Numbers and history tell the story.
Combine the total NCAA Tournament experience of the players on the men’s basketball team and the math is pretty simple: two players, two games, 10 minutes played and zero points scored.
Perform the same calculation for GW’s second-round opponent – the Memphis Tigers – and the numbers get more lopsided: six players, 11 appearances, 17 games, 416 minutes played and 138 points scored.
They’re telling numbers, highlighting the clear inexperience that GW players have with the expectations, flashbulbs and national spotlight of March Madness.
“I know nerves aren’t a factor for me, but it’ll probably be a factor for the young guys that haven’t been there,” said transfer guard Maurice Creek, who played in the 2013 tournament for an Indiana team that went to the Sweet Sixteen. “It’s a totally different ballgame when you’re in the tournament compared to a regular season game.”
Fortunately for Creek and forward Isaiah Armwood – who also had a brief stint in the NCAA tournament, playing for Villanova in 2011 – they won’t have to shoulder the transition into the tournament alone.
A look into the GW coaching staff’s NCAA tournament history is impressive: 11 NCAA tournament appearances as both players and coaches.
“It does help to have them there because they know what it’s all about,” Creek said. “When the time comes, they will speak and say, ‘You know, these games really do count, these are the ones we worked for.’”
Head coach Mike Lonergan, in his third year with GW, led Vermont to an NCAA tournament appearance in 2010. The Catamounts, a No. 16 seed, were bounced by No. 1 Syracuse that year.
Even before the start of the Atlantic 10 tournament, Lonergan said he began advising his players about the exhilaration and fatigue to expect in the coming weeks.
“I told these guys, ‘You’ve worked really hard to get this point,’” Lonergan said. “March Madness is the best time of the year for me, I love it, so you might as well enjoy this and take advantage of the opportunity. There’s no given that you get back to this position – making the tournament. No matter how good you think you’ll be in the future, there’s luck involved, and injuries.”
Associate head coach Hajj Turner traveled to two different tournament sites as a member of the Louisville Cardinals in 1999 and 2000. Assistant coach Maurice Joseph made three appearances in the NCAA tournament as a player, twice at Michigan State under renowned head coach Tom Izzo in 2006 and 2007, and a third at Vermont playing for Lonergan in 2010.
GW special advisor John Fitzpatrick, who joined the coaching staff at the start of this season, has gone to five NCAA tournaments as a coach for Ball State, Fordham and Navy. As an assistant coach for Navy in 1986, the Midshipmen made it all the way to the Elite Eight.
Armwood said that Joseph has already helped the players focus, as they often turn to the youngest member of the coaching staff with questions on and off the floor. The biggest piece of advice: Don’t fall victim to nerves.
“’You’ve got to have fun, you’ve got to have fun,’” Armwood said Joseph advised him. “If you’re just out there timid, you won’t get much done, but if you go out there and have fun with your teammates, everything will fall into place. You just play hard.”