In a season full of ups and downs, George Washington ended up with their first winning record since 2016-17 and will enter the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the seventh seed. They will face Saint Joseph’s at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday after the Hawks beat Loyola Chicago 72-67.
This year’s tournament is wide open, and GW has shown that they can play with anyone in the conference. They lost by just two possessions to VCU, who won the regular season title by three games. They comfortably beat second place Dayton 76-69. When GW traveled to Rose Hill to take on Fordham who finished in third, they were up at halftime despite losing by 15. Rounding out the top four, even though they gave up a 25-0 run GW fought back to keep it competitive against Saint Louis.
GW Head Coach Chris Caputo elaborated on his team’s play against the top of the conference.
“We can win any game we can play in the league,” said Caputo.
Grad guard Brendan Adams, who was just named the A-10’s Most Improved Player, along with nabbing a spot on the All-Conference Third Team and All-Academic Team, spoke about GW’s locker room mentality heading into the tournament.
“We think we can win any game. We know we can win any game,” said Adams. “Going into tournament play, I think that’s exactly how we feel, we can win any game and go and make a big run.”
Before thinking about how GW would fare against the top teams, their first task will be Saint Joseph’s who has given them problems in their first two regular season matchups.
When they played in January at the Smith Center, GW was able to escape with a 92-91 overtime victory. GW’s star backcourt of Adams and senior guard James Bishop combined for 54 points, and Bishop hit a game winning layup to clinch the win.
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) January 26, 2023
In February, when GW traveled up to Philadelphia, it was a much different story. Coming off of a grueling double overtime victory against Richmond, they struggled out of the gate. While they were able to make it competitive in the second half, foul trouble got the better of GW and they ended up losing 69-81.
One constant for Saint Joseph’s during their two games against GW: sophomore guard Lynn Greer III. The transfer from Dayton averaged 12.6 points per game this season, but seemed to kick it up a notch when he played GW. In the first game, he scored a career high 31 points, including the tying tip in to force overtime.
— SJU Hawks MBB (@SJUHawks_MBB) January 26, 2023
In the rematch, he followed that up with 22 points. In their tournament win against Loyola Chicago, Greer once again excelled, scoring a game high 22 points. Slowing down Greer should be a focal point of GW’s defensive game plan.
It’s impossible to talk about Saint Joseph’s without looking at their leading scorer, sophomore guard Erik Reynolds II. Reynolds was second in the A-10 with 19.2 points per game behind Bishop, led the conference in made three pointers with 3.0 per game, and was named to the all-conference second team. If GW decides to divert more attention towards Greer, Reynolds should be able to exploit that.
For Saint Joseph’s, they’ll continue to be without grad center Ejike Obinna, as he was recently ruled out for the season after undergoing foot surgery. Obinna was excellent for the Hawks in their win over GW. He controlled the paint, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Without Obinna, Saint Joseph’s will be forced to rely on a combination of redshirt junior Charles Coleman, freshman Rasheer Fleming, and sophomore Kacper Klaczek. GW’s senior forward duo of Hunter Dean and Ricky Lindo should have a significant advantage against their opponent’s makeshift frontcourt.
If GW wants to succeed against the Hawks, or in any matchup for that matter, there are three keys:
1. Stay out of foul trouble.
It is no secret that GW has limitations in terms of depth. They have eight healthy scholarship players, and in the past few games Caputo has basically trimmed it down to a six man rotation.
Speaking after the recent win over La Salle, Caputo spoke elaborated on GW’s rotation.
“At this time of year, the rotation starts to get shorter,” said Caputo. “You’re not preparing for tomorrow. You’re just trying to win.”
In their wins over Rhode Island, La Salle, and Davidson, junior center Noel Brown only played a few minutes, and senior forward Qwanzi Samuels barely featured. In the loss to VCU, because of foul trouble, Brown played 12 minutes, his most since GW’s loss to George Mason on Feb. 12.
Lindo and Dean are the GW players who most often find themselves in foul trouble. If they are able to play a clean game and give 35 minutes, GW will be in excellent shape. Their starting five can go toe to toe with everyone. It’s when they have to give extended minutes to their reserves that things can get shaky.
2. James Bishop and Brendan Adams
GW has the best scorer, and who many believe to be the best player in the A-10 (despite the end of year awards) with Bishop. While he was not named the Player of the Year, he did lead the conference in scoring with 21.5 points per game. They have the best backcourt in the A-10 with Bishop and Adams. In conference play, when Bishop and Adams combined for at least 40 points, they won. If they didn’t, they lost. These two are the engine that drives GW’s offense. If they’re firing on all cylinders, it’s tough to see GW losing.
The other side of this is that if one of them is having an off night, GW doesn’t have much of a shot. One of the ways teams have been able to bother Bishop and Adams is by utilizing full court pressing and consistent on ball pressure. In their loss to Saint Joseph’s, Greer was constantly pressuring the GW backcourt all the way up the court, which was effective in limiting their effectiveness. Now that it’s the tournament, all the teams have faced GW before and there is plenty of tape on Bishop and Adams. Defenses will certainly be gunning for them.
This is another simple indicator of GW’s success. The Buff and Blue are 15-3 when they out rebound or tie their opponents on the glass. They are 1-12 when they lose the rebounding battle.
If GW is able to control the boards, keep their opponents from getting extra shots, and nabbing a few offensive rebounds here or there, they will be in good shape. Freshman wing Max Edwards has played a major role in GW’s rebounding despite standing at only 6-5. The A-10 Rookie of the Year is second on the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game, but when he gets rebounds it is especially effective because he can quickly push up the court and initiate transition opportunities.
If GW is able to succeed in these three facets of the game, they should be in a position to not only get a win against Saint Joseph’s, but thrive against any team in the conference.
Looking back on the rest of the season, how did GW get here? What’s been going right? What’s been going wrong?
There weren’t many expectations to begin the season. Right off the bat, Caputo lost two of GW’s primary contributors: junior wing Joe Bamisile and sophomore guard Brayon Freeman, to the transfer portal.
While Caputo was able to work the portal to get some talent back, securing the services of redshirt freshman wing Max Edwards from Kansas State and grad guard E.J. Clark from Alabama State, the general consensus was that GW had less talent on their roster than the year before. They were voted by coaches and select media members to finish 12th in the preseason poll despite finishing seventh last season.
GW started off the season with what is now looking like one of their best wins, when they dispatched MEAC regular season champion and intercity rival Howard 85-75 for Caputo’s first win against a division one school.
Then, in what many consider a turning point in the trajectory of GW basketball, GW hosted South Carolina, drew the largest student crowd in recent memory, and handily beat them on national T.V.
After that win, the season took a turn for the worse, as GW lost five of their next six, including a home loss to local rival American and the especially brutal three game stretch at the Diamond Head Classic that featured a goaltending non-call that turned the tides against Washington State (Caputo still references it, clearly still frustrated) and Clark, who had just jumped into the starting lineup, breaking his foot.
Going into conference play, expectations were not high. People had already begun to count GW out. Then, on New Year’s Eve, they went on the road to Loyola Chicago and Bishop led GW to a big, bounce back win with his second 40 point game of the season. They stayed hot in January, getting massive victories on the road at George Mason and at home against Dayton. Suddenly, there were conversations about GW finishing in the top four of the conference, Caputo winning coach of the year, and even whispers about postseason play.
Those potential narratives were short lived, as confidence was slashed following a 1-5 six game stretch. Losses to Fordham, La Salle, Duquesne, Saint Joseph’s and George Mason had GW looking like they had run out of gas. Things were bleak. Players were tired. The Smith Center was beginning to look like it has in years past, with minimal student turnout and a general apathy towards the team.
Things began to turn around once again when GW traveled to St. Bonaventure. On the back of Adams, playing on the same court his brother, Jaylen, starred at, GW was able to edge out a narrow overtime victory. Then, at Rhode Island, a similar story. GW went to overtime, and for the fourth time this season, came out with a victory during the extra frame. Coming back to Foggy Bottom, GW was able to get revenge on La Salle before picking up another win at Davidson, clinching a first round bye and winning record. While they did close out the season with a tough loss against VCU, GW is going into Brooklyn with as much momentum as any other A-10 team.
GW can go as far as their offense will take them. They score the most points per game, have the best field goal percentage, best two point field goal percentage, the second fastest tempo, third best effective field goal percentage, and the fourth best offensive efficiency in the A-10.
With two of the best guards in the conference, an elite offense, momentum, and just a bit of luck, GW might be able to pull off a shocker in Brooklyn.