#4 George Washington Colonials vs #1 Valparaiso Crusaders – 7:00 ET (ESPN)
Exactly 10 years ago, the 2005-06 George Washington Colonials posted a 27-3 record, the best in program history. But tonight, the current team has a chance to one-up that stat, and give GW its first ever 28-win season. Oh, and a NIT Championship. The Colonials sit at 27-10 having advanced to the NIT Finals for the first time, by way of defeating Hofstra, Monmouth, Florida and San Diego State. The final obstacle separating GW and the NIT title is Valparaiso, who is having a record-setting season of their own, posting a 30-6 record.
The Crusaders have quality wins over Rhode Island, Oregon State, Oakland (twice), and also took Elite 8-bound Oregon to the wire, losing by just six in Eugene. Despite having seen sustained success throughout the season, Valpo only has two players who average in double-figures in scoring: Alec Peters (18.4 PPG) and Keith Carter (10.3 PPG). In addition, GW will have to contend with Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez who has averaged 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game in the NIT.
“I told (the senior class) to leave a legacy, and they’ve taken advantage of it,” said head coach Mike Lonergan after GW’s semifinal victory over San Diego State. The sheer fact that a team that “failed to meet expectations” by missing the NCAA Tournament could set the record for most wins in a season only bodes well for the future of George Washington basketball. And the current team is taking advantage of the underdog role too, something A10 fans as a whole will understand: no A10 team will ever get the credit they deserve. Unless, you know, you can win another game in Madison Square Garden and take home the NIT championship.
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said postgame, “George Washington had a large part in why we played poorly. They sliced and diced us up at their end.” The Colonials played a nearly flawless game against the Aztecs in the NIT semifinal, and should be feeling more confident than ever heading into tonight’s final. True, most will agree that the NIT is not where GW wanted to have ended up this season, but the Colonials are making the most of this great opportunity to showcase their program under the bright lights of New York City. Why not take that one step further and bring home the NIT championship? Why not GW?