Updated: March 10, 2015 at 6:31 p.m.
At the sound of the buzzer in a dominant win over George Mason on Sunday, the Colonials rushed the court to accept their Atlantic 10 regular season championship title.
They celebrated that accomplishment for the first time since 2008, but not for too long. There’s still plenty of basketball to be played, and that starts on Friday in the A-10 tournament.
GW finished the season at 26-3 and 15-1 in conference and is ranked No. 21 in the weekly Associated Press poll and No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The team has earned a first-round bye and will begin its quest for the trophy in the quarterfinals against the winner of No. 8 VCU and No. 9 Saint Louis at 11 a.m.
With his team as the No. 1 overall seed, head coach Jonathan Tsipis said he knows GW will draw attention as the frontrunner.
“We carry a bullseye around with us literally on paper. Our kids understand that, and it makes them even more driven. This is a team that loves challenges,” Tsipis said. “In the A-10 tournament, we’re now going to play teams that we’ve at least played once but that are going to be doing everything in their power, maybe things that they’ve kept hidden away in the regulation season, to try to disrupt us and find a way to survive and advance.”
Saint Louis was the only A-10 team to steal a game from GW this season, which snapped a 19-game winning streak, but the loss seemed more like a fluke than a real sign of weakness for the program. It’s unlikely the Colonials will give another lackluster performance under tournament conditions.
If anyone were to pull off the upset, it would most likely be one of these conference powerhouses:
Fordham (No. 4)
As the other team on GW’s side of the bracket with a bye to the quarterfinals, Fordham is the first conference heavyweight the Colonials could face.
The Rams are defending A-10 champions, but at 19-10 and 11-5 A-10, they’ve had trouble with some of the league’s best. Fordham hasn’t beaten any of the top three seeds and benefitted from a soft conference schedule that had them playing St. Bonaventure and Davidson twice.
Fordham’s strength is on defense, where the team is giving up less than 55 points per game and holding opponents to just 36 percent shooting. Emily Tapio is the only player averaging double figures, but her 12 points per game are backed by a deep bench: No one plays less than five minutes per game.
Dayton (No. 2)
On the other side of the bracket, the Colonials would likely face the Flyers in the finals if they advanced that far. Picked first in the preseason poll, Dayton’s only two conference losses both came at the hands of GW, but one of those was a 69-66 squeaker that was one of the most tightly contested matches all season for the Colonials.
The Flyers are led by senior guard Andrea Hoover, who adds explosiveness on offense and would need to be limited. Hoover ranks third in the conference in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game, and second in three-point field goal percentage (0.444).
Both times the Colonials have beaten the Flyers, it’s been thanks to strong play from GW’s pair in the post, Jonquel Jones and Caira Washington. They would need another big performance from those two during what would be, at least on paper, certainly the most competitive matchup the tournament could bring.
Duquesne (No. 3)
Leading the conference in offensive rebounds and coming in third in scoring offense, No. 3 Duquesne (20-9, 12-4 A-10) is one of the tougher rivals for GW’s dominant inside offense.
With an eight-game mid-season winning streak and victories over Fordham and Richmond under their belt, the Dukes have a consistency that could serve them well in a tournament setting. Heading into the A-10 tournament, Duquesne has notched its seventh consecutive 20-win season and completed conference play undefeated at home after an eight-point win over St. Bonaventure.
Senior center Jose-Ann Johnson leads the league in blocked shots, averaging 2.6 game per game, and broke a 26-year-old program record by tallying her 62nd block of the season. With a starting lineup of seasoned veterans and confidence from their regulation season success, the Dukes shouldn’t be easily fazed.
Duquesne might not have enough to top GW, but don’t expect this team to get upset in an early round. And if the team does take on the Colonials, it’s one of the few in the league that has the length in the frontcourt to match GW.
The Colonials’ dominant regular season signals that they won’t find much competition outside the top four seeds, but anything can happen in a condensed tournament environment. The remaining seeds in the tournament are listed below and would have to win early-round matches to get to GW:
Richmond – No. 5
Rhode Island – No. 6
Saint Joseph’s – No. 7
VCU – No. 8
Saint Louis – No. 9
St. Bonaventure – No. 10
La Salle – No. 11
George Mason – No. 12
Massachusetts – No. 13
Davidson – No. 14
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the women’s basketball team was ranked No. 21 in both the AP poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll entering the A-10 tournament. The team was ranked No. 21 by the AP but No. 19 by the Coaches Poll. We regret this error.