Basketball Preview: Last March, both GW teams were dancing

After both the men’s and women’s teams saw the second round of the NCAA tournament, coaches try to manage expectations.

Perspiring after another intense preseason practice, GW women’s basketball head coach Joe McKeown reflected on the success of the teams he coached in the 1990s. In the same instant, he recalled what he had seen on the court just moments earlier, giving a dose of his competitive nature.

“I want to go back to being a giant,” said McKeown of his team’s potential. “I don’t want to be just a giant-killer.”

McKeown’s counterpart, men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs, who like McKeown, is fresh off of two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, has taken a conservative approach when describing this year’s outlook.

“Be patient with this group,” Hobbs has said time and again. “We are the least-experienced team in the (Atlantic 10).”

Their respective attitudes reflect opposing thoughts, but both teams are in an interesting position. Through their respective successes, a level of expectation has been set, and through statements, coaches have provided barometers for what students and fans can anticipate from these disparate teams.

The men’s squad has lost five players, four who saw regular starting time, from last year’s 27-3 squad, which ran the table in the A-10 and won one game in the NCAA tournament. The team’s success helped Hobbs recruit incoming athletes, but undeniably makes this team weaker than last year’s, which featured stars Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Danilo Pinnock, Mike Hall and Omar Williams.

“This is a whole new cycle,” Hobbs said at a press conference last week. “We are shifting from a tall, long team, to an athletic guard team.”

Maureece Rice, a versatile junior guard that was the team’s second leading scorer last season, echoed Hobbs’ sentiment.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Rice said. “We need to worker harder than we did last year.”

“We have to get out of the gate early,” said Carl Elliott, a senior guard. “Our expectations are high, but everyone else has low expectations.”

On the other side, there is the women’s team. Deep with size, talent and experience, the squad only lost senior Jessica Simmons from last year’s 23-9 NCAA tournament team and is ranked as the best team in the conference by A-10 coaches. Eleven return, four of them starters, giving this team reason to strive to advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament, a goal they fell short of a year ago.

Sophomore Jazmine Adair, a Washington native who has played at GW for one season, understands the institutional success that GW has seen.

“I want to go deep into the tournament,” said sophomore Jazmine Adair. She added, “I like being the top team (in the A-10).”

But in Kenan Cole’s four years, she has seen success and has made the tournament in each of her four seasons. With games against Tennessee, Villanova, Georgia and Maryland this season, Cole said there is no expectation of a letdown.

“We expect to win every game,” Cole said. “With everyone coming back … we are looking for an A-10 championship.”

One of the most telling signs of the team’s prowess in the women’s basketball world is its schedule, which features seven teams that made the NCAA tournament last year.

“You come out stronger (from playing tough teams),” said freshman Stefani Munro. Her teammates agree, but McKeown jokes, “I’m scared to death of these teams … (but) players want to play all the big teams.”

McKeown said that when he schedules games, he anticipates that he won’t see any team stronger in the NCAA tournament. But with McKeown, there’s always second-guessing.

“Am I nuts?” he whispered under his breath after talking about his schedule.

Last season may have been the best ever for the men. No men’s team in school history has earned the right to play in the NCAA tournament three consecutive years. This team has that opportunity this year, especially if they receive outstanding play from guards Rice and Elliott, and are able to tighten up their defense, players say.

If the men are at the trough, then the women are at the crest. They too have a strong backcourt. If they can improve their offense and transform it into a more balanced attack, then this team has the potential to advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament, the women said.

After two spectacular teams graced the Smith Center court last year, these teams hope, if not expect, that similar outcomes are in store.

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