2014 GW Men’s Basketball Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview
At 23-7 and 11-5 in conference play, the George Washington Colonials, picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic 10 coaches and media poll, has emerged as the clear surprise team in the A10 as they enter the conference tournament as the third seed.
This is the ONLY team in Division I basketball with five players averaging in double figures and more than 11 points per game.
Did I get your attention yet?
Head Coach Mike Lonergan and those inside the program at GW had a good feeling going into this season because of what they saw this past summer when the team first practiced together and would tell you this season is no fluke.
“We’re just more mature this year… We’re older and we have a better sense of what’s at stake every time we play,” said Lonergan in an interview with CBS Sports Network’s Jon Rothstein following GW’s win at home against VCU on January 14th.
Transfer grad students Isaiah Armwood (Villanova) and Maurice Creek (Indiana) have contributed greatly to the team’s success and have provided a calming veteran presence to a multi-talented sophomore core.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott who averages 25.8 ppg and is the inevitable Wooden Award winner could not conquer the “great wall of Armwood,” who held the prolific scorer to a mere seven points as GW took down the then 20th-ranked team (now 14th) in the nation at a neutral site.
Armwood, who has tallied 10 double-doubles this season, is not the only Colonial who rises to the occasion when called upon. Creek came up big with 25 points against Maryland on December 8th, including a game-winning jumper with 0.6 seconds remaining in the 77-75 win at the BB&T Classic. Creek leads the team in scoring with 14.6 points-per-game.
“I told coach when I went over there that I wanted the ball. I wanted the ball and he got me the ball,” Creek said.
Lonergan would later add that Creek called for the shot in a “respectful” way.
It’s not just the ‘Zeek’ and ‘Creek’ show in Foggy Bottom. GW’s battered sophomores have another year of experience and continue to gel with one another as they look to capitalize on a great opportunity in Brooklyn this weekend.
The Colonials’ sophomore class includes Kethan Savage, Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen, and Joe McDonald, who average 13.4, 12.3, 11.3 and 8.4 points-per-game respectively. They’ve been able to still be successful while battling injuries the entire season.
Garino and Savage both have missed significant time. Garino dealt with a broken finger on his left hand, which caused him to miss seven games, and Savage’s broken metatarsal has sidelined him since GW’s win against St. Bonaventure on January 18th.
Starting point guard Joe McDonald has also battled right hip injuries all season long, to the point where his practice time is extremely limited.
Now it’s March and GW is at full strength. The last time GW was at full strength was for their aforementioned win at home over VCU on January 14th.
Savage’s return to the lineup should take some pressure off floor general McDonald, who has excelled in his absence. But more importantly, it is big for a team that, in Savage’s absence, semi-stumbled down the stretch with an 8-4 record in conference play.
In Savage’s absence, GW lost road games to VCU, then 10th-ranked Saint Louis and Dayton, as well a home game to UMass. There really is not a whole lot to be ashamed of in those losses, particularly their loss at Dayton on February 1st, where the Colonials were without starters Creek, McDonald and Savage. There is not a team in college basketball that can compete at the same level without three starters, particularly against a 22-win team like Dayton.
“Its so hard to win on the road, especially in the Atlantic 10 conference, which is definitely a top six conference right now,” said Lonergan on ESPN’s Freddie Coleman show.
The one loss that Lonergan and company would like to have back is at home against UMass on February 15th.
“One of our goals is to go undefeated at home,” Said Lonergan.
The UMass loss was a tough one for GW, and the team that took the floor that day minus Kethan Savage could have brought it home, but they fell just short by a score of 67-61. The game was closer than the final would indicate.
Assuming that the sixth seed UMass, ranked as high as 10th nationally during the season, takes care of business against 11-seed Rhode Island in the A10 tournament, GW will have an opportunity to avenge their only home loss.
This is a complete team that plays a very unpredictable offensive style, which is a by-product of their versatility. They have six guys who can be “the guy” on any given night, and at the same time they mesh exceptionally well together. They will find great success in the Atlantic 10 tournament and at full strength they should be a dangerous and underrated force to be reckoned with in the NCAA tourney.
Joe McDonald – He’s really stepped up his game of late. McDonald is undoubtedly GW’s greatest beneficiary from the Savage injury as he’s received the bulk of the minutes at point guard and is now delivering on the promise he displayed last season, including a 21-point effort in a loss at tenth-ranked Saint Louis. He has also established himself as a premiere threat from beyond the arc, shooting 39.7 percent for the year, something we did not see from him last year.
Behind the Veil:
Nick Griffin – The freshman shooting guard has shown signs of life shooting in his very young and promising career. In limited minutes this season, Nick Griffin has shot 52.5 percent from the field and 52 percent from beyond the arc. The odds of him getting many minutes this postseason are low, but the future is bright for this young shooter.
Mike Lonergan’s 1-3-1 Defense has been punishing on teams on the inside and has restricted passing lanes all season long.
Free throw shooting – GW ranks 309th in the nation from the charity stripe shooting only 65.6 percent.
The same 1-3-1 defense has been susceptible to allowing three-point outbursts to opponents.
GW beats a UMass team that has snuck away with many wins this season, but at the same time they have played great competition with a strength-of-schedule ranked 45th in the country and a RPI of 16.
GW would presumably play VCU, absolutely the best team in this conference, but to ask “HAVOC” to play back-to-back games, in my opinion, is a very tall order, and is the lone reason that GW could (and will) beat them.
VCU escaped their only back-to-back this season with a win against Long Beach State 73-67. The only other time they played a game within 48 hours this season was in South Philly vs. Saint Joseph’s after a home game against Rhode Island. VCU lost to the Hawks 69-62.
Given the volatility of the Atlantic 10 Conference this season, for me to tell you who GW will play in the championship would be mildly foolish. I’m going to do it anyway.
In my opinion the two best teams in the bracket are on the same side (GW/VCU) so an upset of Saint Louis would not be a surprise. Saint Joe’s has stumbled of late, with losses to GW and La Salle, while Dayton has risen to the occasion through a tough four-game gauntlet, including three wins vs. Saint Louis, UMass and Richmond. Their only loss came against Dayton. Dayton is playing their best basketball of the year and I expect them to beat Fordham and Saint Joes.
That makes it Saint Louis against Dayton in the semis. Last time out Dayton got the Billikens in foul trouble and took care of business. I do think that this pre-tourney break will help Saint Louis rediscover their aggressive style and defense-first identity. Saint Louis will beat Dayton in the semis, handily.
That brings GW and Saint Louis for the championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
I broadcasted the GW-Saint Louis game for WRGW on February 22nd at Saint Louis. I saw a young, up-and-coming team take on the old guard that is Saint Louis and their exceptional senior class. The Colonials faltered in the final minute; the game was much closer than the seven-point loss would indicate. Joe McDonald attempted a couple of game-tying threes within the final 40 seconds. However, the Colonials still lost 66-59.
I believe the return of Kethan Savage to the lineup will be a game-changer. GW will defeat Saint Louis and take home the Atlantic 10 Championship.
There you have it folks! Thanks for reading and enjoy the tournament.