FOGGY BOTTOM – The George Washington Revolutionaries begin their season Monday at 8:00 p.m. when they host the Stonehill Skyhawks.
With so many new faces in the program, there are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns heading into the season.
“We certainly have a lot of work to do, one, because we have so many new faces and there’s not as much continuity, and two, because we’re a little bit younger,” said GW head coach Chris Caputo. “We’re not a team full of 23 and 24-year-old guys.”
GW added nine scholarship players, five transfers and four freshmen, for 2023-24, while only returning three players from last season’s team that finished tied for sixth in the Atlantic 10.
Two of the returners, senior guard James Bishop and redshirt-sophomore wing Maximus Edwards are projected to lead this new-look GW team.
Both earned Preseason All-Conference honors, with Bishop being named to the First Team and Edwards being named to the Second Team.
Bishop led the A-10 in scoring last season with 21.6 points per game. He was also one of the top playmakers in the conference, finishing third with 5.2 assists per game. Bishop is the only returning player in the country to average more than 20 points and five assists per game.
When asked what he was working on the most this offseason, Bishop noted how he wanted to keep improving his ability to play off the ball, especially because he will be playing with a “true point guard” in freshman Jacoi Hutchinson. Bishop was able to play off-ball at times last season when former guard Brendan Adams, who is now playing professionally in Latvia, would take the ball up, and he excelled.
In practices, Bishop and Hutchinson have frequently been sharing the court, and look very comfortable together.
“The idea of having multiple playmakers on the court is really important,” said Caputo.
Bishop, Hutchinson, Edwards, sophomore guard Benny Schröder, and freshman guard Trey Autry will all have the opportunity to make plays and run the offense.
Not only will Bishop be heavily leaned on to run GW’s offense, but as the most experienced as longest-tenured member of the team, he will also be the team’s leader in the locker room.
“We’ve got a hungry, young group. Everyone’s coming in looking to learn,” said Bishop. “All of the young guys have really been absorbing all of the information that everyone has been giving them.”
Bishop is a known quantity. Edwards showed what he can do last season, winning A-10 Rookie of the Year, and should be able to take a significant jump with a full offseason of practice and conditioning and more available touches on offense. Graduate center Babatunde “Stretch’ Akingbola, who transferred from Auburn, will be starting and playing the majority of minutes at the five. Beyond these three, the rest of the starting lineup and minutes off the bench are completely up for grabs.
Oklahoma transfer and sophomore guard Benny Schröder and Virginia Tech transfer and redshirt freshman Darren Buchanan Jr. look like early candidates to fill out the starting lineup around Bishop, Edwards, and Akingbola.
Caputo has praised both Schröder and Buchanan’s playmaking, and they both would give this group as much flexibility as any lineup in the A-10. Edwards, Schröder, and Buchanan Jr. all have the size and athleticism to defend one through four, with Buchanan Jr. having the strength to defend fives as well.
GW has a relatively weak non-conference schedule, which should allow Caputo plenty of time to experiment with different lineups before getting into conference play. In addition to Schröder and Buchanan Jr., Hutchinson and Evansville transfer and graduate forward Antoine Smith Jr. should both get opportunities to either start or play extended minutes alongside Bishop, Edwards, and Akingbola.
Hutchinson’s playmaking, on-ball defense, and outside shooting may end up being the perfect complement to Bishop’s improved off-ball game. On the other hand, Smith Jr. would be the more versatile defender and has more experience acting as a spot up shooter, giving Bishop more space to operate and create opportunities on his own.
This will be Caputo’s first time making difficult lineup decisions. Last season, GW went through most of the season with a clearly defined starting five, and then injuries shortened the rotation to a point where there was no opportunity for any sort of lineup flexibility.
“It makes it a little bit tougher for me to think through a lot of the different lineups, who complements who, what allows us to play our best,” said Caputo. “It’s a good problem to have.”
If Caputo is able to push the right buttons with lineups and rotations, and some of the less experienced transfers and freshmen are able to play up to their potential, GW’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the conference.
GW has the best scorer and arguably the best player in the conference with Bishop. They have reigning Rookie of the Year in Edwards. Akingbola and Buchanan Jr. have All-Defensive Team potential. At 6-7, Schröder will be a matchup nightmare for opposing guards and has 15+ points per game potential. If he gets the minutes, Hutchinson will contend for Rookie of the Year. Princeton transfer and redshirt freshman Garrett Johnson is a complete unknown, and could prove to be a valuable contributor on both sides of the ball.
Year Two of the Chris Caputo era will be a pivotal season in Foggy Bottom. Will GW be able to build off of their relative success last season and make the most of James Bishop’s last dance? Or, will the newcomers fail to live to up expectations and set the program back?