For NCAA's, GW hopes early work offsets recent skid

For NCAA's, GW hopes early work offsets recent skid
March 1, 2014, 11:45 am
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Imagine a college basketball program, one from a non-power conference, one with no recent history of reaching the NCAA Tournament, not since 2007 anyway. Now picture that squad having never entered the top 25 rankings this season. Then envision that team dropping three of four games in February.

Based on that data alone, imagining said team reaching the ultimate March Madness event, doubtful. Foreseeing them comfortably in the Field of 68 entering the penultimate weekend of the regular season, come on, now that's madness.

This hypothetical team is real - as are their chances of picking up an at-large berth despite all listed above.

"I think if you do the blind résumé test, nobody even questions us," Colonials coach Mike Lonergan.

That's not boasting. That's a coach knowing his NCAA Tournament selection history, knowing what his team has accomplished, knowing the conference is plenty powerful this season.

Entering Sunday's rematch at home with George Mason, GW (20-7, 8-5 Atlantic 10) boasts an RPI of 31, ahead of higher profile programs like Iowa and Memphis. The Colonials have nine wins against the RPI top 100, including victories over Creighton (6) and conference rival VCU (24). They need one more victory to ensure a winning A-10 record in a conference that could put six teams in the NCAA field.

"Destiny is in our own hands. That's all you can ask for," Lonergan said before the Colonials practice on Friday. "We're in great shape. We don't have to win every game, but we have to win Sunday and see what happens in the games after.

"What we did early in the year, nobody can take that away from us."

Perhaps more importantly, there are no "bad" losses to fear. Lonergan's squad is 11-0 against teams outside the RPI top 100. Syracuse can't make that claim. Neither can A-10 leading Saint Louis, losers to Duquesne earlier this week.

Six of the Colonials losses have come versus teams that were ranked at some point this season. That includes the three recent setbacks to Massachusetts at home, Saint Louis and VCU on the road. In between came a win over Richmond, another potential tourney team.

"Look who we lost to," Lonergan said." Obviously, if we got the UMass one I would have felt a lot better cause we would have stayed undefeated at home. Now we've got to get this game, but we should be confident."

Three games remain, starting with George Mason (10-17, 3-10). The game tips at 1 p.m. with coverage on NBC Sports Network at 1:30. The Colonials also host second place Saint Joseph's (20-7, 10-3) on Wednesday before closing the regular season at last place Fordham (9-17, 2-11) on March 8.

On Jan. 25 at the Patriot Center, GW led by 16 points with 4:20 remaining and finished off the Patriots 75-69. Sophomores Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald paced five double-digit scorers with 14 points apiece.

"We put ourselves in a great position," Larsen said. "We just got to go out and play our own game and we'll win. It's no pressure. We just have to go do what we've done all season and we'll be successful."

Of course, the Colonials are not at the finish line. They know better than to look past a George Mason team that won at UMass this season. Nobody wants to see what the selection committee might do if the losses keep piling up. Currently fifth in the A-10, GW is playing for a top-4 seed and the conference tournament double bye that comes with it.

Most of all, Lonergan wants his team to progress on the court.

GW could never catch up at Saint Louis after the Billikens shot 55 percent in the first half for a 12-point halftime lead. With Savage (foot), out since Jan 18, the Colonials were 15-3. Without their second-leading scorer, the GW is painfully thin offensively. The bench was outscored 22-2 against Saint Louis.

"We played some very good teams, but I think we stopped getting better," Lonergan said. "I think we lost the focus of our program which is defense and rebounding. If your shots don't drop, you can still guard, you can still help your team in other ways. We all have to recognize that.

"We've got to get our energy and enthusiasm back. I think we'll have a great crowd the next two home games and hopefully that will help us."