There's a race to make the tournament unfolding this month at George Washington.
It just so happens to be the Atlantic 10 tournament.
After spending the first half of the conference schedule in the league's ginormous jumble, the Colonials drifted toward the bottom last week with two losses earned in dramatically different ways.
Whether its defense was impressive (in a loss to Xavier) or often absent (in a setback against Massachusetts), the outcomes remained the same for GW. And now the Colonials (8-15, 3-6 Atlantic 10) find themselves on the road for three of the next four.
GW is in a three-way tie with Charlotte and Richmond for 10th in the 14-team league, where only a dozen schools advance to the conference tournament. The two teams on the outside — Fordham and Rhode Island — sit only a game behind the Colonials.
The Colonials hold tiebreakers over Charlotte, Rhode Island and Richmond at the moment (they still have road games this month against Charlotte and Richmond), while Fordham has a tiebreaker over GW thanks to a win last month in New York.
George Washington has reached the conference tournament the past two seasons, losing in the opening round both times. The Colonials have not won an A-10 tournament game since 2007.
"My only goal is to make the [Atlantic 10] tournament, and we're not going to make it unless we win a couple games," said coach Mike Lonergan, whose team visits league leader Temple (17-5, 6-2) on Wednesday and then travels to Richmond on Saturday.
There's little question what the Colonials must emphasize going forward. The flaws of their shallow roster were evident in Saturday's 86-75 loss to Massachusetts.
George Washington trailed by five at the half and could never close within a possession as the Minutemen shot 60 percent from the floor after the break.
"Defense," senior Tony Taylor said of the primary culprit of the Colonials' latest loss. "We would come down and get a quick score, and they'd come down and hit a quick 3. Or we'd turn the ball over, and they'll get an easy dunk."
The most welcome sign for GW is Taylor's increased assertiveness. The point guard paced the Colonials in scoring in the past three games, the first time he's done that since November. But while he's averaged 21 points in those games, his teammates have remained inconsistent.
Supporting scorers Lasan Kromah and Nemanja Mikic reached double figures against Xavier. They combined for 12 points in a much more up-tempo contest against Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Dwayne Smith scored 16 points Saturday after two quiet outings.
Then there are team-wide issues. The Colonials sizzled from outside but couldn't make free throws against Xavier, then reversed both situations against Massachusetts.
"We're inconsistent in every area," Lonergan said. "It's, what, Feb. 6 and I'm still trying to figure out who to start."
As flustered as Lonergan undoubtedly is, he's still hopeful based on what he sees every day the Colonials can regroup.
After all, GW still has a shot to make the conference tournament.
"Guys listen in practice, and we practice pretty well," said Lonergan, whose team is 1-10 when allowing more than 65 points. "It's not like we're going through the motions. Guys come out every day with energy. We just have one or two guys who just aren't ready to play for whatever reason [on a given night]."
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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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