A frustrating season of unfulfilled expectations is expected to end Thursday for the George Washington University basketball team, when it plays St. Joseph's at 12:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament at Rutgers Athletic Center.
The Colonials (14-13, No. 6 seeding in the tournament) have had few breaks this season, which they began ranked as title cofavorites with Temple.
First, Max Blank, their prize recruit, never recovered from a knee injury incurred in an all-star game a year ago. So the top power forward Coach Gerry Gimelstob was going to pair with all-star center Mike Brown never materialized.
Then, Brown sprained a big toe in December and has hardly practiced since, although he missed only two games.
Last month, after a 64-40 loss at home to St. Joseph's, Gimelstob briefly suspended guards Troy Webster and Joe Dooley, a move that depleted morale and caused seven players to talk publicly -- but anonymously -- about team problems. GW lost six of its last nine games, although it closed relatively well, with a two-point loss to Temple before winning two of its final three.
And, after tying Rutgers and Massachusetts for fourth place, the Colonials lost a coin flip, so they have to play the hottest team in the league in the quarterfinals. St. Joseph's won 12 of its final 14 games, including 12-1 in the league, to secure third place. Included were 13- and 24-point victories over GW.
But Gimelstob is not willing to concede the Colonials will be home by nightfall. "We're capable of beating St. Joseph's," he said before practice today. "A lot depends on how well Mike Brown plays. We can't beat them without a big game out of him."
Although Brown was named to the all-conference first team this week, since his injury opposing teams have shown less respect for his offensive abilities, although he did score 40 points against Rutgers a month ago. After more recent games in which he scored only one field goal each against St. Joseph's and Temple, Brown is no longer the target of sagging zone defenses.
Two of the Colonials' final three opponents used a box-and-one, choosing to chase guard Joe Wassel, the deadliest three-point shooter in those pockets of college basketball that still use a three-point shooting line. West Virginia, in the final regular-season game, used a triangle-and-two, playing both GW guards man to man.
St. Joseph's gives George Washington significant problems. Rodney Blake, the Hawks' freshman center, can defend Brown by himself and, besides Georgetown's Patrick Ewing, may be the best shot blocker in the East. GW also has defensive matchup problems with all-league guard Maurice Martin, an Olympian, and forward Bob Lojewski.
West Virginia won the league with a 16-2 record, but has drawn little expert support for winning the tournament and automatic NCAA bid. Although Temple's Granger Hall and John Chaney are Atlantic 10 player and coach of the year, many figure the home court makes Rutgers the pick. The 1984 tournament was in Morgantown and West Virginia, after a 9-9 league season, won it.
In tonight's openers, St. Bonaventure beat Rhode Island, 60-55, and Duquesne eliminated Penn State, 78-64.
The Bonnies let a 53-43 lead dwindle to 54-53 and Rhode Island (13-15) with the ball, but intercepted Tom Garrick's pass and went on to win at the foul line. For the Dukes, Rick Suder scored 30 points and keyed a second-half rush against the Nittany Lions (8-19).