomore in the College studying Political Economy and French. A DMV native, she is a big fan of DC sports teams (especially the Wizards and the Spirit) and anything USWNT-related.
More: Akok Akok, Brandon Murray, georgetown men's basketball, georgetown women's basketball, Graceann Bennett, Kelsey Ransom, Kennedy Fauntleroy, Primo Spears, Qudus Wahab
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3 days ago
It’s not just the Men’s coach that needs replacing, but the team’s Chief of Staff that is a cancer on the program. With him still in the picture, we’ll never attract a decent head coach.
2 days ago
Yes, it is bleak, and yes, it is bad in all the ways described here. I contend, however, that resorting to hiring someone like Rick Pitino does not reflect an abandonment of high standards and expectations but a possible expeditious solution to a program in ruins that calls out for the all around expertise not only in coaching but in rebuilding a program to win, yes, but also to graduate its players at a high rate again and restore Hoya pride in our flagship athletic program. Rick Pitino is one of a very small number of coaches who can do the job, do it well, and do it in 2-3 years.
For some, and maybe this includes the Administration, I don’t know, Coach Pitino must still pay for a history of sordid scandals and egregious actions from his time at Louisville, where he coached until 2017. Consider this: 1) he was exonerated by the IARP for much of what happened at Louisville; 2) he has been at the small Catholic college Iona for 3 years and has turned them into a league powerhouse in short order; 3) he has been under an NCAA microscope since 2018 with no violations; 4) Iona, again a Catholic college, thoroughly vetted Coach Pitino and hired him and is now seeking to extend his contract.
To those who still think that Georgetown should stay away from Coach Pitino, I say this: he did wrong and either paid the price (loss of job and reputation, shame to family, and more) or was exonerated by an independent body. Iona did due diligence in hiring Coach Pitino and took a chance in giving him another job. He has excelled there all while under tight observation by the NCAA. My question, then, is How long are you going to deny redemption to someone who has done his penance? If another Catholic college saw fit to hire him, why won’t Georgetown at least invite him to campus and talk to him? He is very familiar with the school as his son Ryan went here and graduated from here. I believe that we are honoring the virtues of forgiveness and redemption that our faith and our school extol when we live it out in our lives, as individuals and as a Catholic university.
He is one of the few brilliant basketball minds out there who could turn our program around and not only restore a winning tradition again but address the many aspects of a major college D1 basketball program. I beseech President DeGioia, AD Lee Reed, and those involved in the crisis facing our Men’s basketball team to take a chance, look hard at all the pros and cons, and include Rick Pitino in any discussions about the future of the program.
Reply to JacktheBulldog
1 day ago
Is this the Rick Pitino burner account?