Men’s basketball opens postseason play Thursday in Brooklyn as the No. 5 seed in this year’s Atlantic 10 Tournament.
GW’s 2015‒2016 campaign is defined in large part by a defense whose inconsistency provided both highs and lows throughout the year, and has a once-nationally ranked GW sitting on the far outskirts of the NCAA Tournament bubble with a handful of bad losses.
Significant non-conference results, like wins over No. 4 Virginia, Seton Hall and Tennessee bolster the team’s resume, but defeats at the hands of less formidable teams like DePaul, Saint Louis and Richmond severely hurt the Colonials’ case for an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
After dropping their final regular-season contest Saturday at Davidson, falling 87–80 to the Wildcats on the road, GW (22‒9, 11‒7 A-10) will probably need to win at least two games in the conference tournament to stay relevant in the at-large bid conversation.
Of course, the other way GW can ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament is to receive an auto-bid, a guaranteed prize for the winner of the A-10 Tournament. Here’s what GW’s path to a conference title might look like:
Second round (Mar. 10 at 2:30 p.m.): No. 12 George Mason or No. 13 Saint Louis
This game should be GW’s easiest challenge all weekend. Earning a first round bye as the No. 5 seed, the Colonials will face the winner of this matchup Thursday in a contest that they are expected to win, if not dominate, before facing the league’s top programs.
GW took down the Patriots twice this season – 76–70 on the road in Fairfax, Va. and 74–52 at home early this month. In the 22-point victory on Mar. 1, they were able to hold Mason’s leading scorers Otis Livingston II and Marquise Moore to a combined 11 points while three Colonials scored 17 each.
In one of its most disheartening decisions all year, GW was bested by the Billikens in Saint Louis 65–62. Junior guard Mike Crawford put up a game-high 20 points in that game, as his team shot 48 percent in the second half and the Colonials shot a cold 12-for-22 clip from the free-throw line.
But it’s hard to imagine the No. 13 Billikens repeating an upset over a more highly skilled and hungrier GW team this time around. Saint Louis owns the second-worst offense in the league, the seventh-best defense and third-worst rebounding and turnover margins.
Quarterfinal (Mar. 11 at 2:30 p.m.): No. 4 Saint Joseph’s
A face-off with the Hawks will be one of GW’s most daunting tests. On Feb. 10, Saint Joseph’s routed the Colonials in the Smith Center 84–66 after shooting a deadly 56.7 percent from the field and 64.3 percent in the second half alone.
Six Hawks scored eight points or more as senior forward Isaiah Miles led the game with 21 points and nine rebounds. Junior forward DeAndre’ Bembry also dropped 14 points while the Hawks forced nine GW turnovers and had seven steals.
Saint Joseph’s, however, has also shown inconsistency down the stretch. The Hawks lost two straight to close out the regular season, including a 78–70 home loss to 10th-place Duquesne on Saturday.
It won’t be easy, but if GW can bring its A-game defensively and remain focused throughout, the Colonials have a shot at revenge over a dangerous offensive squad.
Semifinal (Mar. 12 at 1:30 p.m.): No. 1 Dayton
The top-seeded Flyers would most likely be GW’s next obstacle on the road to an A-10 championship, barring an upset victory by No. 8 Fordham or No. 9 Richmond.
On Jan. 15, Dayton downed the Colonials 77–70 at UD Arena. Despite GW going 11-of-22 from three-point range, senior forward Dyshawn Pierre’s 26 points helped Dayton, who went 16-for-17 at the line to GW’s anemic 5-for-15, win out.
However, senior point guard Joe McDonald was out with an injury during that seven-point defeat, and his presence could make a big difference if these teams met again in Brooklyn.
GW was able to dominate the glass and hold the Flyers to just 42.6 percent from the field on the night. If the team can do that again, foul less and hit their own free throws, it could be looking at its first ever trip to an A-10 Tournament final under head coach Mike Lonergan.
Final (Mar. 13 at 12:30 p.m.): No. 2 VCU or No. 3 Saint Bonaventure
The Rams and the Bonnies, named co-regular season champions with Dayton after all finishing 14‒4 in conference play, are both potential opponents the Colonials might face if they can will their way to Sunday.
GW split the season series with VCU, topping the Rams 72–69 in Richmond and losing 69–65 at the Smith Center. Senior swingman Patricio Garino led the way with a career-high 27 points in the victory, while four Rams scored in double-figures in the loss, including a surprising 17-point performance from freshman guard Jonathan Williams.
In their only meeting against the Bonnies this season, the Colonials fell 64–57 in Olean, N.Y. as sophomore guard Jaylen Adams led his team with 19 points, but Saint Bonaventure’s leading scorer Marcus Posley was held to just 11 points and 3-of-14 from the field.
Either matchup will be a tall task for GW. Saint Bonaventure’s dangerous outside threats have sparked their impressive late-season surge, while VCU’s strong drivers and relentless inside game can also cause major problems. It will once again come down to which GW defense shows up that day.