Mike Lonergan

‘A Quick 5’ with George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan

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Vin Parise is a former assistant college coach and the college basketball insider for NBC Sports.  He caught up today with George Washington’s Mike Lonergan.  The Colonials host #14 Butler tomorrow.

VP: Coach, your young team has five Atlantic-10 wins so far.  What’s the reason things have been going right at GW and how challenging has this rebuilding process been?

ML: Our kids have truly bought in and are really defending and rebounding the ball recently.  We’re not the greatest perimeter shooting team in the world, but we’ve made up for it by scrapping and hustling.  Early on, I thought we had a chance to be good — we lost to K-State at home by three and even in our other other losses, we weren’t getting blown out and we were showing progress.  But we’ve matured ahead of schedule and I’m proud of our guys.  Last year’s 10-21 season was the hardest year of my coaching life, but I put it in perspective as year 1.  But my staff and I worked our butts off and recruited nearly every night to make sure it never happens again.

VP: You start four freshmen.  Coming into the season, was your mindset to ease them into playing time or did you know early they’d be this much of a factor?

ML:  To be honest, our freshmen just beat out the guys that were older than them for starting spots.  Patricio Garino is our best wing, Kevin Larsen is our best center and Joe McDonald is our best point guard. Joe is also the best rebounding guard I’ve ever coached.  I’m really excited about what the future holds for my young guys.

VP: What has Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood meant to your program?

ML:  He’s completely changed the culture of our basketball program. His work ethic is contagious and he just makes guys play harder every single day.  And he’s such a tough match-up in our league.  He’s not a true face-up 4-man and he’s not a true back to the basket guy either. He’s our leading scorer and rebounder and he’s been a dream to coach.

VP:  Word on the street is that your Butler game tomorrow is the talk of the town?

ML:  It’s crazy down here this weekend.  Since we don’t have football, this is our Homecoming Weekend so it’s a sell-out and our fan base is really excited right now.  And I’m sure the fact that we’re playing well helps.  It’s the first sell-out we’ve had here in years.  Our Board of Trustees will be here for a few events, so it’s a busy weekend all over the place.  I hope we come out and play well. It’s not every day that a Top 15 team like Butler comes into your gym.

VP:  What are your thoughts on this Butler match-up tomorrow and the rest of the A-10?

ML:  It’s a very tough match-up for sure.  They have experience, they are well coached and they play so hard on both ends of the floor.  How often do you play a team that has five starters in double figures?  I don’t want our guys to think too much.  It will be a great atmosphere and I know we’ll play hard.  If we could have some fun and make some shots who knows?  But at the end of the day, I just hope we’re one of the 12 teams that’s playing in Brooklyn for the A-10 tourney.  Our conference is great and it often seems anyone can beat anyone on any given night.

*George Washington hosts Butler tomorrow at 2:00 pm at the Smith Center in Washington, DC.

Follow Vin on Twitter @VinParise and check him out in studio for NBC Sports Network and SNY.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.