GW Learning That Defensive Versatility Only Goes So Far

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2016

Last season, George Washington used a balanced offensive attack led by multi-skilled big man Tyler Cavanaugh to finish fifth in a competitive Atlantic 10 and ultimately win the NIT. A volatile offseason brought change, however, as the school fired head coach Mike Lonergan amid allegations of player mistreatment and suffered significant roster turnover from graduations and player defections. This led to bearish expectations this preseason, as the Colonials were tabbed to finish eighth in the A-10 preseason poll. Through the first four games of the season, that prediction appears accurate. While Cavanaugh and another versatile forward in Yuta Watanabe remain the stalwarts of GW’s frontcourt, their collective athletic shortcomings were exposed in an 81-73 loss to Georgia Monday night in the semifinal round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

Tyler Cavanaugh is a great start for GW, but more production is needed. (USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Cavanaugh is a great start for GW, but more production is needed. (USA Today Sports)

Cavanuagh and Watanabe’s defensive strengths lay in their ability to defend smaller players on the perimeter, but they can struggle against similar or superior size. When the Colonials backcourt failed to contain Georgia guard J.J. Frazier in the early stages of Monday night’s game, head coach Maurice Joseph switched the 6’8″ Watanabe onto the 5’11” Frazier. Watanabe got the better of that match-up from that point on, displaying impressive lateral mobility in preventing dribble penetration. Unfortunately, the defensive maneuver turned out to be a net loss, though, as Georgia exploited George Washington’s lack of reinforcements in the lane to build a 40-18 advantage in points in the paint.

Offensively, the Colonials took advantage of Cavanaugh’s range, regularly putting him in pick-and-pop situations to draw Georgia’s big men out of their comfort zones. To their credit, he made them pay by burying four of his eight attempts from deep. Playing that game, however, effectively removed him from the offensive glass (zero offensive boards) and it was clear that the 6’9″ senior was more comfortable finding space rather than banging with high-major bodies inside. For what it’s worth, Cavanaugh is well aware of his team’s weakness on the blocks. “They’re big inside and we didn’t block out at crucial times. We’ve just got to continue to work on that and pride ourselves on the defensive end inside and we’ll win games,” he said afterward.

Sophomore guard Matt Hart kept George Washington in the game with a 5-of-6 shooting night beyond the arc, a performance facilitated partially by Georgia’s deployment of a zone defense, but Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide and Juwan Parker were too much to handle on the boards as the Bulldogs closed the game out on an 11-5 run. The silver lining to Feast Week events like the CBE Classic is that there’s always a consolation bracket that provides another opportunity to shore up weak spots, and the Colonials will get right back to work on their issues when they face UAB later tonight.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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