Men’s basketball faces pivotal offseason after earning best record since 2017

Media Credit: File Photo by Jennifer Igbonoba | Staff Photographer

The Colonials leaned heavily on senior guard James Bishop to lead the offense and distribute the ball all year, and he delivered, leading the A-10 in scoring at 21.6 points per game.

Updated: March 27, 2023 at 4:34 p.m.

Head Coach Chris Caputo’s inaugural year leading the men’s basketball program generated the most wins and best conference record since 2017, but the offseason that lies ahead will be decisive in turning the early success into a new era of GW basketball.

After leading the Colonials to a winning conference record of 10-8 and a late-season surge to a first-round playoff bye while drawing new enthusiasm from the student body, Caputo will face a crucial test in dealing with a shifting roster for the second straight offseason. Already, three Colonial players – junior center Noel Brown, senior forward Qwanzi Samuels and sophomore forward Daniel Nixon – have entered the transfer portal, and more moves are possible from key players.

Now in the offseason, Caputo and his staff will face a challenge in keeping their squad together and improving their roster composition.

Graduate student guard Brendan Adams has no remaining eligibility and will graduate. Senior guard James Bishop agreed that he is “definitely keeping his options open” as he mulls a transfer, a return for a graduate season or a foray into professional basketball. 

Senior forward Hunter Dean, who played a huge role in the late-season A-10 surge, is unsure he will opt for his graduate year of eligibility, and senior forward Ricky Lindo Jr, the team’s leading rebounder at 7.6 per game, is in the same position.

The program’s 16-16 record was the best in five seasons, but continued success under Caputo will rely on offseason maneuvering once again.

Season in Review
Among the incoming transfers from last summer were graduate student guard E.J. Clark who joined from Alabama State and added a veteran presence to the backcourt before his season-ending injury in late December. Redshirt freshman guard Maximus Edwards transferred from Kansas State and took the A-10 conference by storm, winning the A-10 Rookie of the Year award after recovering from a broken leg his redshirt year at Kansas State.

The Colonials’ season began with a stretch of nonconference games where they went 7-4, including a resounding 79–55 victory over South Carolina, the team’s first win against a Power 5 opponent since 2016, and a narrow loss to cross-town rival American. Before A-10 conference play began, the team headed to Honolulu, Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, taking on stiffer competition from a mix of elite conferences such as the Pac-12. 

GW suffered three losses at the tournament, but the biggest blow was undoubtedly E.J. Clark’s season-ending foot injury in the second matchup of the tournament against Pepperdine. Adams and Bishop led the Colonial offense all year, but Clark gave the Colonials another veteran scorer off the bench, shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc on 17 attempts.

Clark’s absence also limited the Colonials’ flexibility from a tactical perspective, forcing them to shift their offensive approach.

“Well, certainly we never had the ability to then go small the rest of the season,” Caputo said. “Really except for the times with Amir [Harris] at the four, we never really had the ability to put four shooters out on the court.”

Despite the injury, GW started conference play with a 97-87 victory over Loyola University Chicago in a game where Bishop dropped 40 points on 12-18 shooting from the field, adding seven assists for good measure. The Colonials leaned heavily on Bishop to lead the offense and distribute the ball all year, and he delivered, leading the A-10 in scoring at 21.6 points per game, coming third in the conference in assists with 5.2 per game and making the conference’s First Team.

“He’s such a skillful player who is also always under control, very poised and allows him to feel like the game is happening very slow for him, which is why you make great decisions,” Caputo said in January.

The high-scoring victory was not out of the ordinary as the team led the conference in points scored at 76.3 per game, relying mainly on their guards for offensive production.

Adams rounded out the backcourt attack, coming in fifth in the A-10 in scoring at 17.4 points per game and earning the A-10’s Most Improved Player Award. He complimented Bishop’s drive-and-kick style of play all year, shooting 38 percent from deep, and was capable of leading the offense when Bishop was off the court.

“I leave the ball handling to JB and BA,” Edwards said in an interview. “There’s a lot of good guards in the league, but we play with one of the top two in my opinion.”

Behind Adams and Bishop, Edwards was the third leading scorer in conference play for the Colonials with 10.7 points per game and also ranked second on the squad in rebounds with 7.1 per game. Coming off a fractured tibia his redshirt year at Kansas State, Edwards’ role grew throughout the season, as he became a reliable wing scorer, consistent rebounder and eventually a starter.

“I don’t think we’ve seen, a couple of other guys on our staff mentioned it, that we haven’t seen a guy improve throughout the course of one season as much as he did,” assistant coach Dwayne Lee said. 

The potent offensive attack propelled the Colonials to a 5-2 start in the A-10, culminating in a thrilling overtime victory over St. Joseph’s that vaulted them into third place in the conference standings. But that would be the highest GW would climb, and the team dropped five of their next six games, plummeting to 10th place in just three weeks.

Caputo attributed the mid-year conference-play struggle to the competition catching on to the GW attack and struggling defensive unit.

“I think in that time, people had started to figure out a few things about how to defend us,” Caputo said. “We were at that point the number one offense in the league. And we worked very diligently to get better defensively all year and we had our moments but ultimately with eight scholarship players, and the composition of our roster and our lack of defensive versatility at times, it was going to be hard for us to be like one of the better defensive teams in the league.”

Far from being one of the better defensive teams in the conference, GW finished dead last in points allowed at 76.7 per game in the A-10. But the coaching staff adjusted their Bishop-centered attack, and after the Feb. 15 loss to George Mason where GW scored a season-low 53 points, the Colonials won four of their final five conference games, including two overtime victories that solidified their A-10 ranking at a tie for sixth.

The 10-8 A-10 record secured GW the seventh seed and a first round bye in the A-10 tournament, played this year at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. After their bye, they faced Saint Joseph’s for the third time this season where they struggled to contain sophomore guard Erik Reynolds II, who had 34 points and came up big down the stretch with 4 points in the final minute.

Combined with a less-than-peak 44 percent shooting from the field, the Colonials fell to the Hawks 87-76, ending their season with an emotional, hard-fought loss.

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly referred to Saint Joseph’s as the Eagles. Their team name is the Hawks. We regret this error.

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