Another in-season tournament, and another solid performance from an Atlantic 10 team that wasn’t expected to do a great deal when the season began.
Just days after Dayton, which was picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, won third place at the Maui Invitational the George Washington Colonials did the same at the Wooden Legacy in southern California with a 60-53 win over No. 20 Creighton. Picked to finish tenth in the A-10, Mike Lonergan’s team displayed signs of growth and the ability to exceed those low preseason expectations.
Their biggest achievement on Sunday night was harassing All-American and national Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott into the (statistically speaking) worst performance of his college career, as McDermott finished with just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting. As a team the Bluejays, one of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams, shot just 33.9% from the field and turned the ball over 13 times with just nine assists.
That was due in large part to the work of the Colonials on the defensive end, as they outscored Creighton 17-4 in points off of turnovers and limited the Bluejays to 7-for-28 shooting from beyond the arc. Creighton struggled with George Washington’s length for much of the night, and that’s an attribute (along with their offensive balance) that can serve the Colonials well once they begin conference play. Kevin Larsen led four starters in double figures with 14 points, and while there isn’t one “headliner” on Lonergan’s roster he has multiple players capable of contributing on a nightly basis.
Offensive balance and a stout defense will be the keys for George Washington going forward, because in a league as balanced as the Atlantic 10 it’s tough to make that climb up the standings relying solely on one or two players. Isaiah Armwood played very well defensively against McDermott and will be a factor on both ends of the floor, and in Maurice Creek, Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage the Colonials have the perimeter players needed to make life difficult for the opposition.
How successful of a season the Atlantic 10 enjoys in 2013-14 remains to be seen but if the in-season tournament performances of teams like Dayton and George Washington are any indication (yes, expected contender UMass won the Charleston Classic), this is setting up to be a good year for the league.