- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

George Washington’s loss to Maryland-Baltimore County was a sign of things to come. Soon came a 68-36 defeat at Virginia Tech. GW also fell at Division I bottom feeder Binghamton and recently suffered a 36-point whooping to a less-than-menacing Alabama squad.

Owners of a 4-6 record, the Colonials are off to their worst start in 19 seasons. Coach Karl Hobbs knew he had an inexperienced team this season, and that was before starting point guard Travis King suffered a season-ending injury.

But the losses to previously inferior programs and the lack of competitiveness against major programs have been alarming.

“I kind of anticipated a little bit of what is happening but not to this degree,” said Hobbs, whose teams have averaged 24 wins a season and made the NCAA tournament the last three years. “I think we can play with a lot more effort. If you ask me what is the most disappointing thing, it would be the lack of a consistent effort and intensity. That has been a staple of the program. We have to re-establish those things.”

Since their embarrassment at Alabama on Dec. 29, the Colonials essentially have held a second preseason — complete with two-a-day practices. They hope to see improvement tonight when they open Atlantic 10 play at Smith Center against Saint Louis, led by former Utah coach Rick Majerus.

“It’s hard to deal with,” said senior Maureece Rice, who had to switch from his natural shooting guard spot to point with King out. “I have always been on a winning team. To lose like that definitely hurts. We were on TV [against Virginia Tech and Alabama], and everyone saw the games, and it was embarrassing. It never happened before.”

Although the Colonials lost three senior starters — most notably point guard Carl Elliott — they felt they had the ingredients to make another run at the NCAA tournament. Hobbs planned to count on several young players but rely heavily on the experience of Rice, King and junior forward Rob Diggs.

King played a total of one minute before being ruled out for the season with a fractured kneecap.

Diggs, who leads the Atlantic 10 with an 8.5-rebound average, has been one of the few bright spots.

But several factors have contributed to the losing.

The Colonials had their most difficult preconference schedule in Hobbs’ seven seasons with visits to UCLA, Virginia Tech and Alabama. And they have had some internal issues, including Rice’s one-game team suspension in the loss to UMBC.

Rice, the only senior who played a prominent role for last season’s A-10 tournament champions, was expected to lead the offense with King at point guard. Now, the Philadelphia native’s scoring has dipped while he runs the team. He is averaging 9.6 points while shooting 34.2 percent after putting up 15.8 points a contest and making 44.9 percent of his shots last season.

“The difficult transition for him is all of a sudden playing with so many young guys and guys not being in the spots they are supposed to be in,” Hobbs said. “He has had to make some adjustments as well. In some ways, it has taken away some of the effectiveness in what he does best, which is score.”

The Colonials are also a relatively new group. Six-foot-7 junior Wynton Witherspoon, who averages a team-high 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds, is in his first season after transferring from Virginia Tech. Cheyenne Moore, a 6-5 junior swingman, is at full strength after transferring from Clemson, sitting out the 2005-06 season and missing a chunk of last year with a stress fracture in his left tibia.

“We are at a place where we are searching for an identity a little bit,” said Hobbs, who has used six starting lineups. “The problem we have is getting five guys at the same time playing well. Everybody is up and down.”

And mostly down as Hobbs tries to implement his up-tempo, high-pressure attack with his best player out of position and a large group of unseasoned players in key roles.

The Colonials hope the extra practices will pay off in conference play, where they must improve drastically to be a factor in the greatly improved A-10. The league, which has been down for several seasons, now features No. 17 Dayton, No. 22 Rhode Island and No. 24 Xavier, while Massachusetts and Duquesne are also off to strong starts.

“The most important thing we have to learn is how to play with a certain level of intensity,” said Hobbs, who was upbeat after practice earlier this week. “That is going to make up for the missed shots. That is going to make up for not quite executing just right. Let’s see how we respond on Thursday. We have had 10 days off since we last played. Let’s see if we got any better.”

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