We’re about to find out something about the 2014-15 George Washington team. They have thus far played well, and were projected to be Atlantic 10 contenders, but now we’re going to see if they can truly live up to that.
Last Saturday’s loss at Rhode Island was the second game in a six-game stretch where the Colonials will take on much of the other mettle of the conference. They already lost at VCU a few nights earlier, a game where if you blinked in the second half, you missed it going from a relatively close one a blowout. Granted, these two games were on the road, but going 0-2 isn’t a good way to start this tough stretch. Next up is Dayton at home, then after going to Duquesne they host VCU and Davidson.
“It’s very difficult to win on the road, so we would like to get this one today,” Lonergan said after the loss at Rhode Island. “We want to try to come in the top three if possible in our conference, it’s not going to be easy.”
Much was expected of this team before the season, and understandably so. Lonergan got them back into the NCAA Tournament last season, his third at the helm, and they return a lot of that cast, though Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood were big keys to that team as well. That team won 12 non-conference games, second-most in program history, and only the 2005-06 team won more games.
Thus far, they haven’t been a disappointment at all, but if the NCAA Tournament were held tomorrow they would not be a lock for it. There isn’t a bad loss on the slate, though La Salle and Penn State are just okay, but other than a win over Wichita State in the Diamond Head Classic title game they don’t have a resume victory, either. They beat Colorado in Hawaii as well, but that win looks less and less valuable all the time.
The Colonials are carried by their junior quartet, an experienced group. They are a solid, if unspectacular and relatively unheralded group, and one that may be trying to find an identity as well as consistency. They are all capable of being double-digit scorers and filling the stat sheet in some other areas, but none strikes you as a conference Player of the Year candidate. While that can work, the problem this group has run into is not getting all four playing well in a game.
Since they came back from Hawaii, this trend has been a little more pronounced. About the only times they have really all played well was a 75-72 win over Saint Louis and a 79-59 romp over Fordham. None really played well in a loss at La Salle, Kethan Savage struggled in a squeaker over Richmond, Kevin Larsen didn’t play well against George Mason and Larsen had a limited role as they coasted over Duquesne. Then came the last two games, with the blowout at VCU and the close loss at Rhode Island.
“We have four juniors, and how they go is how we’re going to go,” said Lonergan. Those four juniors have got to carry us, and they’ve leveled off. They have to pick things up for us to reach our goals.”
What adds to the urgency to get good production from those core players is that depth is at a premium. Freshman Yuta Watanabe is talented and intriguing, but he badly needs to gain strength. On a few occasions, he got easily knocked around on Saturday. They don’t go very deep after that, mainly going with Nick Griffin and Paul Jorgensen but not in big roles.
George Washington defends well, but the offense needs to improve. Larsen is a good anchor inside, as he’s more mobile than he looks and finds a way to be effective trying to score or with his passing. His endurance isn’t great, though, and he can take defensive plays off.
When George Washington takes the court on Friday against Dayton, they will have had almost a week off. They will have spent time regrouping after the two road losses to begin this key stretch, and having a chance to play at home will help. Getting their juniors going all together in a game will help even more.
This team controls their own postseason destiny, and Lonergan seems clear on what they need to do to get there, starting with the remainder of this stretch. Having three of the remaining four games at home will help. It’s a stretch where we will find out about their core and ultimately the team, as well as where they may be going this season.