No. 11 seed men’s basketball faces uphill battle in conference tournament

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Ethan Stoler | Contributing Photo Editor

Sophomore guard Jair Bolden takes a jump shot during a men's basketball game at VCU in January.

From now on, it is win or go home for men’s basketball.

GW (14-17, 7-11 A-10) is only guaranteed one more game before next November – an opening round Atlantic 10 tournament contest. To continue after that, the Colonials have to earn more chances to play with wins.

Players and coaches around the country relish the opportunity to compete in games that could have season-altering effects. But after a season of challenges and transition, the Colonials enter the postseason with an uphill battle ahead of them.

Before the season started, coaches and media members selected GW to finish No. 11 in a preseason poll. For the first time in five years, the Colonials will not enter the championship in the top 10.

They finished conference action with seven wins, putting the team in a three-way tie for 10th in wins along with La Salle and Duquesne. But after losses to the Dukes over the past couple months, GW was awarded the No. 11 seed in the tournament.

Despite matching expectations, the Colonials’ win total dropped significantly since winning a program-record 28 games in the 2015-16 season. GW would need to sweep the A-10 tournament and win at least one game in the NCAA tournament to continue its four-year streak of 20-win seasons.

Colonials players still remain confident in their postseason efforts because of recent improvements on the offensive end and a clearer rotation of bench players. GW won four of its final six games of the year – including a 24-point victory over VCU.

On Wednesday, GW will take on No. 14 seed Fordham at 8:30 p.m. at the Capital One Arena. The Colonials got the better of the Rams at the Smith Center last week, defeating them by 16 behind a 31-point performance from senior guard Yuta Watanabe in his last home game of his career.

“We are going to be on neutral court, we are going to have our two-day prep,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “We’ll make every game our super bowl and give everything we’ve got to them.”

This year’s A-10 tournament takes place in D.C. for the first time conference history – an advantage for a Colonials team that has struggled outside of the District. GW is 2-12 on the year outside of Foggy Bottom, but defeated Temple – and shot a season-high 60.0 percent – in the team’s only game in the Capital One Arena.

GW closed out its regular-season action Saturday with a 10-point loss to Dayton. The Flyers entered the contest with the same conference record as the Colonials, but they controlled the offensive end and finished with 88 points – more than any other team had totaled against GW.

Still, Watanabe and sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro stood out as two of the best players on the floor. They both finished the regular season on an individual high note, with Watanabe finding his scoring touch and Toro racking up double-doubles and physically commanding the paint.

“I’m happy about AT’s play,” Joseph said. “I know what I am going to get from him on a nightly basis. We just need more guys willing to fight and battle in their own respective responsibilities.”

Several GW players will need to play well in order for the Colonials to continue playing past Wednesday’s game. But if they continue winning, here is what the rest of their A-10 tournament slate may look like.

Second Round vs. Saint Louis
With a win over Fordham, the Colonials will take on the Billikens for the second time in two weeks. When the two sides played against each other in St. Louis, GW lost by nine after shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor.

The Colonials will need to shoot better in order to advance to the quarterfinal. But Saint Louis is coming off losing three of four games. The Billikens were one of four A-10 teams with nine wins and lost to VCU, George Mason and La Salle – all squads that GW defeated during the regular season.

Quarterfinal vs. Davidson
As the No. 3 seed, the Wildcats’ two-day bye allows them to go into Friday’s matchup well rested. If GW is able to take down the Rams and Billikens on consecutive days, Davidson will have the large advantage of not playing at least 80 minutes of basketball earlier in the week.

But regardless of the fatigue, the Colonials would have difficulty picking up another win. Davidson held GW to a season-low 45 points in the two teams’ first matchup in January and then came to the Smith Center and handed the Colonials a 29-point loss – their largest defeat of the year.

Semifinal vs. St. Bonaventure
The semifinal contest would be GW’s first not against a guaranteed opponent. But St. Bonaventure – a team that is currently on a 12-game winning streak – is the most likely squad to find its way to the Colonials’ side of Saturday’s game.

Bonnies senior guard Jaylen Adams has played himself into the conversation for A-10 Player of the Year and established his team as a contender for a seed in the NCAA tournament. He would provide challenges for GW’s backcourt if the Colonials are able to win their first three matchups.

Final
If the Colonials make it to Sunday’s championship contest, the four consecutive prior wins will be enough to deem the end of the season a success compared to the start.

With Rhode Island on the other side of the bracket and likely on their way to the NCAA tournament, the Rams would be a possible opponent in the tournament’s final game. The Colonials lost to them on the road in January – one of GW’s eight losses in its first 10 games.

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