Senior swingman Patricio Garino puts up a shot in GW’s win against Monmouth Monday. Garino and the Colonials will look to extend their season Wednesday at home in an NIT quarterfinal clash with the Florida Gators. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
What: No. 4 Men’s basketball (25-10, 15-3 Home) vs. No. 2 Florida (21-14, 6-8 Away), NIT Quarterfinal
Where: Smith Center, Washington D.C., ESPN2 (TV)
When: Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m.
With a dominant 87–71 victory over No. 1 seed Monmouth on the road Monday, GW earned a spot in the NIT quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
Officially the last Atlantic 10 team left standing in March, the fourth-seeded Colonials will take on the second-seeded Florida Gators of the SEC, a power-conference league that sent three teams to this year’s NCAA Tournament, with a trip to Madison Square Garden and the NIT semifinals on the line.
Although the Gators own the higher seed, Wednesday night’s matchup will be hosted at the Smith Center due to ongoing renovations at Florida’s O’Connell Center.
Florida was booted from the SEC Tournament by Texas A&M on March 11, but enters the contest behind back-to-back NIT road wins at No. 7 seed North Florida and No. 3 seed Ohio State, its first road win over a Big Ten team in school history.
GW and the visitors share three mutual opponents. The Gators defeated Saint Joseph’s and Richmond in non-conference play, but fell to Tennessee 83–69 in early January. Florida also boasts wins over LSU and then-No. 9 West Virginia, but blew its NCAA Tournament chances by going 3-6 in its last nine games of the regular season.
The Case for the Colonials:
Despite a season average of 75.8 points per game, GW’s offense has been hot as of late, scoring 80 points or more in each of its last three outings.
Redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh champions that effort with a team-high 16.7 points per game, and led the Colonials with 22 points and 12 rebounds at Monmouth. Senior forward Kevin Larsen paces GW with 8.3 boards per game, while senior swingman Patricio Garino adds a sturdy 14.2 points per contest.
Against a Florida team that starts a sophomore and two freshmen, the Colonials’ veteran experience may prove key. GW has six 1,000-point scorers on its roster and starts three seasoned seniors in Garino, Larsen and guard Joe McDonald who combined for more than two thirds of their team’s point total Monday.
The Colonials’ defense, which has been sluggish all year, also saw improvement against the Hawks. While GW allowed its opponents to shoot 43.3 percent from the field on the season, the Colonials held Monmouth to 34 percent and just 4-of-21 from three-point range. The Gators also score only a modest 73.6 points per game, and went just 6-8 on the road this year while GW is 15-3 at home.
The Case for the Gators:
Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith guides a young Florida team with 14.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Six-foot-11-inch sophomore center John Egbunu (11.5 PPG) and freshman guard KeVaughn Allen (11.3 PPG) bolster the offense.
Strong board play could be a key advantage for the SEC squad. The Gators average 40.1 rebounds per game, tied for the 24th-most in country, compared to GW’s 37.9.
Playing in a power-conference also means Florida, who enters with an RPI of 52 to GW’s 65, has faced teams with a top-25 RPIs, such as powerhouses like Kentucky, Texas A&M, Michigan State and Miami, nine times this season. They went 2-7, while the Colonials saw only five teams with RPIs of 25 or greater and went 2-3.
Defensively, Florida concedes an average of 68.5 points per game, holds an advantage over GW in both steals (7) and blocks (4) per game, and is allowing its opponents to shoot just over 40 percent from the field.
Head coach Mike White, who replaced Billy Donovan, now at the helm of the Oklahoma City Thunder, will also be in search of his 22nd win of the season Wednesday, which would mark the most wins by a first-year coach in the team’s history.
The Bottom Line:
The Gators, a high-major program, will likely be a tougher test than either Hofstra or Monmouth. GW will need to draw momentum from its veterans and stay focused defensively, like it did Monday night in New Jersey, in order to extend its season and earn a trip to Manhattan.