NEW YORK — George Washington is five seasons removed from its last NCAA tournament appearance.
It tied for fourth in the Atlantic 10 just last winter. It returns four starters from a 17-14 team.
Of course, the Colonials only defeated three teams that finished with winning records and changed coaches, swapping out Karl Hobbs and bringing former Catholic coach Mike Lonergan back to the District.
It adds up to midpack prospects for George Washington, which was picked to finish eighth in the 14-team Atlantic 10.
“You might be walking around saying ‘We won 17 games,’ but I told them ‘Wait til you see the polls and you’ll see what people really think of you,” Lonergan said Thursday at the conference’s media day in Brooklyn. “A lot of what you do is based on what you do at the end of the season, and we haven’t done a whole lot lately. … I think we have a lot to prove, and I’m excited about that.”
Xavier was tabbed as the preseason favorite, with guard Tu Holloway named the preseason player of the year. Richmond - which reached the NCAA regional semifinals last season — was picked fifth.
Colonials guard Tony Taylor, who averaged 15 points a year ago, was voted to the preseason all-conference first team and is one of several pieces who could allow George Washington to emerge as a factor in the conference race if depth issues Lonergan is wary of do not surface.
George Washington also returns Lasan Kromah, who averaged 11.8 points as a freshman in 2009-10 but missed all of last season with a foot injury. Paired with Taylor, he could help form one of the A-10’s top backcourts.
“I can assure you he’s got some really talented players,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “They’re going to be a player in this race, probably sooner rather than later.”
That would help more than just Lonergan, who played at Catholic and was hired away from Vermont after winning 126 games in six seasons. The Colonials were a regular contender in the Atlantic 10 from 2004 to 2007, but their national relevance cratered shortly thereafter. No one on George Washington’s roster has won an A-10 tournament game, a fact Lonergan said he’s mentioned to his team.
“He certainly has some cards in his deck,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “I think if the league can be healthy in D.C., if the league can be healthy in Philadelphia and if the league can be healthy in New York, then we truly are in the basketball psyche on the East Coast, and that’s what we really need to be about.”
Such vibrance is important in the big picture for a conference that offered a strong portrayal of itself just two subway stops away from the Barclays Center, where the league will conduct its tournament starting in 2013.
Lonergan, meanwhile, figures his biggest task is improving the Colonials’ profile in their backyard.
“I think we have to get back on track on us in D.C. because we need to get back to getting the respect of local recruits,” Lonergan said. “Like everything, it’s what have you done lately?”
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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