George Washington and St. Bonaventure, two teams that never have won an Eastern Eight Conference tournament game, play at 8 tonight in the first round of the playoffs at the Smith Center. Until tonight, neither has played host to a tournament game, either.
"There's going to be a new team in Pittsburgh (for the semifinals Friday night)--that's for sure," said Bonnie Coach Jim Satalin. He also is mildly disturbed at the strength-of-schedule criteria used to determine the home court after the two teams split two games in the regular season, finished 7-7 in the league and 13-13 overall.
"Just flip a coin. It's the fairest way," Satalin said. "It (the home court) means a lot. There's no question about that."
Gerry Gimelstob, GW's first-year coach, disagreed. "We were 80th, they were 112th on the NCAA computer on strength of schedule. Why is a coin flip fairest? If they've got the stronger schedule, let them have the home court."
In the previous two games this season, St. Bonaventure won at home, 68-44; George Washington won at home, 78-64. Each team's victory broke a four-game losing streak.
"We've reached our first goal of the season. We set our sights on a home court advantage," said GW senior Paul Gracza, the only current Colonial to have played in and lost first-round games in Pittsburgh the past three seasons. "It's a great advantage. Coach Gimelstob says it's not where we play or who we play but how we play. But it'll give us a boost . . . a little bit of a psychological advantage, sure."
Whether GW can reach the next step to its second goal--winning the conference championship--probably depends on how well the Colonials play defense.
Gimelstob is undecided on his starting lineup, still pondering matchups and saying, "We'll start our best defensive team." Although it is shooting only 45.5 percent for the season, St. Bonaventure's shooting, confidence and success has improved the last four games when the Bonnies shot 58, 60, 46 (but 53 in the second half) and 58 percent.
GW has lost nine of its last 13 games, yet Gimelstob and his players think the team's quality of play has improved. "It's just a few mistakes that have cost us," said Gracza. "We do have good talent. Everybody does. But not like West Virginia or Rutgers . . . We have to play good defense. We can't afford to let a guy drive the lane without stepping in to take the charge. We can't have mental lapses on defense and win."
Gimelstob's two biggest worries are 6-foot-3 St. Bonaventure guard Mark Jones, the conference scoring leader, and 6-8 Rob Garbade, whose play in the first two games was a barometer of his team's success. In the Bonnie victory, he had 16 points and 11 rebounds; in the GW victory, he had six points and eight rebounds. GW's Oscar Wilmington, who guarded Garbade in that game, recently underwent surgery on his right knee and is out for the season.
Satalin said his major defensive worries are keeping center Mike Brown and guard Wilbert Skipper in control. They are the only active Colonials averaging as many as three baskets per game.
In other Eastern Eight games tonight, Massachusetts is at regular season champion West Virginia, the winner facing the GW-St. Bonaventure winner; Rhode Island plays at Rutgers, and Duquesne is at Pittsburgh. The semifinals are Friday at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. The winner of Saturday's final gains an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.