One of college basketball’s trusted barometers has pointed to GW as a team to watch for the first time in eight years.
GW’s program-record 14 nationally televised games ranks third in the Atlantic 10 behind Dayton, which scheduled 21 games, and VCU, which led the conference with 23 games. As a conference, the A-10 will have a record 75 nationally televised games this season.
ESPNU will broadcast live from the Smith Center on Jan. 15, when GW hosts Richmond, in the only ESPN Network conference game that doesn’t feature either VCU or Dayton. It will be the first time an ESPN Network will broadcast from the Smith Center since the 2006-07 season and one of three conference games on ESPN Networks the Colonials will play.
By choosing to broadcast A-10 conference games, ESPN and other networks like NBC Sports and CBS Sports are banking on the Colonials and their conference opponents to compete at a high level. The A-10 drew criticism last year when it had six teams selected for the NCAA tournament: Critics thought the conference was not strong enough to merit the same number of bids as notable power conferences like the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10 and Pac 12.
But Athletic Director Patrick Nero said the network attention shows that GW and other A-10 programs have proven themselves as teams of interest.
“They want the best teams on television,” Nero said. “The Atlantic 10 each year continues to prove itself. In today’s age with all the shifts in the conferences and in the NCAA, we have consistently proven that we are one of the top basketball conferences in the country.”
Nero said the atmosphere in the Smith Center was another network draw. GW is the only A-10 school that will be the home team in each of its ESPN Network conference games, and the Colonials’ non-conference matchups during the Diamond Head Classic in December guarantee the team three more ESPN Network broadcasts.
Beyond the networks, quality teams have also endorsed the Colonials by pegging them as competition.
Nero’s greatest success of the scheduling period came when the fourth-year athletic director reached a two-year home-and-home agreement with the University of Virginia, last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
“We were well aware that Maryland was leaving the ACC, and so Virginia’s annual trip to the region would be cancelled,” Nero said. “That was really the sell with them. You reach out to them and then say, ‘You recruit a lot in D.C., you have a very large alumni base in D.C.,’ obviously northern Virginia is really big for them in terms of where their students come.”
Along with Virginia, Nero also landed new two-year agreements with Penn State, Seton Hall and DePaul.
While GW believed it had the right pitch to persuade Virginia, Nero said the agreement was not possible without the Colonials’ historic 2013-14 season.
“Its easier for us now than it was two years ago because two or three years ago when our RPI was 150, there wasn’t a lot of value. They knew they could come in, and they could lose here and losing to a 150 RPI can hurt them,” Nero said.
He said GW’s commitment to increasing the program’s exposure has put the team in a “challenging” situation on the floor. Each of the Colonials’ new home-and-home agreements begin with GW playing on the road at Penn State, Seton Hall, DePaul and Virginia this season.
However Rob Dauster, head writer for NBCSports.com’s college basketball coverage at College Basketball Talk, said this season’s majority road-loaded non-conference slate was “for the best.”
“It’s always going to be a risk when you’re playing on the road,” Dauster said. “Unless you’re Kentucky or North Carolina or Ohio State or others schools like that, you really can’t play every non-conference game at home. You don’t want to. For the NCAA Tournament, the selection committee values road games, road wins and challenging yourself.”
Dauster, predicting that the 2015-16 season will be the Colonials’ best, said playing the road game for all of the home-and-home agreements is a smart strategy. GW’s starting core of Joe McDonald, Kevin Larsen, Kethan Savage and Patricio Garino will be seniors next year, and summer transfer Tyler Cavanaugh will be eligible to play then.
“[The] 2015-16 [season] is when the arc of this group kind of hits their peak,” Dauster said. “If they’re getting all the home games in the year when they’re supposed to be the best, I think that’s kind of a good thing for the program.”
Television appearances not only bring exposure, Dauster said, but could also help head coach Mike Lonergan broaden his reach for recruitment. Lonergan will be able to use the national broadcasts as a selling point for recruits, whose families across the country would not be able to watch their children play without them.
Even with the positive attention from teams and networks after GW’s 11-win improvement from last season, Georgetown remains unwilling to play the Colonials. The neighboring university’s team played GW regularly until 1982.
“We’d like to play Georgetown, but at this time they are not interested,” Nero said. “They’re no different from when you’re asking someone out on a date, and they don’t want to go on a date with you. I’ll go on that date alone I guess.”