He is an NIT Champion, a second team all-conference player as a redshirt junior and a first team preseason all-conference selection as a graduate student. He has helped defeat ranked opponents like Duke, UNC and Virginia and has won two all-academic awards in his conference – all while never missing a game.
Not many players in the Atlantic 10 can stack up with the achievements that graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh has accumulated so far in his collegiate career, but there is still one glaring feat missing from that list: He’s never punched his ticket to the Big Dance.
Now in his fourth year of eligibility, this season is his final shot.
“The NCAA tournament is the last thing that I really want to accomplish before I leave college,” Cavanaugh said. “This is my last opportunity.”
GW’s chances at making the tournament in March depend on whether the 6-foot-9-inch forward can live up to, or even outperform, his stellar 2015–2016 performance. If he follows through, Cavanaugh would be playing at the level of an A-10 player of the year candidate.
It would be the first time such an award went to a Colonial since 1999, when Shawnta Rogers led his team to a 20–9 record and a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The prize is something Cavanaugh admitted he is shooting for, but he said that it’s secondary to the team’s success.
“We have a lot of great players in this conference, so if you don’t get it, it is not the end of the world,” Cavanaugh said. “Putting ourselves in a position to be in a good spot when it comes to February and March is what really matters to me.”
If Cavanaugh’s personal or team goal comes to fruition, it would be against the odds: The Colonials will have to make up for 60.8 percent of their offensive production from last year – lost due to graduation and three transfers this offseason – while not sacrificing any defensive efforts.
Interim head coach Maurice Joseph said he believes that making up for the lost offense will have to take an entire team effort led by Cavanaugh’s experience and offensive abilities.
“Losing Patricio [Garino], Joe [McDonald] and Kevin [Larsen] obviously puts a real ding in your production, but we are going to have to do it by committee,” Joseph said. “Tyler, especially, is going to be a big part of that.”
After scoring double figures in every one of the Colonials’ matchups last season and leading GW by averaging 19.4 points per game during the team’s NIT run, Cavanaugh will likely be double-teamed on the inside all year and soak up most of the opposing squad’s defensive attention.
To counteract the pressure he expects, Cavanaugh said he is focused on working alongside his teammates to balance out the offense and deliver a more potent attack.
“I have continued to work on my overall game and add some different things offensively, but it is mostly about just building up the other guys,” Cavanaugh said. “It is a full team effort. Yuta [Watanabe] is going to make a huge jump this year. He is going to take over some of that scoring as well as Matt Hart and Jordan Roland to go along with the transfers coming, all adding a lot.”
As one of only two players in their final year of eligibility, along with Hart, Cavanaugh said he sees this season as an opportunity to spread his knowledge of the sport to his teammates and use his leadership skills to create a positive and motivated locker room environment.
And the coaching change has forced him to take on his role as a veteran even more seriously. Under the leadership of a first-year interim head coach, Cavanaugh said he is committed to unifying the team before the season starts.
“We need to be moving forward as a unit, staying positive and continuing to grow as a team,” he said. “Because we have teams on our schedule that don’t care who is coaching us.”
Throughout the preseason, Cavanaugh has competed with the younger forwards during practice, using his talent, size and experience to prepare them for the season.
With a talented freshman core of Kevin Marfo, Arnaldo Toro and Collin Smith joining the frontcourt, Cavanaugh said he knows he will be the focal point of a deeper inside presence this year.
“This season I have more leadership responsibility,” Cavanaugh said. “I am the old guy on the team now and the one to look up to, so I am just continuing to lead by example.”
The partnership between Cavanaugh and redshirt junior point guard Jaren Sina will also be a highlight of the Colonials’ early-season games. The two have never played on the same team during an official game but are expected to shoulder a good number of offensive touches, likely playing 30 or more minutes per game.
Sina is confident that the relationship that they have formed during practice and off the court will carry over to production once the season comes around, he said.
“Playing with Ty has always been great,” Sina said. “I’ve been finding ways for him to score and put him in easy positions. Sometimes we feel like we have been playing together for years.”