(Photo Courtesy of Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics)
FOGGY BOTTOM – Even though George Washington (12-17, 8-9 A-10) failed to beat Fordham (15-15, 8-10 A-10) in their final game of the regular season, GW was lucky enough to stumble into the 7th seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament thanks to a heroic overtime UMass (14-16, 7-11 A-10) victory over George Mason (14-15, 7-9 A-10).
Here it is, the official 2022 #A10MBB Championship Bracket!
Join us @CapitalOneArena – it’s gonna be 🔥
— Atlantic 10 MBB (@A10MBB) March 6, 2022
For the first time since 2017, GW earned a first round bye and avoided the notorious “pillow fight” between the bottom four teams. They will play #10 UMass on Thursday at 6:00 PM. Not only does this give GW a more favorable matchup, but the later start time also will allow students to actually attend the game. This year, the A-10 Tournament is being held just a few blocks away from GW’s campus at the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, DC. If GW was the 8 or 9 seed, then they would be playing at 12:00 PM instead. Even though the basketball culture at GW is improving, it seems unlikely that professors would accept attending the second round of the A-10 tournament as a valid excuse to miss class. Now, GW will be able to take full advantage of their “home game”, and should have a significant student presence.
When GW played UMass in Amherst on Feb. 9, they put together one of their most complete performances of the season, easily handling the Minutemen and winning 77-68. James Bishop led the way, scoring 24 points, and Brayon Freeman, Joe Bamisile, Brendan Adams, and Hunter Dean all also scored in double figures. GW also shot and made a high volume of free throws, going 16-21. On the defensive end, they limited leading scorer Noah Fernandes to only 4 points on 1-11 shooting.
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) February 10, 2022
On March 1, UMass made the decision to announce the firing of Head Coach Matt McCall. Instead of letting someone else on the staff take over as Interim Head Coach, McCall was allowed to finish off the season, leaving him in an uncomfortable limbo where he knew he wasn’t coming back, but still had to coach the current group. Since then, the Minutemen have gone undefeated, upsetting Fordham and George Mason to head into the tournament with serious momentum. Instead of giving up, UMass has rallied behind their coach
“He just kept saying to me that he’s got me. In the timeouts, before the game, after the game, halftime,’We got you coach, don’t worry coach, I got you coach,’” McCall said, describing an interaction he had with Fernandes during their game against Mason.
While GW will certainly be favored in their second round matchup against UMass, victory is not certain. Everyone is playing for something in the conference tournament, but UMass is also rallying behind their coach. After ending the season on a two game winning streak, it seems like the Minutemen have a sort of team of destiny aura surrounding them.
Here are 3 keys for GW to come out on top against UMass:
1. Make free throws:
GW went 8-18 at the stripe against Fordham in their 66-70 loss. GW can’t afford to leave any points on the board, and so they have to make the most of their opportunities at the line.
2. Limit Noah Fernandes:
Last time against UMass, Fernandes was a non-factor, and GW was able to come out of Amherst with a victory. UMass doesn’t have any other players who can score like he can, so GW will have success forcing the ball into the hands of their secondary scorers, like Rich Kelly, Trent Buttrick, or C.J. Kelly.
3. Interior Scoring:
UMass is 13th in the conference in defensive rebounding, and 12th in blocked shots. GW needs to attack the rim. Bamisile has been on a tear to end the season, averaging 21.5 points in his last 6 games. He needs to continue being aggressive on offensive and driving to the basket whenever he can.
Looking ahead in the tournament, if GW advances on Thursday, they will play #2 Dayton (22-9, 14-4 A-10) on Friday at 6:00 PM. Again, the late time slot makes it very easy for students to attend, and GW should have another home court advantage. Earlier this season, even though GW hosted Dayton in January at the Smith Center, it was behind closed doors due to GW’s COVID policies. Regardless of home court, Dayton has had GW’s number this season. In their two games, Dayton is +51. There isn’t much to analyze in these games, GW has just been utterly outmatched. One thing to consider, Dayton shot 56.3 from behind the arc against GW in those games. Finding a way to limit their 3 point production, while also not allowing Dayton’s star big men Daron Holmes and Toumani Camara to dominate inside will be critical if GW is to pull off the upset.
Later in the tournament, GW would most likely face #3 VCU (21-8, 14-4 A-10) or #6 Richmond (19-12, 10-8 A-10) in the semifinal. Both of those teams easily beat GW in their regular season matchups. GW has failed to beat any of the teams ranked 1-6 in the A-10 this season. While anything is possible in March, GW would need superhuman performances from Bishop and Bamisile, an absolutely raucous Capital One Arena, and a healthy amount of luck to advance beyond Friday.