Will Dempster: Complete game needed vs. Terps

Monday’s matchup against area rival Maryland is arguably the most important game of the season for the Colonials. Saddled with what many observers classify as a soft schedule, GW has a perfect opportunity in this year’s revised BB&T Classic to add a signature win toward obtaining an at-large NCAA Tournament birth in March. Given the natural rivalry between the District’s most established national powerhouse and its rising power, the game is sure to be emotional, hard-fought and close. A number of factors will contribute to whether the Colonials will emerge victorious.

GW will be ready

After overwhelming victories against Kennesaw Sate and Norfolk State, the Colonials had a surprisingly difficult time with St. Francis (Pa.) and Boston University. This has naturally led to some speculation as to whether the Colonials have been adequately prepared for a high-profile game against the Terps. Have no doubt; the Colonials will be ready for this game.

It is true that GW has yet to play an opponent of Maryland’s caliber thus far, but it is not as if this group has not participated in such games in the past. Returning all but one significant player from last year’s team, the veteran-laden Colonials certainly have been in their fair share of high-stakes games in the past. The experienced derived from last year’s BB&T championship run, in addition to the big-time pressure brought on by a win or go home game against Georgia Tech in last year’s NCAA tournament, provide enough experiences for the Colonials to draw upon in this year’s big games.

Just as GW often plays down to the level of its inferior opponents, it also plays up to the level of its marquee foes. It will be no different against the Terps.

Colonials must dictate pace of game

As important for the Colonials as playing good defense, GW must force Maryland into a fast-paced basketball game. In last year’s contest, the Colonials used their outstanding depth and athleticism to run the score to 102-93. In order to win this ball game, GW must employ a similar approach.

GW is notoriously worse when executing in the half-court set as opposed to religiously running the fast break. While Coach Karl Hobbs has conditioned his team to execute better in the set offense so far this year, the key to winning the game for the Colonials lies in their ability to push the ball up court at every available opportunity. This means that seniors Mike Hall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu must assert themselves on the defensive glass in an effort to quickly get the ball to GW’s primary ball handlers. This will enable finishers such as junior Danilo Pinnock and Mensah-Bonsu to get some easy buckets.

If the game slows down, Maryland will have the definite advantage. So far this year, the Colonials have been hard-pressed to defend the best three-point shooters on opposing teams. Maryland moves the ball exceptionally well and has excellent long-range shooters in senior Nik Canner-Medley and junior Chris McCray.

Pops needs the ball

For the love of all things holy, the Colonials must get Pops Mensah-Bonsu the ball in the low-post as much as possible. Keeping him involved in every aspect of the offense will open up space on the floor for GW’s three-point shooters and slashers as defenders sag to double- or triple-team Mensah-Bonsu down low.

Although several players have asserted themselves during his extended absence, running more sets designed for Mensah-Bonsu will improve the Colonials’ inside-outside balance. GW proved in the BU game that it is able to win with its outside jumper; a balanced attack is needed, however, to defeat Maryland.

Mike Hall needs to assert himself

If there were any doubt that senior forward Mike Hall is GW’s best player before the season, there should not be any now. Averaging nearly 18 points and eight rebounds a game, Hall has raised the level of his play substantially this year. The improvement in his statistics comes after a clear effort to be more assertive on offense.

For GW to win this game, Hall must continue looking for his own shot. While his team-first mentality is a big reason for GW’s overall success, his complete offensive game dictates the need for him to be one of the Colonials’ primary threats.

Key matchups

There are several important match-ups that will ultimately decide the outcome of the game.

GW forward Mike Hall v. Maryland forward Nik Canner-Medley. Canner-Medley is one of the nation’s top offensive players. He is also a capable rebounder. Hall must provide a defensive effort that helps shut down the Terps’ standout.

GW guard Danilo Pinnock v. Maryland guard Chris McCray. McCray is in the middle of a breakout season. Currently averaging 16.5 points, McCray is the Terps’ most gifted offensive playmaker. Pinnock, GW’s best on-the-ball defender is tasked with the difficult assignment of stopping him.

Maryland guard DJ Strawberry v. Pinnock. Son of Daryl, Strawberry has earned the reputation as a tenacious defender. His skills will be tested against one the nation’s most explosive athletes and scorers in Pinnock.

Maryland center Ikene Ibekwe v. GW forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Ibekwe is a tremendous athlete and the only Maryland defender capable of stopping Mensah-Bonsu. The level to which he is successful will substantially affect the outcome of the game.

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