Big names, big opportunities at men’s basketball tournament

Media Credit: Photo by Flickr user Marquette University
Marquette’s cheerleaders rally Golden Eagles fans last season. GW will likely face Marquette if the Colonials win their first round game.

What: Wooden Legacy tournament
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Fullerton, Calif. and Anaheim, Calif.

GW’s 4-0 start has come against mostly beatable teams, but the wins have shown a deeper poise than Colonials fans have seen in recent years. If the Colonials can grab a win or two this weekend in the Wooden Legacy, it’ll add another stroke of confidence. GW will take on big-name teams, but wins won’t be out of reach.

Here’s a preview of some of the teams GW would take on in the tournament’s first two games.

Miami (Thursday, 2 p.m., ESPNU)

What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Hurricanes (3-2) were Atlantic Coast Conference champions and Sweet Sixteen finalists, while the Colonials were ousted in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Going into Thursday’s game, though, undefeated GW could very well be the favorite.

After losing all five starters from last season – including the Dallas Mavericks’ Shane Larkin – head coach Jim Larranga was left with a young, inexperienced team to fill those shoes. So far, the Canes, who were picked to finish 12th in the ACC, have gone 3-2, with a surprising loss in their season opener to St. Francis-Brooklyn.

Miami’s offense, averaging an ACC 12th best 71 points per game, is led by senior guard Rion Brown’s 13 points per game. Brown is the only returning player from last year to play a single game for the Canes.

Look for head coach Mike Lonergan to put some defensive pressure on the inexperienced Miami lineup, including freshman point guard Manu Lecomte, who is averaging 9.9 ppg of of 37.5 percent shooting. GW’s forwards Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen will also look to attack sophomore center Tonye Jekiri, who hasn’t produced as much as his 7-foot-1 height might make you think, scoring only two points in a loss to Central Florida and averaging just four ppg.

Both teams are equally matched on the defensive side of the ball, giving up 66.4 and 64.8 points per game, but the high-scoring Colonials offense – putting up an A-10 leading 89.5 points per game – appears to have an edge. If GW can stay defensively focused as it has thus far and force Miami to go to its thin bench through foul trouble, Lonergan and company might find themselves with a chance to pull off a huge win in the tournament opener.

Marquette

With a win over Miami in the first round, the Colonials would likely find themselves with a tough test against No. 25 Marquette.

Coming off an Elite Eight performance in last year’s NCAA tournament, the Golden Eagles were picked to finish first in the always competitive Big East. Just 3-2 so far, though, Marquette has failed to show why they are a tournament threat once again.

The Golden Eagles have averaged just 69.4 points per game while giving up 62.2, as their offense has mostly been led by senior Davante Gardner (preseason All-Big East First team) and junior Todd Mayo, who are both averaging double figures. Despite being a strong rebounding threat, grabbing 42.4 boards per game, Marquette has been abysmal from long range, shooting 22.3 percent from downtown.

Lucky for head coach Buzz Williams, he and his team have probably the best track record in regular-season tournaments. They are 25-7 overall in multi-team tourneys since 2004-05, with four tournament championships under their belt.

Point guard Derrick Wilson’s late rise could also mean we haven’t seen the real Golden Eagles yet this year. Despite a recent 79-77 loss to Arizona State, Wilson showed his ability to run the offense, recording seven assists with no turnovers, while adding a career-high 14 points. Watch to see how how sophomore guards Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage pressure Wilson, and if the sharp-shooting Colonials can keep their hot streak going to potentially take down another big-name team.

Cal State Fullerton

After going a disappointing 14-18 last season, earning just six wins in the Big West conference, Cal State Fullerton continues to face uphill battles this year. Under new head coach Dedrique Taylor, who takes the helm after seven years as a coach at Arizona State, the Titans began the season without their top three players from last year.

Players have stepped up for Taylor early on, with three averaging double figures in scoring. Junior guard Alex Harris leads the Titans averaging 17.7 points per game, shooting 56.2 percent from the field. Harris is followed by transfer guard Michael Williams (13.6 ppg) and Marquis Horne (10.6 ppg). As a team, the Titans are averaging 72. 4 points per game.

But the Titans have a lot of holes, specifically on defense, that the Colonials will look to exploit. The Titans allow 72 ppg to their opponents, despite holding their opponents to 40 percent shooting. Cal State Fullerton also only pulls in 37.2 boards, barely outrebounding their opponents by just three boards per game. With GW having a strong post presence in Larsen and Armwood, the Colonials would also win the frontcourt advantage with points in the paint as well as rebounds, as the Titans have proven to be a guard-oriented ball club so far this season.

The Titans have had more success defensively protecting the arc, holding opponents to just 34.6 percent from three-point range. Once again, though, the Colonials strong three-point shooting ability this season – 46.4 percent from behind the arc – could balance out the Titans perimeter defense.

If Cal State has one advantage over every other team in the tournament, though, it’s playing on their home court. If the Titans and Colonials do end up facing off, they certainly shouldn’t be a team that GW overlooks.

Note: The team’s listed in the preview are the three teams on GW’s side of the bracket. The remaining teams on the other side of the bracket that the Colonials could face in their third game are Creighton, Charleston, Arizona State and San Diego State.

Media Credit:

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.