Recon: George Washington

Recon: George Washington
George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan, left, encourages his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, in Washington. George Washington won 73-68. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

gwwinsGeorge Washington basketball was ahead of the curve as far as employing foreign mercenaries to improve their hoops department. The Colonials were a completely dormant program until Mike Jarvis, like a gay man who comes out in his fifties, began to search beyond America’s borders for big boys eager to please.  

Yinka Dare, a seven-footer from Nigeria, was the first piece in what would become a very ethnically ambiguous puzzle. Dare was famously a tennis player before being spotted eating dirt soup on a bench in Lagos. Soon the seven-footer was shipped to a Connecticut prep school for a year before ending up on Jarvis’ roster in 1992. As a freshman, Dare led the Colonials to the Sweet 16 – the furthest GW has ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament. 

After getting a taste of forbidden foreign blood, Jarvis expanded his search, bringing in highly-skilled eastern European players Alexander Koul and Yegor Mescheriakov. The two men from Belarus picked up the torch from Dare, and were instrumental in leading GW to consecutive NCAA appearances.  

In outsourcing his recruiting efforts, Jarvis had created teams that were equal parts appreciated and detested. “USA!” chants directed at GW’s foreign players were commonplace during this era, a period that soon came to an end when Tom Penders took over in 1998. Penders moved away from Jarvis’ Eurocentric philosophy, relying more on homegrown guard-oriented players such as Sirvaliant Brown and Chris Monroe to move the program forward.  

Karl Hobbs took over the program when Tom Penders “resigned” in 2001 and brought in a British-Ghanaian big body, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, to Foggy Bottom in 2002. Mensah-Bonsu was a major component of three Colonial teams that made their way to the NCAA Tournament. Hobbs soon moved away from foreigners, a move that would ultimately cause his doom (go with me here). When Mike Lonergan took over as head coach in 2011, there was only one European on George Washington’s roster.

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Lonergan has wisely turned GW back into the United Nations University, bringing in players from Japan, Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Puerto Rico and Serbia. Not incidentally (or completely coincidentally if you aren’t buying my bullshit theory) the Colonials have won more games and become a stronger program with the influx of foreign-born players. Regardless of whether or not you believe GW’s success is grounded on its overseas recruiting (I think it is); you must concede that the program is more appealing and distinct when half of the team needs a translator to ask a woman how she got all of that butt in them jeans.

Overview

George Washington comes to the Arena with an impressive, if not misleading, 14-3 record. Their early season win against Virginia was easily the most impressive A10 non-conference win for the league, and the Colonials registered wins against Tennessee, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Penn State as well. Mike Lonergan’s club has a “good” loss against Tennessee, a shocking twenty-one point loss at DePaul and a head-scratching defeat at the hands of Saint Louis to round out their current resume. GW, like Dayton, is looking to squeeze out as many quality league wins it can to strengthen their profile for March. Tomorrow night’s game is vital for both teams.

MBBvsFordham_AL3I said on this week’s podcast (yeah, I know) that George Washington is perhaps the most balanced team in the conference. Now I will attempt to provide you with stats to convince you that my blind shot in the dark was correct. First and foremost, this team has experience, size and is efficient on both sides of the ball – three elements crucial for success in any league, but especially on the mid-major level.

The Colonials have a steady approach offensively, not relying on perimeter shooting to beat their opponents. In fact, GW scores only 26% of its points from behind the arc, relying on the charity stripe to bridge that particular scoring gap – the Colonials get to the line often, 25% of their scoring average comes from the line, and they shoot free-throws at an impressive clip, converting 77% of their foul-line attempts (currently the ninth best free-throw shooting percentage in the nation). 

GW is a top fifty team as far as offensive efficiency is concerned; the Colonials score 1.10 points per possession, Dayton currently averages 1.05 points per possession. Like Davison, George Washington values the ball and turns it over at a low rate. One of the better offensive rebounding teams in the nation, the Colonials routinely convert second-chance opportunities. Lonergan’s club runs a fairly slow-moving offense that still manages to score seventy-six points per contest.

Defensively, GW guards the perimeter well and is in the top four in just about every defensive category that matters. The Colonials don’t block shots and their man defense is not based on ball pressure. However, GW has the type of length to force tough shots and they crash the defensive boards extremely well. The Colonials will not impress you with their athleticism but they do the little things that win close games.

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Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh is already one of the better bigs in the conference. The 6’9” forward can pop outside, where he’s knocking down 41% of his three-point shots, and is the team’s best foul-shooter. Cavanaugh is going to be a tough matchup for UD due to his ability to stretch the floor and draw fouls. Cavanaugh dropped 30 against Duquesne and 26 against UMass last week.

Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino join Cavanaugh in the Colonial starting frontcourt. Larsen paces the league with five double-doubles, racking up a 25 & 11 performance against Duquesne last weekend. Larsen is averaging 22 points per game in Atlantic Ten and I’m dying to hear what kind of accent he has. Garino is your typical effeminate European wing. The Argentine leads GW in steals and blocks and is George Washington’s best on-ball defender. He’s a heady player who rarely takes a bad shot, the anti-Jordan Price/Jack Gibbs.

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The first Japanese player to ever be offered a Division One scholarship, Yuta “Kamikaze” Watanabe experienced an up-and-down freshman season. His shooting touch has seemed to have dissipated this year and his family is feeling great shame. Nabe-chan is lithe but doesn’t mind mixing it up with the big boys, taking bangs down low like a concubine. Paul Jorgensen has taken over the starting position for an injured Joe McDonald. He isn’t much of a scorer but does have a nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Joe McDonald sat out last week against UMass after getting his eye poked in the Colonials matchup with Duquesne, haven’t seen any word if he will go against UD. McDonald is an extremely steady guard who is one of the best six-foot rebounders I’ve ever seen. Alex Mitola and Matt Hart will get some time off the bench as well. Both of these white dudes can shoot if they have open looks.

Nate’s Numbers

George Washington forward Kevin Larsen (21) dunks the ball in front of Rutgers forward J.J. Moore (44) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

GW deploys an offense that’s above average to good in a lot of categories, they’re not dreadful at anything and they are fantastic at the charity stripe. If you look at their “Four Factors” the Colonials are Top 100ish or better in effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free-throw rate. The latter figure is the most intriguing aspect of their offense as they’re shooting 76.6% from the line as a team. As a comparison Dayton doesn’t have a single player with more than 20 attempts who shoots that high.  It goes without saying then, GW gets more points than most teams from the FT line ranking 24th in that category.

Much of this is driven by Tyler Cavanaugh and Kevin Larsen. These two bigs draw fouls at an elite rate, with six and five fouls drawn per 40 minutes respectively.  If you pair this with the fact they shoot 85% and 71% from the line you get a lot of production.  They’re kind of representative of the reality we discuss when we say, “If only Pollard could make more FTs!” In addition to these two gents, who are both over 6’9,” Yuta Watanabe plays significant minutes as well.  While not the offensive threat that Cavanaugh and Larsen are, he’s another big who will challenge a Flyer team likely to be in foul trouble.  Sorry Big Steve, this may not be a game with many minutes for you.

I’m interested to see if Archie reverts to playing small ball early and often. In the Arkansas game Moses Kingsley had 26 points and dominated much of the game. However, after the Flyers went small with lineups similar to last year’s team, Kingsley was scoreless in the last eight minutes of regulation and had only two points all of overtime. The Razorbacks really struggled to get him touches in overtime. Does Archie try something like this against the Colonials?  I almost hope so.

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Prediction

This is going to be the first time I ever pitched a conditional prediction. Something jumped out and grabbed me by the balls when I was doing my due diligence for this game: George Washington is 14-0 in games where it scores 65 points or more. So there you have it, Flyers win if they hold the Colonials to under that threshold. Blackburn out.

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Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o’ D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.

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