A-10 Championship preview: Men’s basketball rides five-game win streak to Pittsburgh

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Junior guard Yuta Watanabe salutes the Smith Center crowd Saturday after a second-half dunk. Watanabe and the Colonials hope to build off a 87-81 upset over Dayton, and a five-game win streak, heading into the A-10 Championship this weekend.

The 2016-2017 regular season came to a close for men’s basketball Saturday night on the highest possible note.

The Colonials – who had a rollercoaster season with highs, including a road victory over Temple, and lows, like three separate three-game losing streaks – upset the first-place Dayton Flyers, 87–81, on senior night.

The win was GW’s fifth in a row, moving the team from 5-8 in conference play to a respectable 10-8 finish.

During a down year in which parity reigned in the Atlantic 10, the Colonials’ record positions them as the No. 6 seed, two spots higher than they were projected in the league’s preseason poll. After a first-round bye, GW will take on either No. 11 Saint Louis or No. 14 Duquesne Thursday night at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

In his first year at the helm of the program, interim head coach Maurice Joseph said his team is currently playing its best game and that the past few games have shown the squad’s true ability.

“The teams who typically are playing well towards the end of the year, those are the teams that go on runs, those are the teams that make some special things happen,” Joseph said Saturday. “This team has that kind of potential because they have grown together, they have been through some stuff. They have been through blowout wins, they have been through heart-wrenching losses, they have been through coming back from down-18 on the road, they have been through it all.”

GW’s recent success has come with the emergence of a potent offense. Over the past four games, the Colonials have averaged 80 points per outing and shot over 47 percent during each game. Their top scorer, graduate student Tyler Cavanaugh, has averaged 23.3 points per game over that stretch, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.

It’s a tall order, but here’s what the path to the program’s first conference title since 2007 might look like.

Second round (Thursday, March 9 at 8:30 p.m.): No. 11 Saint Louis or No. 14 Duquesne

By the nature of the bracket, this will likely be the lowest seed the Colonials play. But that is not to say that a win will be easy. GW has allowed five of its last six opponents to shoot a higher clip, all of which were above 40 percent from the floor.

The Dukes fell victim to the Colonials twice and the Billikens fell once during the regular season, all by single-digit margins.

When GW hosted Saint Louis, it was no walk in the park. The Billikens led for more than 34 minutes before the Colonials scraped back into the game. Veterans, including Cavanaugh and graduate student Patrick Steeves, were vital to their team’s 40-point second half and strong defense.

Duquesne provided GW with slightly less trouble, as the Colonials led for the majority of both matchups and combined for 23 three-pointers in the two games.

Although GW will be the higher seed no matter who the opponent is, no games in the A-10 tournament can be taken for granted. Expect the Colonials’ opening contest to be a tight one.

Quarterfinal (Friday, March 10 at 8:30 p.m.): No. 3 Richmond

If the Colonials come out with a victory Thursday, their next matchup is guaranteed to be against the 13-5 Spiders.

Richmond defeated GW Jan. 8 and Feb. 4. in similar fashions. The Spiders shot high percentages in the first half of both games only to concede comebacks by the Colonials that would ultimately fall short.

For Richmond to fall, GW will have to be on top of its game and limit Spiders senior T.J. Cline, who averages 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Semifinal (Saturday, March 11 at 3:30 p.m.): No. 2 VCU

With wins in their first two games, the Colonials would likely see the Rams Saturday.

After being blown out by 30 at the beginning of conference play, GW came within a second of beating the Rams last month. If it were not for a last-second heart-breaking foul by the Colonials, they would have picked up another win and risen to the No. 5 seed in the tournament.

Although VCU is a talented team that has remained strong all year, a game against the Rams could give GW a shot at a redemption upset against a team they looked evenly matched with last time out.

Final (Sunday, March 12 at 12:30 p.m.): No. 1 Dayton or No. 4 Rhode Island

Both the Flyers and the Rams have favorable paths to the championship final and have defeated nearly every team in the league during the regular season. If the Colonials reach the final day of the tournament, they would be riding an eight-game winning streak.

The Colonials fell to Rhode Island by 12, but picked up an upset against Dayton in their final regular season game.

If GW reaches the A-10 finale, the team will already be against the odds, so defeating one of the league’s top teams may not be out of the question.

“We are going to take [the A-10 Championship] one game at a time and continue to try to get better. We are going to go down there and empty our clips,” Joseph said. “There is a lot more work to do, [we’re] definitely not satisfied.”

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