Narratives Solidify for GW and VCU in Atlantic 10 RacePosted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 15th, 2014
Like most cities on the East Coast, Washington DC is a professional sports town where its NFL team is king. But for two hours on Tuesday night, Foggy Bottom transformed into a full-fledged campus town like one might find in Big Ten country. The reason? A budding intra-regional and intra-conference rivalry between George Washington and VCU. And for the first time in this young feud, the outcome of the contest had significant implications for both teams with respect to league standings and postseason prospects. George Washington made a statement with its 76-66 win over VCU and made clear that it is a serious contender to win its first Atlantic 10 title since 2005-06. For VCU, it’s another bump in the road for what was supposed to be its most promising season since a run to the 2011 Final Four, and has Shaka Smart’s squad doing a bit of soul-searching. The outcome of this game has certainly changed the perceptions of these two teams from what was expected of them at the beginning of the season.
George Washington has quietly turned in one of the most surprising seasons in the country thus far. Picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Media Poll, the Colonials now find themselves with a 14-3 overall record that includes wins against Creighton, VCU, Maryland and Miami (FL). A major reason for their turnaround has been the dramatic improvement of their offense from last season (jumping from 0.98 to 1.09 points per possession), which has been driven by the addition of Maurice Creek, a transfer from Indiana, and the emergence of players like Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen. Against VCU on Tuesday, Larsen and reserve Patricio Garino stepped up and led the Colonials to shred the Rams’ stellar defense (it came in at 0.91 points per possession, 9th nationally) — George Washington shot 56.3 percent and scored 1.04 points per possession. This win signals that the Colonials are ready to make the Atlantic 10 a four-team race, joining the likes of VCU, UMass, and Saint Louis vying for a conference crown. They may not get the national attention their turnaround warrants, but what Mike Lonergan has done with his team has been nothing short of remarkable.
For Smart’s Rams, this is yet another setback in what is so far a relatively disappointing season. They traveled up from Richmond on Tuesday night, seemingly with a good portion of their campus with him, to re-stake their claim as the premier program in the league and justify those lofty preseason expectations (#14 in the preseason AP Poll). Unfortunately for them, they come up short, again. They’ve now accumulated four losses and have lost ground to two other A-10 powerhouses in the conference race: UMass and Saint Louis. Amazingly, Smart has never won a regular season conference championship as a head coach. With players like Treveon Graham and Briante Weber returning from a Round of 32 team, this season presented the best opportunity for VCU to win the A-10 regular season and make another deep run at the NCAA Tournament. What Smart has learned is that, despite some defections, the A-10 is still a highly competitive basketball conference where nothing is given. One area where he’ll need his team to improve is with its offense inside the arc where they are currently shooting 45.8 percent for the season.
It was only one conference game in a league that will have many more impactful games throughout, but the outcome signaled that George Washington’s non-conference success was not a fluke and that VCU will not stroll through the league either. The result of this should be plenty of high drama in the A-10 all season long, and every basketball fan should enjoy that.