2014 GW Women’s Basketball Postseason Preview
Twenty-three months ago, a highly-touted assistant coach from Notre Dame arrived in Foggy Bottom, aiming to turn around a once-great program that was coming off a season in which the team won just four conference games.
This week, Head Coach Jonathan Tsipis leads a George Washington squad with just five conference losses into the Atlantic 10 Championship in Richmond. The Colonials, who finished tied for second in the conference, have the fourth seed in the tournament, earning them a bye in Thursday’s first round. Their first game, Friday at 2:30 p.m. against fifth-seed Saint Joseph’s, can be heard on WRGW.
This has been a strong season for the Colonials. They started hot, notching a home win against #10 California behind one of grad student Megan Nipe’s two 31-point performances. The team then split the season series with Saint Joseph’s and Dayton, the teams in the conference with the two highest RPI ratings.
The team’s strengths come inside, with sophomore Clemson transfer Jonquel Jones and Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year Caira Washington, each of whom had 10 double-doubles this season. Jones, who joined the team in late-December, is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.5 points per game to go along with nearly 11 rebounds a game.
But not all the offense has come from the post. The talent inside has done a good job of freeing up space outside for shooters, like Nipe, to nail threes. They have also been key in opening up lanes to the basket for guards like grad student Danni Jackson and junior Chakecia Miller. The shooting, however, has been cold at times, which highlights the importance of the players inside even more.
The defense has also been a major part of GW’s success. The scoring defense stats do not blow you away because the team tends to play more of a fast-paced, high-scoring game (which makes them fun to watch or listen to), but they have done a good job, especially in late game situations, of getting stops when they need to.
Atlantic 10 Tournament: GW comes into the tournament with the fourth seed, the team’s highest since 2008. They will play Saint Joseph’s in the second round of the tournament, a team GW split the season series with this season. Saint Joseph’s’ offense is built around two players: Erin Shields and Natasha Cloud. Shields is the A-10 leader in made threes, while Cloud is the team leader in rebounds. But this is a very deep Hawks team (neither of those two players finished in double figures in Thursday’s first round win against George Mason) with many weapons, both inside and out. Sarah Fairbanks and Ilze Gotfrida are going to have to muscle their way inside if the Hawks want to get the win.
GW beat the Hawks earlier this season in Philadelphia, behind a Jonquel Jones double-double. If this team is firing on all cylinders—like they were Saturday against the Dayton Flyers—then the Colonials can nab a win. But they will have to look to stay out of foul trouble and slow down Erin Shields.
A win against Saint Joe’s would pit GW against Dayton, the team that bounced the Colonials from the tournament last season. GW lost big in Dayton earlier this year, but won on Senior Day at the Smith Center. The Flyers are led by Andrea Hoover, conference player of the year, and get major contributions from Ally Mallott and Cassie Sant. Dayton is a very talented team with the power to hurt you from outside, but GW is a team that, on any given day, can beat anyone in the conference.
If the Colonials can make it to the finals, they have yet another tough test. The likely foes would be Saint Bonaventure or Fordham, two teams the Colonials have lost to on the road. GW had a hard time getting the Bonnies to play at GW’s faster pace, and Fordham’s Abigail Corning had a 20 point performance when the Colonials made the trip to the Bronx.
There are no cupcakes in the conference tournament draw. But this team has proven that they can beat nearly anyone in the conference when they are at their best, so it would hardly be a shock if the Colonials are the ones cutting down the Richmond Coliseum nets on Sunday.
Beyond the Conference Tournament: ESPN’s women’s basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme, does not have GW in his field of 64. The only two Atlantic 10 teams in the field, Dayton and Saint Joseph’s, will likely face GW this weekend, which is a good sign for the Colonials. However, with an RPI of 82 as of Thursday evening, it will be a tough sell, even with those wins, for an at-large bid in the tournament.
If GW can pull off a conference tournament win, they we will be headed to the Big Dance with an automatic bid. This scenario is not out of the question by any means. If they make it, the Colonials will have a tough first-round battle, almost certainly playing as a double-digit seed.
What is more likely is a place for GW in the Women’s NIT. The conference sent five teams to the tournament, with games being played at school hosts. This would be a great way for the younger players to get some more postseason experience and to help bring this program back into national prominence.
No matter how it turns out, Coach Tsipis has to be proud to have been able to turn the team he inherited into a 20-win squad. This is not only a good team, but an exciting team, so these postseason matchups are sure to entertain.