Save the ETA of the first snowflake and the depth of the presentation at the final snowflake, there isn't much mystery about tonight's game against George Washington.
The Colonials beat us in Foggy Bottom last month. GW and VCU are tied for second in the Atlantic 10 standings. This game is being played inside That Animal. The Rams need this victory to level out the tiebreakers. (This is middle February–looking ahead to A-10 tournament seeding is allowed.)
What's more–and because we don't actually play or coach we get to look ahead past this game–VCU is getting ready to hop aboard planes, trains, and automobiles for a three-game road trip. The first two after tonight, at SLU and at UMass, means this: if you count the St. Joseph's game Saturday, third-place VCU plays a four-game stretch against teams first, second, fourth, and fifth in the A10 standings. Three of those four are on the road, and tonight is the lone home game.
This is a good time to hop aboard The Freight Trein.
The Other Guys
(Note: most of this is a copy/paste from the prior pregame write-up. I've updated statistics and notables, but it's the same GW team. No sense in recreating the wheel.)
The biggest difference is that point guard Kethan Savage is out with a broken wrist. Savage didn't do much against VCU in the first game, but he is a weapon and will be missed in a game like this. Miguel Cartagena and Nick Griffin have seen a modicum of additional minutes in his stead, but mostly the time has been spread out across Mike Lonergan's big six five.
We will start with Indiana-transfer Mo Creek (10.5ppg), who brings a shooting dynamic to the Colonials that they missed last year. Creek was one of the best freshmen in the country but has battled injuries his entire career. He is a big time shooter but scored just four points in the first meeting. VCU can't relax.
Kevin Larsen (14.8ppg, 8.0rpg) is much better than his numbers suggest. The 6-10 Larsen dropped 20 pounds in the offseason and cut his body fat by half, so he is more nimble around the basket. He scored 18 first half points against the Rams in the first game on his way to a 22/7 night.
The guy you hate to face but would love to have on your team is Isaiah Armwood (13.1ppg, 10.1rpg). Armwood is a workhorse and a shot blocker who does not take possessions off. At 6-9 he causes problems but never strays too far from the rim. Side note: VCU has #MoSaysNo, and GW has the #BlockNessMonster. Armwood had 11 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks against VCU in January.
Joe McDonald (7.0ppg, 2.8rpg, 3.9apg) runs the point and runs it with a solid head. McDonald is more of a driver and is a competitor; however, he can shoot the three if given time (16-36, 44.4% on the year). McDonald, it's worth noting, had eight turnovers last year against VCU. He is also battling a bum hip this year but had six assists in the first meeting.
Patricio Garino (14.8ppg, 4.9rpg) isn't a gigantic numbers guy, but he does a lot of things very well. Garino did, however, put up big numbers against VCU in the first game. It was 19 second half ponits and a 25/7 for him. He is high motor and their best wing defender. Garino will, however, gamble on defense. Keep your eyes there. Garino is that guy on the other team that causes the most facial wrinkles.
There are your big six five. The half-dozen quintet will see a majority of GWs minutes. Each averages 25 or more minutes. Two others will make guest appearances. Nemana Mikic (5.4ppg) is a 6-8 perimeter-oriented big man–29 of his 40 field goals are threes. The Rams just have to run him off the arc. John Kopriva is a hard-fighting, smart, backup post player. Kopriva scored five points in the first meeting.
Sum It Up, Knucklehead
This is also not a mystery. GW has the conference's top offense in most categories, including two-point shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and overall efficiency. If that's too geeky, here's what it means: the Colonials put the ball in the basket at a high rate.
Their lone weak spot: turnovers. GW turns the ball over on 19.9% of their possessions and has the ball stolen from them on 10.4% of its possessions. Both numbers are near the bottom of the conference.
VCUs defense, well, you know.
Further, I'm beginning to hone in offensive rebounding as a key metric for this team. In the previous game against GW, the Colonials grabbed half their misses (16 offensive rebounds). That's a VCU number. Keeping both cheeks on Armwood and Larsen is critical.
Finally, the Rams are going to have to attack the GW 1-3-1 zone with confidence. There cannot be hesitation, and VCU simply has to play basketball. That means throw the pass, and take the shot. Opportunities against that zone are few and far between, so taking advantage of an opening needs to be exploited no matter what the shot clock reads.