Looking back at the recent history of the George Washington basketball program, two trends stick out in particular: low three point and free throw percentages. Since 2008, the highest team-free throw percentage was 69%. This year’s team is on pace to shatter that record, posting a 77% free throw percentage, which currently ranks 8th nationally. In addition, their three point percentage is at its second highest in that same stretch: currently at 35%.
But digging deeper inside the numbers, one finds even more impressive statistics. Matt Hart, as of January 14th, is currently 17-17 from the foul lin, and the entire team has seven players who are shooting 70% or better. Alex Mitola is an impressive 27-30 while Tyler Cavanaugh has a solid 76-89. What’s even more astonishing looking back at the past 8 years? The average free throw percentage was a lackluster 66%.
The current roster is about as deep as a team of sharp shooters as GW has had in a long time. Alex Mitola, Paul Jorgenson, Yuta Watanabe, Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and even Tyler Cavanaugh have contributed to the Colonials’ success. Take the game against Duquesne on January 9th for example: Mitola and Cavanaugh had career nights, combining for 45 points and 10-16 from beyond the arc. The duo accounted for all but three of the team’s overall 13 made threes. Against UMass on January 12th, GW used an 11-5 run to pull away, propelled by two threes from Patricio Garino, and another from Alex Mitola.
Threes and free throws aren’t just falling for GW, but they’re falling at timely junctions of games. Down the stretch of the game against then-#6 Virginia, Tyler Cavanaugh and Kevin Larsen combined to hit three enormous free throws in the last seven seconds of regulation to put the game away and secure the huge win for the Colonials. GW shot 82% from the line in that game, which was a huge reason why this game had a different outcome from last year’s game in Charlottesville. That night, the Colonials shot a disappointing 66% on only 9 attempts.
George Washington’s offense works well when they are able to get quality shots from a makeable distance and also get to the line. Again, you see the contrast from last year’s game at Virgina to this year’s game. GW does not do well when their shooting percentage is below 50%, as seen in their two bad loses at DePaul and Saint Louis. Against the Blue Demons, the Colonials’ shot just 33% from the field, after getting down 10 points early. They then shot just 46% against the Billikens about two weeks later.
In order for GW to be successful, they must control the pace of the game, as well as the statistics too. The Colonials’ walk a fine line between success and failure, and often, the difference in a game can come down to a few made or missed shots or free throws. On a good night, at least one guard and one forward score in double figures. On a bad night, its unpredictable and often, ugly.
The key to stopping the Colonials is often to make them beat themselves. Earlier this month, GW let Fordham back into a game, partially due to their own mistakes. For example, if Kevin Larsen bends his knees while shooting a free throw, there is about a 80% chance of the shot going in. If Larsen backs off, or fades away while shooting a free throw, the chances of the shot going in dip to about 20%.
If you take Larsen and Cavanaugh out of a game, by defense and/or foul trouble, GW will often get stuck in an awkward position of having to play Garino, normally a 2-guard as a 4-forward, and Watanabe as a 5-center which is outside their normal playing positions. But if you allow Cavanaugh and Mitola, or any other duo to combine for 45 points, like they did against Duquesne, the odds of GW losing are slim-to-none.