Having to deal with letting go of its head coach right before the start of the season, George Washington looked to be in trouble. That said, interim head coach Maurice Joseph wasn’t going to let the Colonials go down so easily. In what was supposed to be somewhat of an off-year, George Washington stormed through the A-10 and finished 6th with the odds stacked against the program. The Colonials had an enormous win over Dayton to finish the regular season, and a close loss to Richmond in the 2nd round of the A-10 Tournament would send them home. GW would get a shot in the CBI where it’d beat Toledo but fall to Illinois Chicago.
“MOJO” was given a full-time job after the way he notably kept the program afloat, but unfortunately, a number of players would transfer from the program this offseason. While the new head coach would fill the gaps with some incoming transfers, not all are eligible for the coming season, and MOJO will have to pull some strings if his team wants to finish in the top half of the league once more. Perennial leader Tyler Cavanaugh is gone, but rising star Yuta Watanabe seems ready to take over this program and lead the Colonials back to the top.
It feels like this guy has been in the Atlantic 10 forever — and for good reason. Yuta Watanabe has done a little bit of everything since becoming a Colonial back in the 2014-15 season. I don’t think there’s a more complete player in this league when you look across the board — offense, defense, the intangibles — Watanabe does it all. The question now becomes: how will Yuta respond to the multiple challenges that this young George Washington team faces? Maurice Joseph enters his second year (kind of) with a depleted roster; Tyler Cavanaugh, Jaren Sina, and Jordan Roland are just a few noteworthy departures. Essentially, Watanabe gets called upon to be BMOC all year. In fact, I don’t think there will be an A-10 team relying solely on a player like GW and Watanabe this coming season. Granted, the Colonials will have other weapons at their disposal, but GW’s senior will be the indicator; should he exceed expectations, George Washington could avoid the bottom half of the league.
So what will it come down to for Yuta Watanabe? A lot of it will be making up lost production from Tyler Cavanaugh. The senior shot better than 40% from three and nearly 85% from the free throw line, and those numbers are with incredible volume. Cavanaugh took over 100 more free throw attempts than any Colonial last season. His 164 three point attempts (with the exception of Jaren Sina’s 165) was followed then by Roland with 103 and Watanabe with 86. Both will need to take more attempts to make up for lost volume. The Colonials had the best 3 point shooting percentage in the A-10 last season, and that could be tough to replicate. Also, Watanabe’s defense will need to be second-to-none as it usually is. Despite Watanabe being, top-to-bottom, one of the most efficient defenders in the conference, the Colonials ranked 12th in the league in defensive efficiency. They’ll need more from everyone, but Yuta Watanabe is going to have to be the guy in every category.
Byron “Bo” Zeigler
In an article earlier this summer, I listed Bo Zeigler as an underrated Atlantic 10 transfer for the coming season. I think there’s a lot of reason to believe in him making an impact immediately. He adds a lot on the defensive end of the floor, which is a big key for Maurice Joseph’s club. I expect the Colonials to take a step back offensively. What does that entail? If the Colonials want to win conference games, they need to be sharp defensively. Despite limited playing time, Zeigler had the AAC’s 9th best block percentage on one of the worst teams in the league. Not to mention, he added 3.5 rebounds per game for the Bulls in barely 20 minutes of playing time per contest. As the 3rd best team in the A-10 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages last season, George Washington needs Zeigler to be lethal on the boards. Collin Smith and Tyler Cavanaugh were the main reason GW ranked so high in those categories; neither player will take floor in Foggy Bottom next season.
It’s easy to forget that Patrick Steeves showed a tremendous amount of promise late last season. In the first half of the season, Steeves failed to score in double figures and missed 7 games due to a knee injury. But when he returned? The junior scored in double figures 8 times, including a career-high 26 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a win over Massachusetts. And towards the end of the season, Steeves really took off in a big way. His 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks nearly helped the Colonials oust Richmond in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. And in a close battle with Toledo in the CBI, Steeves was a catalyst with 17 points, propelling George Washington to victory. I think Patrick Steeves is an enormous sleeper in the Atlantic 10 this year. He impacted a lot of late-season games in 2016-17, and he made tremendous strides as the year progressed. Look for Steeves to be GW’s second best payer behind Yuta Watanabe.
Unrelated to his basketball skills, I want to give Steeves a quick shoutout for academics. This guy is smart as heck. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied mathematics and is finishing school at GW studying science in business analytics. He also made the Atlantic 10 all-academic team last year. If basketball doesn’t work out, I’m pretty sure Patrick Steeves is going to do just fine for himself.
While George Washington got the best of both worlds in point guard play last year — three point shooting and passing — with the mixed abilities of Jaren Sina and Jair Bolden, the latter will be more prominent in 17-18. GW’s rising sophomore point guard definitely had a pass-first (66 assists) mentality compared to three point shooting (81 attempts) in his first year. But that doesn’t mean he can’t develop as an outside threat as well. You’re looking at a guy who shot 23.5% from deep in non-conference play compared to 40.4% in league play. Improvement was key, and with more minutes (and even a starting role) late in the season, MOJO began seeing potential in the young gun. Bolden’s ability to distribute is going to have to be big next season; the Colonials will be in need of sources of offense. I like Jair Bolden to be one glue that keeps this GW team relevant next year.
As a freshman, Justin Williams saw little court time. In fact, he was on the floor for just 33 minutes all of last season. 10 of those minutes came in a game against Florida St. Williams had 2 points and 3 boards. I wouldn’t expect Williams’ playing time to skyrocket by any means in 2017-18, but given the uncharacteristic number of offseason transfers the Colonials faced, coach Joseph just might have to integrate the sophomore more often.
Arnaldo Toro may not be George Washington’s best player in 2017-18, but he very well could be the most important. There’s a relevant distinction to be made. The Colonials’ thin frontcourt due to the losses of graduate Tyler Cavanaugh and transfers Collin Smith and Kevin Marfo means that Toro is going to be a crucial factor in the post. You can expect he and Steeves to grab the majority of the minutes at the 4 and 5 spots; it wouldn’t be surprising to see freshman Javier Langarica get plenty of minutes as well, and maybe Bo Zeigler shifts down to the 4 every now and then. Either way, this frontcourt will need a lot of help from Arnaldo Toro.
Toro has room to grow as a rebounder and scorer, but he showed promise in his first season. Averaging 4.3 boards per game in just 15.6 minutes shows that Toro could be one of the league’s best rebounders, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The freshman had double-digit scoring performances last season against Temple and Richmond, and he also had an impressive showing against Rhode Island. While Steeves is going to be the go-to-guy in the post, Toro is not only important as a supplement, but he’ll also have to emerge as a leader for the coming seasons when he’s the most experienced big man on the roster. He’s a guy to keep your eye on.
The 2 star guard from Rhode Island will add depth at the point guard position. Mazzula is long and athletic, and if he proves his worth in non-conference play, he could be a reliable player in the rotation with Jair Bolden at point.
Terry Nolan Jr.
I think Terry Nolan Jr. will be George Washington’s most impactful freshman this season. A 3 star guard according to ESPN, Nolan Jr. is a 6-3 stud from Maryland. He can get up and finish through traffic. He’s versatile for his size and can attack the lane with ease. Expect him to make a big splash for the Colonials.
As a senior at Williamsville North in Buffalo, New York, Jack averaged 24 points and 7 rebounds. At 6-5 and 190 pounds, the freshman should prove to be an effective wing, helping supplement Yuta Watanabe and company. Along with Terry Nolan Jr., I’d think Maceo Jack is a freshman that sees a lot of playing time early. I expect Jack’s shooting ability to augment George Washington’s ability to be a threat from downtown next year.
As one of GW’s few frontcourt players this season, Javier Langarica should see serious minutes off the bench. He shot 46.2% from three last season for his club team, which is incredible for a 6-9 forward. I think the freshman from Spain will use his inside-out ability to be a dominant offensive threat early on in the Atlantic 10.
Home– Howard, Hampton, Rider, Morgan St., Temple, Princeton, Miami (FL), New Hampshire, Harvard
Away– Florida St., Penn St.
Neutral– Xavier, Kansas St./Arizona St.
At the end of the day, I can’t help but be impressed with GW’s non-conference slate. The Colonials will have incredible competition in Xavier, Florida St. Kansas St./Arizona St., and Miami (FL). Not to mention, home games against Harvard, Temple, and Princeton aren’t exactly buy games either. A road matchup against Penn St. will be a chance for a quality win against an improving program. Throw in a few tune-ups in the mix, and you’ve honestly got yourself a George Washington team that will have faced a great variety of competition before league play.
Home– Fordham, La Salle, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Davidson, Duquesne, George Mason, Richmond, VCU
Away –Dayton, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Davidson, Duquesne, George Mason, Richmond, VCU
George Washington’s schedule is pretty average. The Colonials only have to face Dayton, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and Saint Louis once, but three of those games will be on the road. The Colonials have a pretty easy home slate, but the road isn’t likely to treat them well. With all of the outgoing transfers and given Maurice Joseph’s transition as a full-time head coach, I wouldn’t expect a big year from George Washington in the A-10.
Non-Conference Record: 8-5
Conference Finish: 10th in A-10
Starting Lineup: Jair Bolden, Terry Nolan Jr., Yuta Watanabe, Patrick Steeves, Arnaldo Toro
X-Factor: Patrick Steeves
Biggest Sleeper: Maceo Jack
Most Improved: Arnaldo Toro
MVP: Yuta Watanabe
I don’t want to burst any George Washington bubbles in picking this team 10th, but the Colonials have a lot left to prove. How are they going to implement a thin bench? How are Jair Bolden and Arnaldo Toro going to adjust into more developed roles? Can Yuta Watanabe and Patrick Steeves provide enough to keep this team out of the bottom 7? These are all questions that don’t yet have answers, and until this GW team without Tyler Cavanaugh proves itself, it’s more than likely going to be a rebuilding year in MOJO’s first season as head coach.
Come check out our George Washington forum for more GW Basketball discussion.