Men’s basketball kicked off its 2018-19 season with a 69–64 win over Catholic in an exhibition game Sunday.
While the one tuneup contest might not tell us much about how the rest of the season will turn out and doesn’t count toward either team’s record, it provides our first live look at the team this year.
After the matchup, head coach Maurice Joseph said he was testing different lineups and giving players more minutes on the court than what they would usually see.
Although his team only scored four fast-break points against Catholic and played a slower, set-oriented game, GW took home the victory. But the score might not tell the whole story.
Below are five observations from the team’s victory Sunday and takeaways that may suggest what is to come during the next five months.
1. Players were challenged on the perimeter
The Colonials were cold from beyond the arc against Catholic, going 2-for-16 from the three-point line while allowing the Cardinals to sink eight three-point shots on the night.
GW’s struggle made it clear there is no Colonial who is a consistent distance shooter as seven players attempted three-point shots.
When Catholic played a zone defense, GW was forced to spread the floor and take outside shots, but the ball was still not falling for the Colonials. Sophomore guard Terry Nolan Jr., the top returning three-point shooter, went 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.
The team’s struggle from beyond the arc is a continued trend from last season. GW went 32.1 percent from the arc – the second-lowest three-point shooting percentage in the Atlantic 10 – during the 2017-18 season.
Forty of GW’s points were picked up in the paint. With an often four-guard lineup on the court and nine guards rostered, the team will need to sharpen up from the perimeter when they face off against teams who like to pack the paint.
2. A preview of struggles down low
The exhibition game could be characterized by the Colonials’ struggle to secure three-pointers, but that doesn’t mean the team was without challenges in the paint.
Even though GW outsized the Catholic lineup, the Colonials still allowed the Cardinals to out-rebound them 17–16 on the offensive glass and 48–46 overall. The Cardinals racked up 22 points in the paint and 14 second-chance points.
GW’s front court lacks experience overall and will likely be a weak point for the team throughout the year.
Although junior forward Arnaldo Toro returns to the lineup, he does not fill a true big-man role. Sophomore forward Javier Langarica and 6-foot-9-inch freshman forward Marcus Littles should bring more to the table under the glass, but with Littles injured and Langarica yet to fully grow into himself as a player, the team’s interior play remains a question mark.
The game could not provide a full look at the team’s play underneath the glass with key pieces of GW’s defense missing on the court. Joseph said his squad needed to play with more urgency underneath the glass despite the limited front court.
With GW largely playing guard-heavy sets with an athletic five, scoring ability is also lacking on the post. Many of the Colonials’ points down low against Catholic came from guards penetrating the defense or finding open looks under the hoop with little to no post play.
The performance raises the question of whether GW’s interior will be enough to maintain strong play on the post throughout the season – and if the lack of inside presence will push guards to force the issue too often.
3. Free throws raised a red flag
Another glaring shooting issue on the stat sheet for the Colonials was their free-throw shooting. GW went 15–32 from the charity stripe and not a single Colonial was perfect from the line.
Joseph chalked up the missed free points to nerves but said the performance was “unacceptable” from his team.
Given that free throws are an integral part of the game that are practiced time after time, the inability to capitalize on free throws is a concerning issue and should be one of the major things GW is improving down the stretch.
It is not uncommon for A-10 and postseason contests to go down to the wire and a continued inability to knock down shots from the charity stripe will not bode well for GW’s record or longevity.
4. Aggressive defense lacked results
Defense has always been a key component to GW’s play under Joseph and the game against Catholic showcased the kind of aggressive and energetic play Joseph expects from his team.
But the team’s aggression on the court led to guard fouls. Mazzulla and Nolan found themselves in foul trouble toward the end of the night, forcing Joseph to play bigger and rely more on DJ Williams and Langarica.
While the Colonials did force the Cardinals to make 15 turnovers on the night, GW let a Division III team stay competitive and the stat sheet shows a team that matched GW in nearly every category.
The most obvious defensive issue for the Colonials was their matchup against Catholic senior guard Jimmy Golaszewski, who dropped 28 points on 7-for-15 shooting, including four three-point shots.
GW’s inability to stifle a team’s heavy shooter spells trouble for late-season contests against players like Davidson sophomore guard Kellan Grady, who has already proven himself to be one of the top scorers in the conference.
5. Players appeared comfortable in new roles
For a team that returns just two of its starters from last season, a number of players, seemed more comfortable in their new roles.
Sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla looked confident on the ball playing the leading guard role, driving into traffic and taking it to the rim more often than he did last season – with more success.
The redshirt junior duo of Armel Potter and Williams also looked fit and confident on the court. Williams looked especially comfortable on the ball, and his team-leading 15 points on the night signify he should be a heavy contributor to GW’s points column.
High scoring and significant minutes on the defensive end from the transfers is what GW needs to win consistently throughout the year.
The game also gave a first look at two of GW’s three freshmen – guard Shandon Brown and forward Mezie Offurum – who both looked to be important bench pieces for the team. Brown struggled to knock down open shots but managed to grab five rebounds on the night, while Offurum did not contribute much on the stat sheet but did take up space in the paint.
The freshmen will need more time to mature on the bench for GW but their development could help GW become more competitive than its expected No. 13 finish in the conference.
Langarica looked more comfortable on the court and contributed nine points and seven rebounds on the night, albeit against a smaller, guard-oriented movement offense of Catholic.