Thursday, February 02, 2006

GW-Xavier Preview

The #10 GW Colonials face their sternest test of the Atlantic 10 regular season when they visit the 13-4 Musketeers tonight at 7:00 Eastern. At 16-1, GW has won eight straight games and all six of its league games. The Musketeers have lost two of their last three after a 12-2 start highlighted by a 73-71 overtime win over Cincinnati. The game will be shown on ESPN2.

Xavier has dominated the series in recent years, winning four in a row and 9 of the last 10. Second-year head coach Sean Miller has changed the Musketeers from the high-scoring teams of David West and James Posey to a more defense-oriented program. X is 10th in the nation in defensive field goal percentage (.384) and has held opponents to an average of 60 points per game. All five starters returned from last season, led by senior center Brian Thornton, a four-time A-10 Player of the Week this year, who paces the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. GW fans will best remember sophomore Stanley Burrell, whose last-second bomb of a three-pointer won last year's game at Smith Center.

GW will counter with speed, size and more speed. The Colonials backcourt starts 6-4 Carl Elliott and 6-5 Danilo Pinnock, both juniors. Pinnock is GW's leading scorer at 15.4 ppg and his dazzling athleticism makes him an impact player on defense as well where he leads the team with 38 steals. Elliott has only one fewer steal than Pinnock but has become the team's best three-point threat to go with his formidable midrange and postup game. Reserve guard Maureece Rice comes off the bench but gets starter minutes. Rice is an instinctive scorer who will also pick your pocket if you don't take extra-good care of the ball.

The frontcourt is no slouch either. Senior center Pops Mensah-Bonsu tested the NBA draft waters before returning to GW and is a dynamic, athletic, 6-9 leaper who can intimidate with his thunderous dunks and emphatic blocks. Pops put up a career-high 29 points against Duquesne last week and earned his second Player of the Week Award this season. Classmates Mike Hall and Omar Williams, 6-8 and 6-9 respectively, fill out the frontcourt. Hall has been the team's leading rebounder since he was a freshman and can score from inside and out. Williams exploits the attention paid to his flashier teammates and always seems to come up with a key play. Off the bench, GW features Regis Koundjia, a 6-8 athletic forward, who became eligible at midseason after transferring from LSU, and Montrell McDonald, a 6-7 freshman defensive specialist.

GW head coach Karl Hobbs made his reputation as a recruiter at UConn where he worked with future NBA guards Richard Hamilton, Ray Allen and Khalid El-Amin, and he has built this GW team in UConn's image. They can run and press for 40 minutes, scoring 81 points per game while forcing opponents to commit more than 18 turnovers. Five players have scored 20 or more points this season, making it very difficult for opposing defenses to focus on one or two players.

Last time I checked, Xavier was favored by three points, probably because they are at home and hold such a strong advantage in the recent meetings. Their defense is obviously very good, but they haven't seen a team with this kind of athleticicm. X is a veteran team who should not panic under GW's pressure, but the Colonials need to win this game to justify their ranking and earn the respect of the NCAA Tournament committee. And while I am definitely biased, I think GW will do just that.

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