#6 George Washington Colonials (29-3, 15-1 A10) vs. #11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-7, 16-2 WCC)
7:30 PM, Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, OR
Media: WRGW, ESPN2/WatchESPN
Announcer: Jeff Pawling
Click Here to Listen Live
The long wait is over as the George Washington Colonials return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. GW has to travel across the country for their appearance, as they face a tough Gonzaga Bulldogs team in the First Round of the Spokane Region.
It has been 12 days since the Colonials thrilling comeback win against Dayton to capture the Atlantic 10 Tournament title and automatic bid to the Big Dance. GW was fueled by Jonquel Jones‘ incredible second half performance, in which she scored 16 of her 21 total points, including four three-pointers, en route to being named the Atlantic 10 Championship’s Most Outstanding Player. Caira Washington and Hannah Schaible were also integral parts of the Colonials’ rally from an eight-point halftime deficit and joined Jones on the All-Tournament Team.
Today’s matchup with 11-seed Gonzaga, the first ever meeting between the two programs, is by no means an easy one. In fact, the Colonials may have drawn the toughest of the 11-seeds in the field as Gonzaga boasts a potent offense that is backed up solid defense and excellent team rebounding. The Bulldogs are led by Sunny Greinacher, the WCC’s 10th leading scorer at 13.7 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting, good for third in the conference. She also grabs 6.0 rebounds per game and, in combination with leading rebounder Shelby Cheslek (8.5 rpg), forms a potent duo on the boards that will present challenges to the Colonials’ front court of Jones and Washington. Keani Albanez is another offensive weapon the Bulldogs lean on, especially from beyond the arc, where she made a team-best 58 three-pointers. Schaible, Shannon Cranshaw, and Brianna Cummings will need to be locked in and use their length to shut down Albanez from the outside if GW wants to prevail in this first round matchup.
Make no mistake, the matchup with Gonzaga, on paper, shows that the game could be a difficult one. Gonzaga has suffered its share of disappointment in the last couple of years, having been upset in the semifinals of the WCC Tournament by eventual champion BYU and having been upset in last year’s NCAA Tournament as a 6-seed by 11-seed James Madison. The roles are now reversed for the Bulldogs, with Gonzaga coming in as the lower-seeded team and there is no doubt that they will be fired up to right the wrongs of last year.
As for the Colonials, today marks the return to the NCAA Tournament and, hopefully, the beginning of an era that hearkens back to the days of Joe McKeown. Jonathan Tsipis has done an incredible job turning this program around in three short years. More importantly, he knows from his days at Notre Dame what it takes to win in the postseason. We saw it at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and now we get to see it on display at the NCAA Tournament. GW may have gotten the worst draw of any team in the dance, but don’t expect Tsipis and company to use that as an excuse. As he said in his press conference yesterday, they have been playing with a chip on their shoulder “since the beginning of the season.” As long as the Colonials play their game and can dictate the pace and style of play, there is no reason why GW cannot move on to the second round.
WRGW’s coverage live from Corvallis will begin at 7:20 with tip off tentatively scheduled for 7:30 pm on gwradio.com.
George Washington Colonials (1-1) vs. Bowie State Lady Bulldogs (1-1)
7 PM, Charles E. Smith Center, Washington, DC
Media Coverage: gwradio.com, RaiseHigh Live
Announcers: Cam Rohde, Ethan Arsht
Click Here to Listen Live
Coming off a thrilling 63-52 win over District rival American on Monday night, the Colonials return to the hardwood tonight for their home opener against Bowie State. GW survived a second-half scare on Monday night in Tenleytown to secure their first win of the season behind the efforts of freshmen Kelli Prange and Brianna Cummings. Prange finished with 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out late while Cummings secured her first collegiate double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Rebounding has been excellent for the Colonials through their first two games. Their plus-17 rebounding margin is the best in the Atlantic 10, as is both their rebounding offense and rebounding defense. This is made all the more impressive considering that GW has been without star forward Jonquel Jones to start the season.
Division II Bowie State is led by guards Ty-nita Baker and Donia Naylor. Baker leads the team in scoring with an average of 15.5 points per game while Naylor averages 15 points and 12 rebounds per game of her own. Naylor is coming off a 16 point, 12 rebound performance in a 24-point loss to Shippensburg on Saturday.
GW will be unveiling a WNIT-participant banner before the game. Tip off is scheduled for 7 pm with WRGW’s coverage beginning at 6:45 on gwradio.com.
The George Washington Colonials took a huge step forward as a program a year ago, finishing with a record of 23-11 and 11-5 in the Atlantic 10 in Jonathan Tsipis’ second season in Foggy Bottom. Their record was a nine-win improvement, with wins over ranked teams in #10/11 California and conference foe #21 Dayton. They reached the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinals for the first time since 2008 and made their first postseason appearance since 2009 with a bid in the WNIT. There, they earned their first postseason wins since 2008 with victories over East Carolina and Villanova before being eliminated in the third round.
It truly was a magical season for the Colonials last year, but with a stark jump in performance comes a heightening of expectations for the 2014-15 campaign. GW was picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, the best preseason projection for the program since 2008 and quite the forecast for a team that enters the season having lost three key contributors from last year’s team. Here are some things to look out for this season:
Biggest strength: The Frontcourt
The emergences of both Jonquel Jones and Caira Washington were arguably the brightest spots of GW’s season a year ago. Jones was the only player in the Atlantic 10 to average a double-double on the season, averaging a little less than 15 points and 11 rebounds a game and earning her a Second Team All-Conference selection. Meanwhile, Washington earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors and a Third Team All-Conference selection for her season in which she averaged 11 points and nine rebounds per game. The duo combined to average 20 rebounds a game, allowing the Colonials to lead the conference in rebounding and rebounding margin.
The two on their own would be enough to warrant the frontcourt as GW’s biggest strength entering the new season, but the addition of 6’5” freshman Kelli Prange makes them even more formidable. Prange scored 11 points and added six rebounds in the team’s lone exhibition against Virginia Union last Sunday. She displayed an extremely polished finish at the rim and also added a jump shooting element that will make this trio of bigs all the more difficult to defend. GW will need to get every ounce of potential they can get from this trio if they expect to live up to their preseason expectations and compete toe-to-toe with Atlantic 10 preseason favorite Dayton, which boasts a talented frontcourt of their own.
Biggest Question Mark: How will the team replace the production of Danni Jackson and Megan Nipe?
The duo of Danni Jackson and Megan Nipe combined for nearly 28 points per game on average last year and were a big reason why GW’s fast-paced offense averaged 76 points a game, second-most in the Atlantic 10. This was all despite the fact that Nipe played the majority of the season on a torn ACL. The two guards were the heart and soul of Jonathan Tsipis’ squad a year ago and their departures leave the Colonials a bit thin at the guard positions.
Chakecia Miller, a 2014 All-Defensive Team honoree, should carry a bigger load this season, both on and off the court. She is expected to fill the leadership role left by Jackson and her effort and guidance should be a benefit to younger guards like Shannon Cranshaw and Alexis Chandler. But after Miller, the guard situation gets murky for GW. Lauren Chase, a former America East Rookie of the Year and transfer from UMBC who sat out all of last season due to a personal medical issue, will likely get a crack at the starting lineup initially alongside Miller. Hannah Schaible will also likely be in the starting lineup on opening night playing a hybrid shooting guard/small forward position and impacting the game on both sides of the ball with her hustle and grit. Both Cranshaw and Chandler should also get extended run in the guard rotation and have the opportunity to play their way into more minutes as the season progresses. The guard situation is extremely fluid at this point and should become clearer once the season begins.
X-Factor: Lauren Chase
She was briefly mentioned above as part of the jigsaw puzzle at the guard position for the Colonials, but Lauren Chase has an opportunity to make an immense impact and provide stability at the point guard position. As was mentioned, she won the 2012 America East Rookie of the Year, averaging 8.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists playing 34 minutes per game in her lone season at UMBC. Coach Tsipis likely won’t lean on Chase to play that many minutes a game for GW, but if she can replicate the production she had at UMBC, that would be a boon for the Colonials and take pressure off of younger guards Cranshaw and Chandler to immediately step up. She will have to keep her turnovers down in order to keep a spot in the starting lineup but if she can take care of the ball and distribute it, especially down low to GW’s talented bigs, she could make the difference between a team that hovers from third to fifth in the conference standings throughout the season and a team that contends for the Atlantic 10 title.
Freshman to Watch: Brianna Cummings
The most impactful freshman will most likely be Kelli Prange, who was mentioned above along with the rest of the strong frontcourt. But another freshman that could make an impact right away is Brianna Cummings. At 5’10”, Cummings brings height and length to the guard position and could use that to earn more minutes as the season progresses. As a senior at Greater Atlanta Christian School, she averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, and four steals a game, leading all Gwinnett County players and earning Gwinnett Daily Post Player of the Year honors. She was the 25th best player at her position according to ESPN for a reason and while the coaching staff might not want to put a ton of pressure on her in her first collegiate season, it would be remiss of Coach Tsipis not to at least give her some run at a cloudy guard position to see if she can contribute and add versatility right away.
The preseason Atlantic 10 poll certainly vindicated this team as a force to be reckoned with this season, even with an uncertain situation at the guard positions. It speaks to just how intimidated other Atlantic 10 coaches are of the frontcourt GW boasts heading into the season. The offense should be just as fast-paced as it was last season and with both Jones and Washington having more familiarity in that offense, it has all the makings of a fun season offensively as long as Coach Tsipis can find a solution to settle the guard position. However, there is a reason Dayton is entering the season as the 22nd-ranked team in the country and the unanimous favorite to win the Atlantic 10. The Flyers are the conference’s most complete team and are poised to make a deep run not just into the Atlantic 10 Championship, but into the NCAA Tournament. GW certainly has the frontcourt needed to go toe-to-toe with Dayton, but the knocking the Flyers off their perch will be one tough task, especially without stability in the backcourt. Overall though, expect great things from the Colonials this season. They’re built to win right now, and the best part is they’re just getting started.
Regular Season Prediction: 24 wins, 2nd in the Atlantic 10