The Atlantic 10 is such a fickle league. In the past few years, teams have been coming and going. The conference grows one year and shrinks in the next. Sometimes it’s a 2-bid conference, sometimes it’s a 5-bid. Schools play deep into March, and then one year later find themselves near the basement. A-10, you really keep us on our toes.
But going forward, once school appears to be re-establishing itself as the rock of this lovable conference. And that school is George Washington.
At 10-3, George Washington is tied with Dayton and VCU for the most wins. It also has arguably the best win of any A-10 team this season, a 60-54 victory over then 11-ranked Wichita State. With a solid record and strength of schedule, the Colonials are in most expert’s early NCAA tournament fields.
Last year, GW clinched its first tourney bid since 2007. A hard-fought 5-point loss to a talented Memphis team ended the buff-and-blue’s season in the first round. The loss also meant the departure of its two best players, point guard Maurice Creek and postman Isaiah Armwood. And yet, GW looks poised to finish in the top three in the A-10 and enter the NCAA tourney once again.
What head coach Mike Lonergran has built less than four years into his tenure in Washington, DC is exceptional. Since taking over, Lonergran’s teams have increased in wins from 10 to 13 to 24. And in my eyes, that youthful 13-17 team in 2012-2013 was much tougher than its record indicated.
This program has seen its up-and-downs, but recent history and the talent level of the current squad suggest that many bright days are ahead for this A-10 charter member. Just look at the current roster. GW has one senior, 6’8 forward John Kopriva. A solid player, Kopriva is 5th on the team in scoring and 6th in rebounds. But if Kopriva is all that the Colonials lose next year, GW will look to contend for the A-10 title again in 2015-2016, and perhaps several times after that.
Junior forward Patricio Garino playing like a fifth-year senior. One of the team’s leaders, Garino leads the team in points, and has twice as many steals as the next leading Colonial. Freshman Yuta Watanabe will someday be a poor man’s Frank Kaminsky (that awkward 7-footer at Wisconsin). Often first off the bench, this 6’8 native of Japan poses serious matchup problems for other teams, with his ability to shoot 3-pointers and handle the basketball. Add in juniors Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen and you have one helluva thing brewing at the Smith Center.
And even though GW is one of the traditional stalwarts of the league, Lonergran has thought outside-the-box to build this program. Garino hails from Argentina. Larsen is a native of Denmark. Watanabe can call Japan home. Perhaps moving to Washington, DC, an international city, is appealing to basketball players from abroad. Or maybe Lonergran is some kind of recruiting genius. I mean, this guy convinced three-year Indiana player Maurice Creek to use his final year of eligibility at GW. And boy did it pay off.
When George Washington travels to longtime A-10 foe St. Joe’s tomorrow, they certainly will have their hands full. Despite all the recent movement and rollercoaster-ness (yes, that’s a word), every game, ESPECIALLY road games are still competitive. I’m not taking away anything from VCU or Davidson or George Mason. It is clear that the A-10 has added some great programs in recent years. It’s too bad Butler didn’t stick around.
But George Washington, who has been around almost 40 years, is not going anywhere. And for GW fans, A-10 fans, and fans of college basketball, that is a beautiful thing.