Georgetown’s horrid non-conference schedule puts a damper on any NCAA tournament optimism for this season

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Here’s something I didn’t think I would say at any point this season: Georgetown isn’t all that far away from being relevant.

On Wednesday night, in their Big East opener against Butler, Georgetown gave away a 20-point first half lead in a game that quite clearly had the kind of growing pains you’d expect out of a young team that has never experienced winning at a high-level with a first-year head coach. The final score was 91-89. It took three overtimes to get there. Georgetown had their chances to put this thing away.

Patrick Ewing deserves some criticism here. The defensive assignments were questionable. The zone offense was difficult to watch. The failure of the Hoyas to get the ball into the hands of their best players on the biggest possessions may have cost them the game, and these are issues that are not necessarily unique to this game. Remember, Georgetown blew a 15-point lead to Syracuse at home earlier this season.

But that’s not really what I want to discuss.

The bigger story, in my mind, is this: Georgetown is not terrible this year. Hell, they’re on the doorstep of being pretty good. If they can figure out what’s going on at the point and if they can find a way to be functional against a zone, I don’t think it’s out of the question that they can get to .500 in the Big East this year. Jessie Govan is a beast. Marcus Derrickson is good. Jamarco Pickett and Kaleb Johnson can fill a role. So can Jagan Mosely and Jonathan Mulmore.

Don’t laugh at what I’m about to say, but I actually believe it: Come March, I can see a scenario where Georgetown is one of the 68 best teams in the country. If they don’t blow those big leads and lose in overtime to Syracuse and to Butler, that sentence doesn’t sound quite as crazy.

But the problem is that their chances of getting to the NCAA tournament are just about dead.

This is not exactly breaking news, but Georgetown has played an absolutely atrocious non-conference schedule. As it stands, they have the worst non-conference schedule in the nation, according to KenPom. According to the RPI, it is the nation’s second-worst non-conference schedule, and according to me, it is the worst that I can ever remember seeing from a high-major program since I started covering college basketball a decade ago.

Georgetown’s best win in the non-conference came against either North Carolina A&T (163rd in the RPI) or Richmond (232nd on KenPom, 2-10 on the season), depending on your metric of choice. That’s bad, but teams have been able to overcome poor performances in non-conference play before.

Take Cincinnati in 2012, for example. They entered Selection Sunday with the 319th non-conference SOS, according to the RPI, but they earned a No. 6 seed after gong 12-6 in a strong iteration of the old Big East and beating two top 15 teams – including No. 2 Syracuse – en route to the title game of the Big East tournament. In 2015, Notre Dame earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament with the 323rd-best non-conference schedule, but they also went 14-4 in the ACC, 29-5 overall and won the ACC tournament title.

Those, however, are not the examples that Georgetown should concern themselves with.

If they can get to 12 wins in this Big East, while picking off a couple of the big dogs – Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton – in the process, they probably will find themselves in the mix come Selection Sunday.

I don’t think that will happen.

Which is why SMU’s 2014 snub is the one that immediately comes to mind. That SMU team had just four top 100 wins on the season, but all four were top 40 wins. Their schedule was that lopsided because they played the 302nd-ranked non-conference schedule that season, and despite being as high as a No. 9 seed in many a bracketology, the Mustangs found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.

“Their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked No. 302 out of, what do we have, 350 teams eligible for the tournament?”¬†NCAA men’s basketball committee chairman Ron Wellman said at the time. “It’s one of the worst non-conference schedules. Their overall strength of schedule was 129. That would have been by far the worst at-large strength of schedule. The next-worst was 91. Really, the glaring weakness about SMU was their schedule.”

Not only did Georgetown put together an awful schedule, they actively made it worse; the Hoyas were supposed to be a part of the PK80 Invitational and dropped out.

I understand why.

A young team and a new coach trying to gel. Sometimes what you need are wins to boost confidence. I get it.

But I told you this would happen.

Patrick Ewing scheduled his team out of NCAA tournament contention.