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Saturday, February 8, 2014

GW crushes Fordham, but faces difficult 4 game stretch next

    Today, in front of a raucous Homecoming sell-out crowd, the GW Colonials collected their nineteenth win against the Fordham Rams, a 93-67 throttling. With that they move to 19-4 overall, and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10 conference, good for second in the A-10 standings with VCU’s loss. Tied with GW is Virginia Commonwealth (19-5, 7-2). The Bilikens of Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0) sit two games ahead of both GW and VCU.

    This win was partly to be expected. GW has yet to lose at home, and Fordham is the second-worst team in the conference. They are 9-13 overall and 2-7 in conference play. It’s always fun to get a dominant win, especially in your own building and in dominating fashion. And it has been a wild ride for these GW Colonials.

Now comes the stretch of truth for this team, however. Seven games remain in the regular season, but the results of the next four games are going to be difficult, and with results that will likely tell the potential of this team.

The schedule goes as follows:

12 February: GW at VCU (19-5, 7-2)
15 February: UMass at GW (18-4, 5-3)
18 February: GW at Richmond (15-8, 5-3)
22 February: GW at Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0)

    Why is this stretch so difficult? For one, three of the four games are on the road. GW is 4-3 on the road (7-4 if you count the “neutral” games not at the Smith Center), a far cry from the 12-0 mark they have at home. Of course, Saint Louis is the only team with a dominant road record in the conference, but this does not bode well for a team that is going into the toughest stretch of the season. Secondly, all these teams have at least 15 wins. UMass and Richmond are right on GW’s heels, VCU is right next to them, and SLU sits in the drivers’ seat. In college basketball, home court advantage can be a huge part of a team’s success. VCU and Saint Louis are both well-known for having notoriously loud home courts.

    A part of me is pessimistic about this stretch, but at the same time there is definitely reason to believe that GW could perform well against the adversity presented to them. These teams are going to be difficult to beat, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.

Adversary #1: The Rams of Virginia Commonwealth University

    This is the only team GW has played before in this 4 game stretch. VCU came into Foggy Bottom and battled hard, but eventually lost 76-66 in front of a sellout crowd. That remains the best game I’ve ever seen since I started seriously following GW basketball last year. The animosity in the building was palpable, and a large contingent of VCU fans made the two-hour trek from Richmond to set the crowd at nearly half buff-and-blue, and half black-and-yellow. To their credit, the VCU fans were just as loud as the GW fans at certain times in the game. VCU’s home-court advantage at the “Stu” (the Stuart Siegel Center) will help them, but in a way, it may not be as intimidating for GW, as they were unfazed by the VCU fans in Washington.

    VCU played a surging St. Joseph’s team today and let the game get away from them late. Down by three with 1:15 to go, fouls kept VCU from completing the comeback they were trying to make.  St. Joe’s is on a roll, winning 7 of their last nine.

    The final box score marked down the result of the previous GW-VCU game at 76-66. I wish I could say that cushion was indicative of the Colonials’ play throughout the game, but it was much, much closer than that. Neither team led by more than 5 throughout the first half, until GW went on a  9-2 run to end the half up by 7. With 6 minutes to go in the game, VCU closed the gap to 4 points, but GW was able to hold off the Rams with a 15-9 run.

    VCU’s strength comes mostly from their defense and the pace at which they play the game. The defense, at least the half-court defense was not up to snuff last time these two teams met. It may be too generous to say GW ran the tempo of the game, but they did at least control it. At no point did it look like GW was letting the game get away from them. 

    It will hurt to not have Kethan Savage for this and the next three games, but GW has managed to go 4-1 without him. The problem is, GW has not played any seriously formidable opponents since Savage went down in the dying seconds of the St. Bona game. It was Kevin Larsen, Isaiah Armwood, and Patricio Garino that made the difference in this game. It’s up to them to do it again.

Adversary #2: The Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMASS)

    The UMass Minutemen are coming off a 2-3 stretch of games when they went from 21st in the nation to fifth in the A-10 conference. They could gain some momentum back with wins against URI and GMU, but it most likely won’t get them back into a ranking.

    As far as national statistics and rankings, UMass is the strongest team in this bunch of games. They stormed out to a 10-0 start before falling to Florida State, and spent much of the season ranked-once as high as #13. That’s not the case any more, but UMass remains formidable. On February 5th they picked up a much-needed win against La Salle, and for all intents and purposes they should be able to beat both URI and Mason. However, they’ve lost three straight on the road to Richmond, St. Bona, and St. Joe’s. The situation right now favors GW, but these teams have not played each other this season, so it’s hard to tell what will work and what won’t on both sides.

Adversary #3: The Spiders of the University of Richmond

    The game GW fans should be least worried about is probably Richmond. Richmond is the weakest of the four teams, and as long as GW doesn’t treat them as a pushover, they should be able to find a way to win.

Cedrick Lindsay, the leading scorer for the Spiders, is out for the season because of knee injuries. Offensively, Richmond is not much to write home about-they’re below 247 nationally on points, rebounds, assists, and FG%.

This still has the potential to be a trap game for the Colonials. Richmond plays Duquesne and Fordham next, two teams that GW easily polished off, so they very well may have a good amount of momentum going into this game, and they did beat UMass back when UMass was at #13. 

Adversary #4: The Bilikens of Saint Louis University

    Saint Louis, on paper, is probably the scariest team in the bunch, but they may not be the unbeatable team they look like. The GMU Patriots, the worst team in the conference record-wise, came into SLU and took the Bilikens to overtime, where they lost by only 6 points. La Salle sat at a pedestrian 12-10 but managed to nearly upset St. Louis today.  St. Louis, much like VCU, is bolstered by its strong defense. It is that defense that brought them to a very close game against still-undefeated Wichita State, which they lost by only 5.

This is probably the most difficult game to predict. SLU is extremely talented, but they’ve almost hiccuped away two softball games. They’ll play GMU and VCU before GW, so it’s possible they could lose a nail-biter to VCU before the game against the Colonials. We’ll just have to see how GW and SLU have performed in the contests leading up to this one.

I’m biased, of course, but there’s a chance GW could go into this stretch, even without Kethan Savage, and come out 23-4. It’ll be difficult and they’ll need some lucky breaks to fall their way, but it is possible.

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