ST. LOUIS — GW’s 66-59 loss to No. 10 Saint Louis on Saturday, like most of the team’s defeats this year, wasn’t necessarily a sign of trouble in Foggy Bottom.
To some fans, it will be just another notch in the loss column for the Colonials – their third in the last four games – and another step back in the Atlantic 10 standings. It begs the question: Will this GW team transform from a surprise contender to a letdown?
But to the NCAA selection committee – whose opinion will be the deciding factor come March – it will be a single-digit loss, on the road against a top 10 team. The loss actually boosted GW’s already high ratings percentage index, or RPI, from 32 to 30. RPI is a key factor for the selection committee come Selection Sunday.
Yes, a win over the Billikens would have certainly locked up a March Madness slot for the Colonials, but that doesn’t mean they should put away their dancing shoes just yet.
“This is a top-five conference, in my opinion. If it ended today, I think six or seven teams [from the A-10] would go to the tournament,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We just have to get everybody on our team focused where we can go to the tournament, but it’s a league that doesn’t get enough credit.”
Lonergan has a point. The A-10 has proven that its five bids to the NCAA Tournament last season weren’t a fluke. In fact, it should happen once again this year.
Although the Colonials currently sit out of that group in sixth place, the conference’s remaining schedule weighs in the Colonials’ favor.
“We had a tough stretch, so now what do we have to do? We have to bounce back,” Lonergan said. “UMass, VCU, this game. Thank god we got Richmond and now we’re looking at the last three one at a time. We’ve got three winnable games.”
GW (20-7, 8-5) plays two of its final three regular season games against conference bottom-feeders – Fordham (9-16, 2-10) and George Mason (9-17, 2-10). The rest of the top-tier teams in the conference will all battle it out against each other, doing GW a favor in the process.
If you want to circle a game on your calendar, put it around Mar. 5. That’s the Colonials’ home finale, and second-to-last game of the regular season, against Saint Joseph’s (19-7, 9-3). The Hawks are No. 2 in the conference now and have defeated conference powerhouses UMass and VCU.
Lonergan was blunt in describing what his team needed to win out in these remaining games.
“The key to us is we’ve got to start making shots,” said Lonergan, whose team has struggled to find an outside presence in recent games. “I told Mo Creek, ‘Hey, you’ve got to make shots again. You know, when you were making shots we had a hell of a season going.’”
A consistent presence on the outside will further open up the paint and distract opponents from GW’s frontcourt. Against the Hawks, who allow opponents to shoot 35 percent from beyond the arc, there will be plenty of open looks.
A win against Saint Joseph’s would all but lock up a fifth-place finish for GW and could even bump them up to fourth, where they would also get a double-round bye in the A-10 Tournament.
“We’re still playing some tough teams, but at least two of the last three are at home,” Lonergan said. “Hopefully we’ll get Kethan [Savage] back for the conference tournament, but we’ve got to get our momentum back.”
That possibility, though, lies in the hands of GW’s conference foes. Two of the current top-five teams – Massachusetts (21-5, 8-4) and VCU (20-7, 8-4) – still have remaining matchups with top-seeded Saint Louis, who is undefeated in conference play.
UMass and Richmond (18-9, 8-4) also have tough matchups on the road at a raucous Dayton (19-8, 7-5) Arena, while Richmond and VCU still have to face one another a second time.
“It’s not going to be easy to stay in that top four, it’s really bunched up right now,” Lonergan said at a practice before the Saint Louis game. “We’re definitely still trying to fight for seeding, but really trying to get as many wins as we want, because we want to get an at-large bid if we can’t win that A-10 Championship.”