With non-conference play in the books, it’s time to take a look at where Jonathan Tsipis and his George Washington Colonials stand right now and just how far they could go as Atlantic 10 Conference play gets set to begin this weekend.
Current Record: 11-2, 1st in Atlantic 10
High Point: Winning the Freeport Division of the 2014 Junkanoo Jam
The Colonials trip to the Bahamas was billed, above all else, as a homecoming for standout Jonquel Jones. Yet, in the process, the stage became a coming out for Jonathan Tsipis’ squad as a force to watch. GW dispatched of North Carolina State and Purdue, both solid major conference teams, to win the Freeport Division of the tournament, led by Jones’ 36 points and 23 rebounds in the two games combined. Chakecia Miller and Lauren Chase also put together outstanding performances for the Colonials and were keys to both wins by solidifying the backcourt. In all, it is hard to find a single negative thing that came from GW’s trip to the Bahamas and, frankly, the tournament triumph can be pointed to as spurring on the Colonials’ torrid play and current nine-game winning streak.
Low Point: 75-65 Loss to Maryland
For one half, it seemed that GW was more than ready to hang with #9/8 Maryland right down to the final whistle, taking a 30-29 lead into the locker room at halftime. However, the second half was a nightmare for the Colonials as they were held to 38.5 percent shooting while allowing the Lady Terps to shoot 60 percent in a 10-point defeat. GW battled until the very end, but it is hard to ignore the fact that the second half was the most disheartening stretch of basketball this team has played all season, as they were thoroughly dominated in all facets of the game. Looking back, the loss seems like it happened an eternity ago, as the Colonials have played extremely good basketball ever since. But at the time, the Maryland loss raised a lot of questions about how good the team was and created the most discontent among supporters of the season.
Midseason MVP: Jonquel Jones
What more can be said about Jonquel Jones. After missing the first three games of the season, Jones returned to the team and immediately picked up where she left off last year as the main difference-maker for the Colonials. Jones averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in non-conference play and got it done on the defensive end with 16 blocks and six steals. Furthermore, she shot the ball with efficiency, making 53.5 percent of her attempts. Statistics like these explain why she has already racked up numerous accolades this year. In addition to her Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division MVP and numerous preseason honors, she has earned two Atlantic 10 Player of the Week awards and was recognized as a Naismith Trophy candidate. She is the key cog for GW and should continue on that path as the conference season begins.
Most Surprising Player: Kelli Prange
This one was tough to decide as the Colonials have had a few players emerge as key factors to their strong start. However, Kelli Prange gets the recognition because of what she has been able to do as a true freshman. Coming in, coaches and pundits knew that Prange was extremely talented and could contribute in her first collegiate season. However, the level at which she has played has been nothing short of incredible from day one. Prange was thrust into a starting role immediately with Jonquel Jones unavailable in each of the Colonials’ first three games. She responded with 24 points and 12 rebounds in the season opener at Florida Gulf Coast, earning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week accolades. Furthermore, she helped pick up some of the slack created not just by Jones’ absence, but also by Caira Washington’s slow start to the season. She is the team’s second leading scorer with 11.4 points per game on a crisp 49 percent shooting. We knew Prange, at 6’5”, would be a contributor this year. We just did not know she would be this good this soon.
Conference Play X-Factor: Lauren Chase
Coming into the season, many were not sure exactly what the Colonials would get out of Lauren Chase, the transfer point guard who missed all of last season with a personal medical condition. It was this type of uncertainty that created the notion that the backcourt could be the one facet that would hold GW back from taking the next step into the Atlantic 10’s elite. However, Chase proved to be a welcome presence for Jonathan Tsipis, solidifying the point guard role and easing the loss of the graduated Danni Jackson. Chase is currently the team’s fourth leading scorer with 9.1 points per game and has also chipped in 4.8 assists a contest. Her sharp play down the stretch in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division title game sealed the win for the Colonials and, overall, she has been able to run the offense and take care of the ball just the way her coaches want her to.
However, she missed four non-conference games due to injury before returning in GW’s final non-conference tilt at Towson on New Year’s Eve. Coach Tsipis and his staff need Chase to be healthy as Atlantic 10 action begins. While the rest of the Colonial guards were able to hold down the fort in her absence, it remains to be seen whether those same guards can continue their good play against formidable opponents like Dayton, who they face right off the bat on January 4th. But if Chase can continue where she left off before her injury, GW can continue to ascend into the conference’s upper echelon.
Bottomline: Sky’s the Limit for the Colonials
At 11-2, the Colonials are undoubtedly in great shape. The biggest question left is whether GW can continue their impressive play into the gauntlet that is the Atlantic 10 portion of their schedule. As was mentioned above, GW tips off their conference slate with what is probably their toughest A10 tilt, a road matchup with Dayton. The Colonials are red hot right now on a nine-game winning streak, but a trip to preseason favorite Dayton is just about the worst draw the Colonials could have gotten to start their conference season. How GW fares in Dayton, win or lose, will tell us a lot about what to expect the rest of the way.
However, based on their play, there is no reason to shy away from my preseason prediction of 24 wins for this GW team. I admit that essentially predicting a 13-3 conference record is bullish, but this team has shown that the backcourt is not a liability, as was originally thought prior to the season, and that their frontcourt, when at full capacity, is among the best in the nation. The sky truly is the limit for this team this season and it should be fun to watch the rest of the way.
George Washington Colonials (7-2) vs. Memphis Tigers (5-4)
7 PM, Charles E. Smith Center, Washington, DC
Media Coverage: WRGW, RaiseHigh Live, A10 Mobile App
Announcers: Cameron Rohde, Tyrique Wilson
Click Here to Listen Live
Off to the program’s best start in eight years, the GW Women will look to extend their win streak to six on Monday night when they welcome Memphis to Tex Silverman Court on Monday night.
The Colonials completed the sweep of District rivals American and Georgetown with a 72-60 home win over the Hoyas last Tuesday night. Hannah Schaible posted her best game of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds while fellow guard Shannon Cranshaw, filling in for the injured Lauren Chase, added 12 points on four three-pointers. However, it was Jonquel Jones who propelled GW to victory in the second half with 15 points and nine rebounds after spending most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble.
GW will also look to continue their streak of outrebounding their opponents, as they have done so in each game this season. They will attempt to do this against a Memphis squad coming off a 63-46 win over the aforementioned Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday. The Colonials will need to find a way to shut down leading scorer Ariel Hearn, who is fifth in the AAC with 17 points per game. Jonquel Jones will also draw the assignment on Tigers leading rebounder Brianna Wright, who averages 9.8 rebounds a contest.
WRGW’s coverage begins at 6:50 with tip off scheduled for 7 pm on gwradio.com.
George Washington Colonials (0-1) at American Eagles (22-10 last season)
5 PM, Bender Arena, Washington, DC
Media Coverage: gwradio.com, Patriot League Network
Announcers: Jeff Pawling, Blake Wessinger
Click Here to Listen Live
Coming off an 88-75 loss Friday night at Florida Gulf Coast, the GW Women are back at it tonight, making the short bus trip up to Tenleytown to face District rival American. The matchup is the already the second tough, early season game for Jonathan Tsipis’ squad, as they face an Eagles team that punched their own ticket to the WNIT with 22 wins last season.
Kelli Prange was a revelation in the Colonials’ opening night loss in Fort Myers, earning a double-double in her first collegiate game with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Height will be a key factor for GW tonight, as the tallest listed player for American stands at 6’2″. As long as everything goes to plan, the 6’5″ Prange should have a field day against the shorter American squad.
American returns two top scorers from last year’s team. Jen Dumiak is a Preseason All-Patriot League honoree, averaging 10 points and four assists a season ago while Arron Zimmerman (10.1 ppg, 4.8 apg) also returns to the Eagles. The Colonials’ backcourt, led by Hannah Schaible and Lauren Chase, will have their hands full guarding these two tonight.
American leads the all-time series with GW 12-11, but GW won last year’s meeting 77-64 at the Smith Center, fueled by 23 points from former point guard Danni Jackson. WRGW’s coverage starts at 4:45 followed by the tip off from Bender Arena at 5 pm 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