The trouble, it appears, for GW’s opponents this year is that they don’t know which of the Colonials will beat them on any given night – or day, as it happened to be Sunday against Richmond.
Most of the nation’s top teams have a recognizable one-two punch that serves as the focal point for opposing defenses: Duke has J.J. Reddick and Sheldon Williams, West Virginia has Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle, Memphis has Darius Washington and Rodney Carney. For the Colonials’ however, who their best two players are is a subject for debate after every game.
Two of this past week’s games provide clear evidence of this phenomenon. Leading the way to a dramatic road victory against conference rival Xavier were guards Carl Elliott – with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists – and Maureece Rice, with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. After struggling to an extent against Xavier, forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu – with 16 points, five rebounds on seven-of-eight shooting – and guard Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock – with 16 points on seven-of-ten shooting – helped dismantle a Richmond team that had been allowing a stingy 54 points per game.
“It’s hard to prepare for us because any given night anybody can get off and hurt you,” Pinnock said after the Colonials’ 80-55 victory over Richmond Sunday. “(Today) wasn’t Maureece’s (day), but Maureece is capable of getting 20 any night, same thing with Mike Hall, same thing with Carl Elliott, same thing with Pops, same thing with myself. If anyone can hurt you at any time I think it is real hard to prepare for that.”
Similar to what many of GW’s opponents have expressed throughout the season, Spiders standout forward Jermaine Bucknor discussed how difficult it is to plan against the Colonials’ balanced attack.
“They play well together,” Bucknor said. “Nobody is really selfish on the team, they pass the ball around to each they don’t even care who scores. If you look at the stat line from game to game you see that every game is a different leading scorer so you can see that this team is very unselfish, they play very well together.”
The Colonials are one of the country’s deepest teams. Against Richmond, nine separate Colonials logged double-digit minutes, while 10 players contributed points during the game. Although three players tallied double-digit point totals against the Spiders, the Colonials, incredibly, have five players averaging double figures for the season. This balance results in a situation where even after the team’s starters are pulled from the game, productivity on the court does not subside.
“(Coach Karl Hobbs) wants to be able to play eight or nine or even 10 players and just be able, when the starters to go out, when he brings some of the younger guys in that the level of play would not change,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “He wants the intensity to stay up, the defense to be the same and scoring to be just as good. I think it is working so far and is just a testament to his philosophy.”
Although the team’s balance can be a perceived strength, some might contend that because so many players share the load, the lack of a clear go-to player hurts the Colonials during close games in crunch time. This presumption is largely unfounded. When a team’s star player has a bad game, the entire team suffers. On a team like GW, other excellent players are capable of rising up and elevating their level of play when it matters most. Because so many players can be the star during a particular game, Hobbs has the ability to draw up a play for a star player depending on who is in the groove. Few, if any, teams have this luxury.
This ability will no doubt contribute to any potential success in postseason play. Because the Colonials rotate so many players into the game, Hobbs always has a bench full of well-rested athletes capable of playing a similarly high quality of basketball. The team’s younger players also figure to be more poised during postseason play after playing significant minutes during the year.
And if GW’s many weapons find a way to click at the same time, Pinnock said, opposing teams need to watch out.
“If anyone can hurt you at any time I think it is real hard to prepare for that,” Pinnock said. “I would hate to be a team that had to worry about if everybody on the floor could go off at some time. And what would happen if they all go off at the same time? Then what?”
One can only imagine.