Inconsistent GW looking to finish on high note with NIT win


In the course of this season George Washington has beaten Virginia, an ill-fated Elite Eight team, as well as Seton Hall, the Big East Tournament champion.

The Colonials have also lost to DePaul, which finished 9-22, and Saint Louis, which went 11-21. And in the Atlantic 10 Tournament they frittered away a 16-point first-half lead before falling to Saint Joseph’s, which went on to win the thing and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Go ahead, try and make sense of that profile.

And consider how GW has been trying to make sense of its season.

The Colonials have landed in the NIT for the second straight year, a place they obviously hoped not to be, given their 10-1 start and the presence on their roster of three four-year starters in guard/forward Patricio Garino, forward Kevin Larsen and guard Joe McDonald.

But three victories later they find themselves in the semifinals, meaning that a school located in the Foggy Bottom section of the District of Columbia can, perhaps, find some clarity.

The Colonials (26-10) face San Diego State (28-9) in the semis, Tuesday at approximately 9 p.m. ET in Madison Square Garden. That follows the other semifinal, a 7 p.m. ET tip between Valparaiso (29-6) and Brigham Young (26-10).

The winners play for the title Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in MSG.

GW has beaten Hofstra, Monmouth and Florida en route to the Garden. The first of those victories, by an 82-80 score, came on a floater by guard Alex Mitola with 2.8 seconds left. The second, an 87-71 rout, came at the expense of a team that many felt had been jobbed on Selection Sunday, and one whose reserves had achieved a certain renown for their in-game celebrations. (Not coincidentally, the headline on the George Washington web site following the game said, “GW Men’s Basketball Benches Monmouth to Advance to NIT Quarterfinals”).

The Gators, meanwhile, fell victim to a late run by the Colonials, who emerged with an 82-77 victory.

So here they are. And this week they hope to make sense of their season.

1. RU interested?

GW coach Mike Lonergan admitted to that he had “one phone conversation” with Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs about the school’s coaching vacancy earlier this month. But according to that site Lonergan, Hobbs’ second choice after Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley, turned down the job, largely for family reasons.

The RU post, left open when Eddie Jordan was fired, went to Stony Brook boss Steve Pikiell.

Lonergan is 95-70 in five years at GW. He has also been the head coach at Vermont, as well as Division III Catholic.

2. A new a-Wake-ening

Junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh has emerged as the Colonials’ top scorer this season, the first he has played at GW after transferring from Wake Forest. An All-Atlantic 10 second-teamer and all-academic choice in the conference, the 6-9 Cavanaugh is averaging 16.8 points.

He spent two years with the Demon Deacons, but departed when the coach who recruited him, Jeff Bzdelik, took an assistant’s job with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

He had to sit out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

“I’ve never not been able to play,” he told ASN in January. “So I got to watch from a coach’s perspective, kind of an outsider’s perspective learn the game in different ways and see things that I think have helped me in different ways this year.”

3. Muy bien, trece

Garino played in the Olympic qualifying tournament for his native Argentina last summer, and stands a chance to earn a spot on a squad that will compete in the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro this year.

He also wears No. 13 in honor of his countryman, Andres Nocioni, who enjoyed a long NBA career and remains active with the national team. (When they are teammates, Garino dons No. 29.)

The number certainly hasn’t jinxed Garino, who is averaging 14.2 points and is, like Cavanaugh, an all-A10 second-teamer and a member of the all-academic team. He also made the all-defensive team.

4. Other imports of import

Larsen hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, and sophomore guard Yuta Watanabe is from Japan.

The 6-8 Watanabe, once dubbed “The Chosen One” by the Japan Times, is believed to be the third Japanese player to earn a Division I men’s basketball scholarship, according to a report that appeared in the New York Times in January 2015. That same month the Washington Post reported he is actually the fourth player born in Japan to compete in Division I.

One thing, at least, is clear.

“My dream,” he told the Post, “is to play someday in the NBA.”

The Post noted that only one Japanese-born player — Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in 2004 — has played in the NBA.

As for Larsen, he has a skill set worthy of a foreign-born big man, for not only is he averaging 12.3 points and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds, but he is also second among the Colonials in assists, with 2.7 a game. He has been particularly effective in the NIT, with norms of 18 points, 8.3 rebounds and five assists per night.

5. About the opponent

The Aztecs, coached by the venerable Steve Fisher, play deliberately (69.2 points a game) and guard the heck out of people. Their opponents this year have shot just 37.1% from the floor, making SDSU the stingiest team in Division I.

Guards Trey Kell (12.7) and Jeremy Hemsley (12.2) — a sophomore and freshman, respectively are San Diego State’s top scorers. The Aztecs are here because they lost to Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference championship game.



Above: Patricio Garino is one of the foreign players solidifying George Washington. (Courtesy George Washington Athletics)

Gordie Jones

Gordie Jones is a freelance writer based in Lititz, Pa.