What: Men’s basketball (14‒4, 3‒2 A-10) vs. Rhode Island (11‒7, 3‒2 A-10)
Where: Smith Center, Washington D.C., ESPN2 (TV)
When: Friday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.
The Colonials return home Friday to face Rhode Island after a two-game road stint in which they split contests at Massachusetts and Dayton. Without senior guard Joe McDonald, GW topped the Minutemen 81–70 in Amherst but fell to the Flyers 77–70 in a tight battle featuring two of the Atlantic 10’s top squads.
The Rams are coming off of a 73–62 win over La Salle, but dropped their two previous games at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Bonaventure.
Rhode Island was picked to finish second in the A-10 preseason poll, just behind Dayton, but has since underperformed in large part due to the loss of star junior guard E.C. Matthews, who suffered a torn ACL during the Rams’ first game of the season.
GW was picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll but has since built up one of the A-10’s best non-conference resumes. Boasting the same A-10 record, the Colonials and Rams will both fight hard to pick a valuable fourth conference victory as league play heats up.
The case for the Colonials:
With the loss of Matthews, GW’s defense should have an easier time shutting down a once-volatile Rhode Island offense which now averages just 71.2 points per game, 11th-best in the A-10.
The Rams are dangerous from three, shooting 37.3 percent from beyond the arc to the Colonials’ 35.8, but GW is also has the second-best three-point defense in the conference, allowing opponents to score just 30.8 percent of the time from deep.
McDonald’s status is still unclear for Friday night’s matchup, but at Massachusetts the Colonials’ offense proved they could pick up the slack. Redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh is averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game, while senior forward Kevin Larsen adds a team-best average of 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
GW is also fighting to preserve a perfect 10‒0 record at home, where they’ve only lost three times since March of 2013.
Revenge may also be on the mind for the Colonials, who were ousted from last year’s A-10 tournament in the second round by the Rams, 71‒58. In that decision, Matthews put up a game-high 21 points.
The case for the Rams:
Although GW has boasted impressive defensive numbers all season, the Rams’ defense concedes and average of only 64.4 points per game. That’s the best in the A-10, and 35th-best defense in the country.
Rhode Island will need to sustain its defensive prowess in hostile territory and frustrate a GW offense that’s used to scoring at home. Both teams also boast the second and third best rebounding margins in the conference, so the battle on the boards could also be theirs for the taking.
After losing Matthews, the Rams have relied on a team effort on offense. Five players are currently averaging double-digit scoring figures but no player is averaging more than 12.8 per game. That number belongs to junior forward and leading scorer Hassan Martin, who also adds 5.6 boards per game.
Six-foot-9-inch junior forward Kuran Iverson averages a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game, while sophomore guard Jarvis Garrett leads Rhode Island with an average of 4.4 assists per game and adds 12.2 points per game.
The bottom line:
While Rhode Island is no longer the favorite in what would have been a clash between A-10, postseason-bound powerhouses, the Rams still pose a formidable threat. GW can potentially string together a handful of league wins during the upcoming stretch, but it has to start with a solid win at home on Friday.