On the eve of their first Atlantic 10 tournament game, members of GW’s men’s basketball team wore T-shirts reading “40 Hard” under their practice jerseys. The mantra, head coach Karl Hobbs said, represents the team’s mindset of playing “40 hard minutes of basketball” and expresses a “statement of who we are.”
The third-seeded Colonials will have to play 120 hard minutes if it is going to win the A-10 tournament and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. After receiving a bye in the first round of the A-10 tournament, GW must win three games in three days at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J..
“Everyone knows what we have to do in order to get to the tournament,” senior Carl Elliott said. “We know we have to win these three games.”
The Colonials (20-8, 11-5 A-10) seem unlikely to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament this season.
GW plays its first game Thursday night against (Temple/Saint Joseph’s) at 9 p.m.
The team’s situation is different from last year, when the 26-1 Colonials were ranked in the top 10 in the country and had a nearly guaranteed spot in the NCAA tournament. It had less to play for in the A-10 tournament and its performance suffered as a result – the team lost to Temple in its first game.
The last time GW was 11-5 in conference play and had to win three games in order to guarantee itself a spot in the NCAA tournament was 2005, and the Colonials ended up as a 12-seed facing Georgia Tech in Nashville. The parallels between the two seasons run deep, Hobbs said.
“It is a different mindset because last year we were playing with the house money, so to speak,” Hobbs said. “This year we know that we pretty much have to win the tournament, and that’s fine too because we’ve been there too and we have won the tournament.”
Perhaps no one has more to play for than Elliott, whose last game as a Colonial will most likely be the team’s next loss. He said he feels less pressure this year than last, even though the team’s performance in the conference championship has a much bigger impact on the team.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on us because no one’s really picking us to do well in this tournament,” Elliott said. “I would rather have it be like this because guys are more comfortable like this. Now it’s like ‘Let’s go play basketball and do what everyone thinks we’re not going to do.'”
A championship run would have to start with a win over sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks went 9-7 in conference play this year, but enter the tournament in the midst of a three-game losing streak. GW and Saint Joe’s split meetings this season, each winning its home game. Sophomore forward Ahmad Nivins leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds.
If GW manages to make it to the finals, Elliott said he would rather play top-seeded Xavier than any other team. The Musketeers beat the Colonials 87-58 Feb. 10 at Smith Center, breaking the Colonials’ 24-game home win streak.
Hobbs said he does not care whom the team plays. He said he would rather focus on how his team plays.
“If we play our best game, it doesn’t make a difference who we play. I feel like we’re going to win.”
He added, “I think we’re ready. We know what we have to do.”