What: Men’s basketball (1-0) vs. No. 6 Virginia (1-0)
Where: The Smith Center, Washington, D.C., ESPN2 (TV)
When: Monday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Just three days after the season opener, men’s basketball plays what could be its biggest game of the season. The Colonials host No. 6 Virginia in the first men’s basketball game of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, seeking revenge for a second-half flop in Charlottesville last year in which GW led by four at the half but ultimately fell 59‒42.
Now, playing at home, the Colonials will try to recreate that for all 40 minutes and come away with what would be a huge win.
Here’s what to expect from the game:
Case for the Colonials: Virginia’s Achilles’ heel is a tendency to have bad shooting spells, particularly from three-point range. They ultimately ran away with the game, 86‒48, but the Cavaliers got off to a cold start in their season opener against an overmatched Morgan State, shooting 34.3 percent in the first half and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.
That was how the Colonials kept pace early in the game against Virginia last year, even when the Cavaliers had their best three-point threat in Justin Anderson, who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA. Anderson shot a team-high 45 percent from beyond the arc last season and Virginia’s overall three-point shooting percentage dropped from 35.2 to 29.9 during an eight-game stretch when Anderson was injured last year.
Virginia’s turnover numbers also went up without Anderson, from 9.3 per game overall to 11.125 per game during the stretch he missed. Scouts and analysts seem to think they’ll pick up right where they left off, but it’s possible his graduation is more of a hit than has been realized.
If the Cavaliers go cold, it will be up to GW to make its shots. Playing against Virginia’s pack-line defense, which led the nation in allowing just 51.4 points per game last year, makes outside shooting critical. The Colonials were bad from beyond the arc in their season opener Friday, making just two of 17 three-point attempts, but are a better shooting team than last year and should be able to recover and hit some buckets.
“We’ve got to be able to score with them,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “They’re not a high scoring team but they control the tempo. And we had a lot of scoring droughts last year. I don’t think we’ll have as many this year but I think a big key for us in the Virginia game, we’ll have to make threes.”
Playing in the Smith Center, though, is always a huge advantage for the Colonials. Judging by what Virginia’s players said when asked about the game after their season opener, it’s their biggest fear as well.
“They are a really strong team. We’re going to go into a crazy environment,” redshirt senior forward Anthony Gill said. “They have everyone back from last year, so we just have to be ready for their best punch. We have to be ready for that kind of environment, too. They have a small gym with the fans right on top of you.”
Case for the Cavaliers: One of the critical matchups in the game will be senior guard Patricio Garino on all-ACC first teamer Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon had a bad game in Virginia’s season opener Friday, shooting two-for-seven from the field and missing all four three-point attempts for just five points in 21 minutes, but don’t expect that to happen twice. If anything, he will be more motivated to perform up to his skill level.
“He’s a different type of player,” Garino said. “He’s not the type of player that you see with all these highlights, super athletic or making all these moves. I think he’s super solid. He takes care of the ball a lot, he really knows how to read the game, has a super high IQ and that’s what makes it more difficult. You can’t second guess anything.”
The Colonials often show their 1-3-1 defense to force opponents into bad perimeter shots, but Lonergan said he doesn’t plan on using it much because it is also meant to force turnovers, which the Cavaliers don’t commit often. He will likely stick to a contained man defense and not press much.
That’s because of the matchup, but it’s also to conserve energy. UVA comes into the game more rested after playing no one for more than 23 minutes on Friday, while four starters played 25 minutes or more for GW in its season-opener.
Senior forward Kevin Larsen, who played 29 minutes against Lafayette, will have to find all the energy he has Monday. He draws a nice matchup in center Mike Tobey and should benefit from more space with the addition of redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh, but can’t afford another performance like he had last year at UVA where he was swallowed by double teams and ended up shooting one-for-three with four turnovers.
“It’s going to be good revenge,” Larsen said. “I had a bad game last year so I’m pretty excited for it. It’s going to be fun.”
Bottom line: The Cavaliers are the favorite, but GW has had a big non-conference win over a ranked team in each of the past two seasons. This time, the balance will hang on the Colonials’ ability to make outside shots.