As the GW men’s basketball team closed out its 61-point rout of Randolph Macon College last Wednesday night, it was clear that the 2,752 fans at the Smith Center were ready for the Colonials to face a greater challenge.
“We want Wake!” the fans yelled.
On Monday night, the GW men’s basketball team will face No. 2 (Associated Press) Wake Forest University in the first round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C. The game, which will be televised live on ESPN 2 at 7 p.m., is the regular season opener for the Colonials, who have been tabbed as one of the favorites in the Atlantic 10 this season.
Facing a team like Wake Forest is a tall task for the Colonials. Junior Mike Hall said no competition could have prepared the Colonials for tonight’s match up.
“Nothing could’ve prepared us for Wake Forest given the talent that the guards have and the inside presence they have,” Hall said. “Wake Forest is a special team and I don’t think anybody could simulate that.”
The Demon Deacons have one of the top backcourts in the nation. Comprised of preseason All-American sophomore Chris Paul, junior Justin Gray and senior Taron Downey, the Deacons’ guards are some of the best in college basketball.
“We are going to work on containing their two guards,” Hall said. “They have two of the best guards in the country. We are going to try to work on not letting them go crazy. They also have a great force inside at center and we are going to try to get the ball inside to (junior forward) Pops (Mensah-Bonsu) a lot to challenge him.”
The Deacons will try to get junior Eric Williams touches inside. The six-foot-nine-inch center was invited to join Paul and Gray on the gold medal-winning U.S. Junior National Team, but he became ill at the last minute. Williams averaged 12.4 points per game last season and could be crucial to the team’s success this season if he stays healthy.
“They have a terrific inside game that no one is talking about,” GW coach Karl Hobbs said. “That’s my greatest fear. We have to find a way to neutralize that.”
Mensah-Bonsu will look to contain Williams down low. If last week’s preseason blowout of Randolph Macon showed anything, it was that the Colonials can have success shooting the ball from beyond the arc. The team shot 62.5 percent from beyond the arc in the exhibition rout, connecting on 10 three-pointers. Senior guard T.J. Thompson, a preseason All A-10 conference selection, will also try to contain the Deacons’ powerful backcourt.
Hobbs said his team will try to disrupt Wake Forest’s style of play with different techniques. The rapid substitutions that have been typical under Hobbs may not be as effective on Monday, the coach said.
“I don’t think that our depth will bother their guards. They are too good and too experienced,” Hobbs said. “I think what we’ll have to do is to try and break their rhythm. Offensively they are a terrific team. We have to be prepared to break their rhythms and do a lot of different things that we normally wouldn’t do.”
Since Hobbs arrived at GW three years ago, the Colonials have faced a few major opponents to open the season. In 2002, Hobbs led the Colonials to face the University of Connecticut at the Hartford Civic Center. The Huskies beat GW by 12 points.
Hall said he believes playing big-time opponents helps the team’s confidence.
“I remember playing at UConn,” he said. “I had never played in front of anywhere close to that many fans. After that, you feel like you can handle just about anything.”
The Colonials will need that confidence at the Lawrence Joel Colesium, which will probably contain a packed house of over 14,000 screaming fans, mostly rooting for the Deacons.
GW has beaten Wake Forest 18 out of the 33 times they have faced each other. However, their last match up was nearly three decades ago. In 1975 at the Smith Center, the Deacons handed the Colonials a 78-77 loss.