By James Irwin
A pair of veteran leaders and a group of sophomores have the George Washington men’s basketball team poised to make a deep run in this week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. And that may be just the beginning.
Paced by senior forward Isaiah Armwood, Indiana transfer guard Maurice Creek and second-year Colonials Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen, GW, with a record of 23-7 overall and 11-5 in the A-10, enters the conference tournament Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the No. 3 seed, and the beneficiary of a double-bye into the quarterfinals.
The Colonials have won as many games this season as they did the previous two combined. The top six players in GW's rotation are in either their first or second year on the active roster.
“The best thing I can say about them as a group is there are no egos,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “They share the basketball and are unselfish and really like each other. We have very good chemistry.”
Balance has the Colonials primed to make a run this March. Six Colonials combined for eight all-league honors this season. Mr. Armwood, a 2012 transfer from Villanova, anchors a front line that ranks 48th nationally (out of 351 teams) in rebounding. Mr. Creek, a former starter at Indiana who transferred to GW over the summer, has provided much needed 3-point shooting. Last season the Colonials ranked second-to-last in the A-10 from 3-point range; they are fourth this season.
But while the two seniors have received deserved attention for their strong play, the sophomore class has contributed significantly to GW’s leap from 13 wins last year to 23 on the eve of this season’s conference tournament. Mr. Garino, Mr. Larsen, Mr. McDonald and Kethan Savage—out since late January with a broken foot—logged significant minutes during the 2012-13 season, and have developed into primary contributors.
“We knew they’d get the opportunity that first year,” Mr. Lonergan said. “I felt at least two of them would play right away—I didn’t know four of them would start. It’s hard to win right away with freshmen, but they were very competitive and tough, and I knew that would pay off. All of them made a significant jump.”
Mr. Garino, a strong defender, and Mr. Larsen, 10th in the A-10 in rebounding, are among the conference’s most efficient scorers, each shooting better than 54 percent from the floor. Mr. McDonald’s scoring and rebounding numbers have gone up, and his turnovers have come down. “He’s gonna be the best point guard in the A-10 next year,” Mr. Larsen said. Mr. Savage was GW's second-leading scorer through the season's first 18 games.
The Colonials, powered by veteran leaders and fast-learning underclassmen, have come together quickly.
“We went to Italy last year before Maurice came,” Mr. Larsen said, referencing an 11-day, five-game tour of the country the Colonials took in August 2012. “We’ve basically spent the last two years together nonstop. When you see each other every day and learn about each other every day, it transitions on the court.”
Mr. Savage could be back in time to come off the bench during the A-10 tournament, Mr. Lonergan said. His return would add one more piece to an already formidable lineup that won 11 conference games in one of the country’s deepest leagues. Six A-10 teams finished the regular season with at least 20 wins. The conference, which for years routinely sent two or three teams to the NCAA tournament, sent five last season and could be represented by as many as six this year.
“It’s the most competitive league I’ve ever played in,” Mr. Garino said. “We love the challenge. I think that’s beneficial for the whole team because we keep getting better and better every day.”