Colonials to be tested by Atlantic 10’s elite

The Colonials can establish themselves as contenders in the Atlantic 10 West conference this week with a good showing against Xavier, which they host Thursday, and St. Joseph’s, which they visit on Saturday. A win in either game would be a statement for GW, but it will not come easily.

Xavier (11-3, 3-0 A-10) rolls into the Smith Center Thursday night on a six-game winning streak and on the cusp of the nation’s top 25 rankings.

One of Xavier’s strengths is its defense, which gives up just over 60 points a game. Setting better screens and creating good shot selections will be critical parts of the game, GW coach Karl Hobbs said.

“We can’t let them take us out of our offense. We have to play our game,” Hobbs said.

On defense, the Colonials have their work cut out for them as they look to shutdown one of the toughest big men in the country, 6-foot-9 forward David West. Averaging just over 19 points a game, West poses a serious threat to GW’s undersized front court. But the Colonials proved in their 75-72 win over La Salle Sunday that they can shut down a big man. Darnell Miller held Rasual Butler to just 15 points on 3-of-17 shooting, well below his average.

This time, Hobbs will use a variety of players to tame West, including Jaason Smith, Tamal Forchion and Albert Roma.

“I just need to stay out of foul trouble and stay active by always going to the glass, blocking shots and staying on the boards.” Smith said. “But defense is the key.”

West is not the only threat Smith and the Colonials will have to fend off. Hobbs, calling Xavier “the most talented team in the conference,” attested that all of the Musketeer starters can score 20 points in a given game. Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato (this week’s A-10 Player of the Week) form a dangerous backcourt duo of double-figure scorers.

Hobbs said the defensive strategy is to focus on Xavier’s inside players, double-teaming in the post and forcing Xavier to the perimeter.

Hobbs said Greg Collucci, who played on an injured ankle against La Salle, is not 100 percent but will be good enough to play. The extent to which his injury affects his already suspect defense will undoubtedly be a factor in the game.

The week doesn’t get any easier for the Colonials as they visit St. Joseph’s Saturday afternoon, but they may have an easier time scoring points.

The Hawks are not nearly as tough defensively as Xavier, allowing nearly 72 points a game, but that is balanced by one of the most potent offenses in the conference. Led by a back-court of Marvin O’Connor and Na’im Crenshaw, St. Joe’s is one of only two teams in the A-10 that score more than GW.

The Hawks appear more likely than the Xavier to fall victim to an upset, with two of their four losses this season coming from Eastern Washington University and Georgia State. But winning at St. Joe’s is a difficult task for any team in the A-10.

While O’Connor and Crenshaw combine for nearly 34 points a game, forward Bill Phillips can score in the post and both Phillps and forward Damian Reid attack the boards. The two average more than 6 rebounds each a game.

When asked about the upcoming challenges of the week, Smith said simply, “It’s going to be a war, but it’s going to be a fun war.”

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