Colonials eye undefeated St. Joe’s

For GW men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs, nothing sounds better than the possibility of a semifinal match-up between the Colonials and undefeated St. Joseph’s at the Atlantic 10 Tournament this Friday.

“That’s a great thing if it happens,” he said. “That means the gods of basketball have been good to us.”

Before that can happen, GW must win its quarterfinal game against Rhode Island Thursday. And even if the Colonials lose, they are almost sure be dancing – at the junior prom of college basketball, the National Invitational Tournament. But as Hobbs pointed out, if the Colonials can get a few breaks in Dayton, Ohio, then the A-10 Championship and its automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question.

“Anytime it’s a one and out situation, you need some special things to go your way,” he said. “You’re gonna need to make some big shots. You’re gonna need to get calls that could go either way. We’re a little dangerous because we’re the one team that’s capable of pressuring you and going on a run. In these tournaments, if you can go on a run at the right moment, that’s going to propel you to win the game.”

In order for the GW-St. Joe’s match-up to happen, both teams need to advance past the quarterfinal round Thursday. The Colonials (17-10, 11-5 A-10) play Rhode Island (8-9, 19-12 A-10) at 2 p.m. and the No. 1 ranked (Associated Press) Hawks (27-0, 16-0 A-10) play Xavier (20-10, 11-6 A-10) at 12:05 p.m.

As two of the top four teams in the conference, GW and St. Joe’s each have a first round bye. It’s the first time GW has earned such a bye since 2000, the last time it made the NCAA tournament. Temple (15-12, 9-7 A-10) and Dayton (22-7, 12-4 A-10) have byes on the other side of the bracket.

If the Colonials don’t win the conference tournament and hope to still have any shot at an at-large berth, Hobbs acknowledged that his squad would have to go deep in the A-10 tourney and NCAA bubble-teams Dayton and Richmond would have to lose in the early rounds.

“That would put pressure on some of the committee folks,” he said.

But before the Colonials can think of NCAA brackets, they must remember what Hobbs said Monday: “There are no easy outs in post-season play.”

In the quarterfinals, GW will face Rhode Island, a team that has been on a roll as of late. The Rams finished their regular season by beating Dayton and Richmond (two teams that beat the Colonials at least once this year) and only lost to St. Joe’s by two points at home.

For St. Joe’s to make the semifinals, it must beat Xavier, who defeated St. Bonaventure Wednesday. If St. Joe’s and GW do meet in the semifinals, the neutral floor match-up should be intriguing.

The Hawks score an A-10 best 78 points per game and play a similar fast-break style to GW. Third team all-conference guard T.J. Thompson would have his hands full with A-10 Player of the Year and Sports Illustrated cover boy Jameer Nelson, who scored 29 points in St. Joe’s 90-81 win over the Colonials on Jan. 3. A-10 all rookie team members Carl Elliott and J.R. Pinnock would be counted on to help put the clamps on the star senior guard.

If Xavier upsets St. Joe’s and GW meets the Musketeers in the semifinals, it would be this year’s rubber match, as both teams beat each other in dominating fashion on their respective home floors. The teams last met on March 3 in Cincinnati, when Xavier throttled the Colonials 83-66.

Success in the tournament, Hobbs said, depends on the Colonials energy level. GW fed off the energy of the Smith Center crowd this year, going 11-1 at home. The road has been a different story (5-9) and this young team cannot afford to come out flat in Dayton. All year long, GW has relied on the electric performances of forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the A-10’s Most Improved Player, and he could end up being the key to GW’s post-season hopes.

“You gotta bring the energy,” Hobbs said. “If I could play the game at Xavier all over again, I would’ve come out and pressed them full court all over the place. I would’ve told the guys to make (Xavier) play at a frantic pace just to get the guys going. I think that’s how we’re going to have to approach this tournament. A frantic pace is good for us.”

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