In head coach Maurice Joseph’s first press conference of the season at Atlantic 10 media day in mid-October, Joseph said men’s basketball would first and foremost focus on the defensive side of the game.
Last year, the Colonials had a similar message and went on to allow the third-highest field goal percentage in the league but outscored its opponents by 0.3 points per game by forcing an often slower pace of play during 2016-17 action.
Joseph said the team’s success this year may come down to how much they are able to improve on the defensive side. Ultimately, he said it depends on how much energy and effort the players put in.
“We are not always going to control whether or not we make shots, we are not going to control being the most talented team,” Joseph said. “But we can control being the hardest working team on the floor. We can control our level of passion and enthusiasm, we can control our work ethic and our attention to detail.”
Following the departure of graduate student Tyler Cavanaugh, due to the conclusion of his eligibility, and the transfers of 2016-17 freshmen Collin Smith and Kevin Marfo, GW is left without a true big man or someone with significant experience guarding centers.
Instead, the Colonials will rely on players like sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro, graduate student forward Bo Zeigler and graduate student forward Patrick Steeves to crowd up the paint. Joseph said they will implement defensive schemes in order to alleviate getting posted up, an alteration from last year.
The lack of frontcourt presence will likely make it difficult for any individual to block a lot of shots or collect rebounds. Instead, Joseph said the effort was going to have to come from up and down the roster if they want a chance to win games.
“We are not going to have one guy who averages about 12 or 13 rebounds, not even 10 rebounds,” Joseph said. “It is going to be by committee so we are going to have to have that gang fight mentality on the glass every time a shot goes up.”
On the defensive end, GW does have the luxury of Zeigler, senior guard Yuta Watanabe and Toro, who each have the ability to match up both on the perimeter because of their athleticism and in the paint because of their size and strength.
Joseph said the absence of strict positions allows them to adapt defensively and be ready, regardless of the opposition’s strategy.
“No team is absolutely complete and if you ask any coach, they are going to be concerned about something,” Joseph said. “But for us, not being the biggest team, I think that works for our advantage because we are going to be able to be interchangeable defensively.”
GW’s defense should improve significantly if its group of freshmen are able to hold their own against the college competition. Zeigler said players like freshmen Terry Nolan Jr. and Maceo Jack have the ability and fitness level to impact the game on the Colonials’ side of the court.
If the Colonials are successful at building a defense strong enough to limit its opponents on a consistent basis, the team will reap the benefits on both sides of the floor and end up outscoring other teams, sophomore guard Jair Bolden said.
“We are looking to pick up our defense so that we don’t have to score as many points as a guy like Tyler would for us,” he said.
On the other side of the floor, Joseph said GW will try to increase its speed of play offensively to outrun its opponents, keeping them off balance on both sides of the floor.
“I think we are a lot more athletic,” Joseph said. “I think we have the ability to play with greater pace now and I look forward to that and seeing how it shapes up here when we get going.”
Despite the offensive changes, Steeves said the team has focused much more on play in their own side of the court during preseason practices.
“There is less we can control offensively and there is more that we can control defensively,” he said. “So we’re making sure that we start off on the right foot and put a huge emphasis on that early on.”