Most discussions of the Colonials start with forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu (6-9, 240). The junior from London, England hits an impressive 57% of his shots, and is second on the team in scoring (15.8 ppg) despite taking fewer shots than two of his fellow starters. However, the uniquely named import is far from the only talented player on the GW roster.
Frontcourt mate Omar Williams (6-9, 190) tosses in 10.6 points per contest, and is a rangy defender who causes problems with his wingspan. He is second on the team to Mensah-Bonsu in blocked shots, and will provide a tough obstacle to his opponent when the Colonials are in man-to-man defense, which is most of the time.
GW's three guard offense is also strong, as one would expect from a team ranked in the nation's top twenty. T.J. Thompson (5-10, 180) is the starting five's lone serious three-point threat, but he's as good as most other duos, hitting an outstanding 59.2% of his tries from downtown. That accuracy accounts for much of his 16.9 points per game average. Sophomore J.R. Pinnock (6-5, 205) is a big physical player who doesn't mind working the lane on both ends. He averages 15 points and .6 rebounds per outing, and is a handful for most guards to contain. Finally, point guard Carl Elliott (6-4, 220) is another big, strong guard who finds time to score 9.8 points per game while keying the Colonial attack.
GW goes with mostly a seven-man rotation. Guard Ricky Lucas (6-4, 210) is the sniper off the bench, scoring 7.2 points per game while firing more threes than any player other than Thompson. Forward Mike Hall (6-8, 230) averages 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in relief up front.
It's a battle of two very well rounded players as Herber takes his all-around, court savvy game against Pinnock's triple threats of scoring, rebounding and defensive play.
|Wed Dec. 29|
WVU 8-0, 0-0
GW 8-1, 0-0
WVU - 72
GW - 8
Herber, of course, is WVU's "do a little bit of everything" player. He scores a bit here and there, he runs the offense like a computer program, grabs a few rebounds, passes the ball well, and most of all seems to provide an indefinable glue that holds the Mountaineers together. That ability figures to get a workout on Wednesday night, when West Virginia plays its best foe of the season to date.
Herber is also a defensive presence on the wing, windmilling his arms and legs wildly as he does everything in his power to generate deflections and distract opponents. While he doesn't put up huge numbers in any one category, his steady contributions across the board are important ones for the Mountaineers.
Pinnock is one of several big, strong players for GW that will provide a physical challenge for WVU. At 6-5 and 205 pounds, he's able to muscle inside for points and rebounds – something that Herber and WVU's defenders must be aware of. His one weakness is the three-point shot, so don't look for him much beyond the arc. He will likely be stepping into the angles of West Virginia's 1-3-1 defense and taking the ball to the basket if he can get it.
This physical matchup is likely to be repeated across the floor. GW has a number of strong players who aren't afraid to bump and grind on offense and defense. WVU's success in keeping them out of the lane, while getting free of them on the offensive end, will likely be the key factor in determining the outcome.
This game may well come down to George Washington's pressure and how the Mountaineers handle it. After a steady diet of zero to token pressure, West Virginia will face a good bit of man-to-man in your face defense against the Colonials.
This pressure will have an effect not only on the ballhandling of the Mountaineers as they bring it up court, but also on their efforts to shoot the ball from the perimeter. GW is not likely to allow the open shots from behind the arc that have marked many of WVU's wins so far this year, so West Virginia will likely be forced to take the ball to the basket, especially early in the game, to counteract the Colonials' tactics.
Of course, WVU's offense has an answer for such play – the backdoor cut. Most of WVU's offensive sets have counters for overplays by the opponent. When foes jump out into passing lanes and defend aggressively on the perimeter, screens and backcuts become the order of the day. It's not a magic formula, of course, but if the Mountaineers can execute a few of those maneuvers, the Colonials won't be able to play so close on the perimeter.
One other item to watch is how the Mountaineers handle playing a game against a foe that shoots the ball as well as they do. In most games this year, WVU simply kept running its offense, and eventually the other team would go cold, leading to a big West Virginia run. GW, which actually is shooting better from the field than WVU (50.2%-49.5%) doesn't figure to hit any of those big off stretches. Runs in this game are more likely to be of the 10-4 variety than of the 25-6 flavor, and the team that is able to force a few bad trips by their opponent might find the door to victory.
About the only chink in GW's armor is in its assist to turnover ratios. The Colonials actually have three more turnovers than assists this year. (WVU, on the other hand, has 77 more assists than turnovers). If both teams are shooting the ball well, a few extra possessions by either squad could be the difference in the game.
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In addition to shooting well, the Colonials also shot judiciously. They aren't overloaded with three-ball shooters, so those that don't have good range don't put up a lot. Those factors contribute mightily to GW's 48% success rate from beyond the arc. And we thought WVU (36.5%) was doing well from downtown.
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Pops Mensah-Bonsu's name, roughly translated, means ‘king of the whale killers'.
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When GW moved back into the AP Top 25 earlier this month, it was their first appearance since the week of Feb. 16, 1998. The Colonials are 20th this week, while West Virginia is 32nd with four votes.
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GW's official colors are buff and blue. Adding to the haughtiness factor, the school is now billing itself as "The George Washington University". What else can we do to seem more pretentious?