You could have been forgiven 24 hours ago for feeling like Xavier was playing for more than just the first win or loss of the conference season when they hosted Temple. With a colossal win against one of the perennial conference heavyweights in the rearview, Xavier has less than 48 hours to recover before taking on current conference co-leader George Washington. With Dee Davis dinged up and the team coming off an emotional victory, Xavier needs to regroup in a hurry before another A-10 contest.
Coach Mike Lonergan's George Washington team is sitting at 7-7 and, like most .500 teams, has experienced its share of ups and downs over the course of the season. Starting off with a home loss against Youngstown State is not an entirely auspicious beginning, and backing that up with another home loss against Mount St. Mary's before November was over didn't bode well for the Colonials' future. It hasn't all been bad news, though; GW played Kansas State to three points in December and wrapped up the year by beating the brakes off of Dr. Bob Kelso's Sacred Heart squad. They began the conference season well, beating St. Bonnie by 19 on Wednesday.
George Washington's offense is dreadful, and there are two massive reasons for that. The first is that they can't shoot, especially from outside. They're more or less average with a 47.6% mark from two-point range, but they're shooting a staggering 28.6% from deep. Couple that with the fact that fewer than one in every five of their shots comes from behind the arc, and you can see why only one team in the country scores a smaller percentage of its points on threes. Turnovers are an even bigger problem; GW is turning the ball over on nearly a quarter of their possessions, and only one team in the nation surrenders more steals. On the good side of things, the Colonials rebound 35.8% of their own misses (67th in the country) and shoot 71.8% from the line (86th).
Defensive is where George Washington wins games, when they do; the Colonials simply smother teams out of games. Forcing turnovers is not the point of their defense, and they do both that and forcing steals at a merely average rate. Contesting shots, however, is kind of a big deal, and they execute that with aplomb. Teams shoot only 41.5% from inside the arc against GW, and they block 12.5% of opponents' two-point attempts. The Colonials surrender a mediocre 32.9% mark from deep, but they are in the top 20 in the nation in not letting teams get shots off from behind the arc. Once they're done forcing all those misses, they are above average on the defensive glass to close out a possession.
The average height of a player on GW (when weighted for playing time) is 6'6"; only 18 teams in the nation play taller. Obviously, this length goes a long way towards explaining the team's success on defense. Their bench is basically average in terms of depth, but experience is not a strength for them. They average 1.36 year of experience on the court at any one time, good for 275th in the nation.
The player: 6'1", 181 pound freshman guard Joe McDonald
The numbers: 6.6/4.1/2.8 on .372/.364/.727 shooting
More numbers: 19.6% assist rate, 32.5% TO rate, 80.1 ORtg
The words: Ball security starts with the point guard, and George Washington is no exception. Unfortunately for the team and their fans, Joe McDonald is fairly profligate with his passing. Nearly a third of the possessions he uses end up with the other team having the ball without GW so much as getting a shot off. Combine that with his fairly poor shooting numbers and you begin to get an idea of why McDonald is such a black hole on offense.
The player: 6'6", 203 pound freshman wing Patricio Garino
The numbers: 9.7/2.6/2.7 on .411/.321/.745 shooting
More numbers: 21% assist rate, 4.7% steal%, 2.1 steals per game
The words: I want to go on record right now as saying that I think Garino is going to be a very good player in the A-10 before his career is out (assuming he stays in school, doesn't transfer, and GW stays in the A-10). His struggles right now mostly come from the fact that he turns the ball over almost three times per game, which is not entirely unexpected for a freshman. He's a defensive menace now and is growing into his role on the offensive end.
The player: 6'6", 207 pound senior forward Lasan Kromah
The numbers: 9.8/3.9/2.0 on .473/.200/.818 shooting
More numbers: 2.9% steal%, 21.5% TO rate
The words: Kromah doesn't do anything massively well, though his 46-80 from inside the arc is a lot better than respectable. He fills in the gaps for GW, can guard most positions, and doesn't demand too much of the ball on the offensive end. His 21.5% TO rate isn't actually very good at all, but it is the best that the Colonials' starting lineup has to offer.
The player: 6'9", 210 pound junior forward Isaiah Armwood
The numbers: 12.6/8.7/1.7 on .526/.000/.712 shooting
More numbers: 3.1 blocks per game, 9.6% block%, 22.5% DReb%, 23.1% usage rate
The words: The rest of the team is fairly pedestrian when it comes to blocking shots, but Isaiah Armwood is an absolute eraser in the middle of the defense. His block% is unquestionably elite, and he's also a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive glass. On the other end, Armwood plays his game close to the basket, is effective but not prolific from the line, and - like most of his teammates - is prone to struggling with turnovers.
The player: 6'10", 264 pound freshman center Kevin Larsen
The numbers: 7.5/5.8/1.5 on .544/.000/.655 shooting
More numbers: 12.4% OReb%, 2.2 fouls per 40 minutes
The words: Larsen is a big man, and he puts his size to good use on the offensive glass. He doesn't get off the ground like Armwood, but he is blocking half a shot a game. He's also been called for 17 fouls in his 14 games this season, which isn't nothing. In terms of offensive usage rate, though Larsen is at the bottom of the pile of GW starter's.
Four players grab double-figure minutes off the bench for the Colonials, led by Bryan Bynes' 19.9 minutes per game. Bynes is a senior guard who is shooting .231/.214/.643 on the season but is mostly used to give McDonald a break as the primary ball handler. Gunning 6'6" wing Dwayne Smith is the most productive player off the pine, averaging 6.2 points per game on .486/.286/.739 shooting in just 11.9 minutes per game. He has the highest usage rate on the team; when he's in, it's to get buckets. Finally, Nemanja Mikic and John Kopriva (who has picked up a knock and may not participate in this weekend's game) are both 6'8" reserve forwards. Mikic gets more minutes, mostly on the strength of his 14-40 mark from three-point range.
-What's the plan if Dee is down? I do hope that news comes out that Davis is fine and will be playing 40 minutes tomorrow night, but he was treating his left wrist fairly gingerly last night and that's a quick turnaround to today's game. Xavier is already thin at guard, and Semaj Christon still hasn't put his cramping problems entirely in the rear view; if Dee can't go, there's a chance we might be looking at a Redford/Amos back court for stretches of tomorrow's game. Get well (very) soon, Dee!
-Can Travis Taylor break down Isaiah Armwood? Taylor has shown flashes of borderline unstoppable play this year, but he has also struggled from time to time. His performance last night was in large part redeemed by his shooting from the line, especially down the stretch. Armwood, as mentioned above, is something of a monster defensively. Whether Taylor is matched up directly with Armwood or keeping an eye out for him coming from the help side, he's going to have to contend with the George Washington big man in order to be productive.
-Can Xavier find a rhythm on offense? The Muskies have been winning with defense when they win at all lately. Even in their losses, it has been the offensive side of the ball that has let Xavier down. With GW being much in the same boat but an even better defensive team, it will behoove Xavier to be able to put together some consistent offensive effort to widen their margin for error both in this game and on down the road.
-Pack the defense. George Washington scores more than 86% of their points from inside the arc and are fairly miserable when called upon to score from outside of it. Xavier contested everything inside and let Temple jump shoot themselves out of the game last night. GW is even worse at jump shooting than Temple; Xavier should keep their off-ball defenders at least a step inside the arc and make the Colonials lift.
-Post early. By the same token, GW crushes the life out of teams on the defensive end and forces them to take contested shots from all over the court. They do pressure the perimeter as well as the interior, and good shots are hard to come by anywhere on the court. One of the ways Xavier can combat that is to get Travis Taylor buried with a man on his back before GW has a chance to fully set the defense. Even if Taylor is forced to kick out, nothing unsettles a good defense like forcing them to help the post early in a possession.
-End possessions. When a team shoots as poorly as GW does, there are going to be plenty of rebounds out there to be had. Lonergan, in addition to having a phonetically pleasing name, loves to send his players to the glass hard for offensive boards and second-chance points. Keeping the ball alive on the glass on offense against the Colonials' stifling defense is going to be important for Xavier, but finishing defensive possessions with defensive boards is going to be absolutely vital. This one has all the markers of a defensive battle going in, and X needs to be prepared to win ugly.