Knowing the climate of fandom and the avoidance theory advocated by many for the schools with the biggest budgets, there undoubtedly are some today questioning Virginia coach Tony Bennett for his scheduling a road game against George Washington, wondering why he would play such a “no-win” game.
On every account, they are wrong.
In the best game of Monday night, the Colonials knocked off the 6th-ranked Cavaliers 73-68 at a rocking Charles E. Smith Center on the GW campus. Patricio Garino scored 18 and Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh provided a key 18 points, offsetting 28 points by Malcolm Brogdon. George Washington led most of the night, but it was close the entire way with no lead greater than nine points.
Some might claim the Cavaliers gained nothing from this game. On the contrary, this was a win-win for all involved.
In fact, while acknowledging they have room to improve-getting out-rebounded 37-33 by GW is a start-there should be near-universal praise for the Cavaliers after this game. UVA challenged itself to get better by playing out of conference against the type of team most schools run far and fast away from. The environment was great theater, the final minute a frenzy of activity. If we’re trying to create more interest in the sport, games like this are far better ways to do so than manipulating rules to create outcomes some want.
The Wahoos got a good early test by playing in a tough road environment, which is far better prep for ACC play than a 40-point guarantee game win. It also faced exactly the type of unheralded but motivated team it could be matched up against in, say, the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
For George Washington, this is a win that can springboard a season. Realistically, this is still a team working to develop depth, and it’s going to regularly take guys like Cavanaugh or Paul Jorgensen (10 points off the bench) stepping up to get the Colonials back to the NCAA tourney after a one-year absence.
Again, the result should not have been a major surprise. This is what happens when teams play on the road. Home teams win two-thirds of the time in college basketball. Barring injury, George Washington at the very least is likely a solid NIT team this year, if not headed to the Big Dance. We even saw a very similar result in the college football season this year, when Mississippi-of the mighty SEC, conqueror of Alabama on the road, etc.-went on the road to play Memphis-and lost. We would see more of this if the top teams would play a few more road games in the non-conference schedule.
Virginia just happens to be a program that is unafraid of challenging itself on the road out of conference. The Cavaliers played at Wisconsin-Green Bay two years ago, losing to the Phoenix in a homecoming for Bennett. They were a one seed in the NCAA Tournament that season. They also played a home-and-home with VCU that included a loss at home to the Rams two years ago and a road win last year-and were a two seed in March.
If Virginia lost something from playing those games, good luck finding it. The Cavaliers will be better for the game last night. And college basketball is better for it when games like this happen.
- The Tip-Off Marathon continued with good games deep into the night. Oregon held off Baylor 74-67, perhaps most impressively holding Rico Gathers to four rebounds. Earlier, Utah edged San Diego State 81-76 behind 21 points from Jordan Loveridge.
- Early into the morning, Long Beach State held off BYU 66-65. With Mike Caffey and many others gone from last year’s team, Dan Monson has an almost all-new rotation this year, but the talent is still there. After that, Hawaii nipped Nevada 76-75 in a wonderful game that included three go-ahead baskets in the final 15 seconds, the final a Roderick Bobbitt coast-to-coast drive with less than two seconds left.
- Other top 25 scores: California made surprisingly easy work of UC Santa Barbara 85-67, with all five starters in double figures. Arizona blew open a close game at halftime to defeat ultra-young (10 freshmen) Bradley 90-60. LSU and Ben Simmons (22 points, nine rebounds, six assists) topped Kennesaw State’s Owls 91-69.
- For the second time in three days, a SWAC team is making noise after Southern won at Mississippi State 76-72. Will continue to bang the drum on this; the SWAC is a significantly better league than its RPI ratings may show, and those numbers are far more indicative of where their non-conference games are played (almost every single one of them on the road). Roman Banks also does a really nice job at Southern.
- To support that, Alabama State-winners at Virginia Tech in their last game-nearly pulled off another one before losing to UAB 72-70.
- VCU ensured Radford’s good vibes were temporarily short-lived, pulling away from the Highlanders 92-74. Monmouth and Belmont also were unable to back up opening road wins, as the Hawks stayed in L.A. and lost to USC 101-90 while the Bruins trekked out to Tempe and lost to Arizona State 83-74.
- A mild surprise, as Montana followed up its opening win over Boise State by losing 64-61 at San Jose State.
- Monday night saw a pair of buzzer beaters. LIU blocked a Loyola (Md.) shot in the final seconds, made the outlet pass and quickly got it down the court, where Joel Hernandez hit a pull-up three at the buzzer for a 71-68 win. Moving halfway across the country, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell saved Illinois State, making a Danny Ainge 1981 NCAA tourney-like drive through the defense for a layup at the buzzer and a 67-66 win over Morehead State.
- Sad news in the sport, as former New Mexico coach Norm Ellenberger passed away Saturday night in his sleep at the age of 83. Ellenberger led the Lobos to two WAC titles in the 1970s, where he also was involved in a recruiting scandal that involved the FBI and cost him his job. He later assisted Don Haskins at UTEP and later Bob Knight at Indiana.
Today’s menu: Enjoy it, because even in conference play there will be few days this season that are so loaded with quality matchups. We’ll go in order of start time, due to the true all-day nature of the schedule.
- The Tip-Off Marathon continues all day, and even this morning bears close attention. Valparaiso at Rhode Island (10 a.m.) is a game that only loses a little bit of luster with the ACL injury to URI’s E.C. Matthews. Two excellent defensive squads. Late note from Valpo’s Twitter feed this morning that sophomore forward David Skara did not make the trip with the team.
- Colorado at Auburn (3 p.m.) is an underrated game. Keep an eye on the Tigers this year.
- Oklahoma gets a good road test when it goes to Memphis (5 p.m.), while Syracuse gets a tricky home game when it welcomes St. Bonaventure.
- New Hampshire had one of the best seasons in school history last year, and the Wildcats have a tough chore Tuesday but will take a shot at Connecticut.
- Wisconsin-Milwaukee is off to a 3-0 start after winning the venerable Cable Car Classic, and now the Panthers have to go to Notre Dame for their fourth game in five days.
- Of course, the Champions Classic will be the talk of TV for the night, and the matchups are huge-Kentucky vs. Duke in the opener and Kansas against Michigan State in the second. We know their histories, but it’s also not inconceivable that these four could be your Final Four in April as well.
- Wichita State goes to Tulsa, and were it not for so many other outstanding games on this day, this one would deserve to be talked about a lot. These two schools had many terrific games as rivals in the MVC before the Golden Hurricane left the league in 1996. Tulsa also could desperately use this game for an at-large resume in March.
- Georgetown against Maryland is a game everyone has waited for to be played for 20+ years, a series that could be the equal of, say, a Xavier/Cincinnati if played regularly. The Hoyas slipped on their guarantee game against Radford on Saturday, so if there was the slightest need for more incentive for them, they should have it now.
- Finally, Iona is at Oregon State. The Gaels were hammered by Valpo in their opener but are still dangerous if they can get the offense rolling.
Have a terrific Tuesday.