- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

George Washington’s season effectively begins tonight.

The 12th-ranked Colonials cruised through an early season schedule laden with college basketball’s lower class. They have their highest ranking in 49 seasons and an 8-0 record that includes wins against the likes of Kennesaw State, St. Francis (Pa.), Morgan State, Florida International and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Tonight, they will play their first game of the season out of the area by visiting No. 19 N.C. State, the only opponent on GW’s schedule that participated in last season’s NCAA tournament. Next, they will begin their Atlantic 10 conference schedule at Temple on Jan. 13.

“You can look at it and appreciate it,” GW center Pops Mensah-Bonsu of the ranking. “Then again, we still have to play like the No. 12 team. Coach [Karl] Hobbs said he wanted to legitimize our season and our team. If we go down here and be successful, it would help.”

The Colonials passed their only real test of the season by defeating 16th-ranked Maryland 78-70 in the BB&T; Classic at MCI Center. Tonight will be GW’s second true road game after a visit to winless Morgan State. This contest could loom large if GW finds itself on the NCAA tournament bubble and could be particularly significant because the Colonials won’t play another team currently ranked in the Top 25.

“It can set the tone for us,” said GW coach Karl Hobbs, whose team has had 12 days off since its win over Maryland-Eastern Shore. “I truly believe our program is overachieving a tad bit when you look at the big picture. But hopefully we can continue to overachieve.”

The Colonials will get a boost as Regis Koundjia becomes eligible after sitting out a year after transferring from LSU. The 6-foot-8 Koundjia — a top-25 recruit out of high school — started 20 games as a freshman at LSU. Hobbs has said the junior from the Central African Republic could be the team’s most-talented player and expects him to go on to the NBA.

The Wolfpack (10-1) will test the Colonials with the Princeton offense designed to lull defenses to sleep and result in backdoor layups. N.C. State would love to see a low-scoring, halfcourt game, which would limit GW’s greatest strength — its transition game.

“It will be good to see how we handle it,” said Mensah-Bonsu, who is averaging 12 points, 7.8 rebounds and three blocks. “This will show how far we have come as a team and how much we have grown. I think it will show our experience and maturity level. I am curious to see.”

Koundjia adds one more weapon off the bench on an already-powerful and deep unit. GW is the nation’s eighth-leading scoring team at 84.4 points and third in field goal percentage at 52.1. The Colonials have five players averaging in double figures, led by Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock at 15.8 points.

In contrast, N.C. State (10-1) leads among the best defense teams in the country, holding opponents to 35.7 percent shooting and 58.2 points.

“This game will be a contrast of styles,” Hobbs said. “They want to be deliberate, run their offense and force us into a half-court game. We want to run.”

The Colonials feel they have an idea what they are in for having faced West Virginia in Morgantown last season. John Beilein’s Mountaineers also run the Princeton offense and prefer low-scoring, grind-it-out contests.

“We just have to stay solid on defense, don’t gamble and stay in position,” said GW forward Mike Hall, who averages 14.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.

“We just look at it as a challenge to go into the ACC and validate that we are a good team. We are not really into the rankings. We just want to show we can play with anybody and have that carry over into March.”

Notes — GW forward Omar Williams will play. There was some question whether he might face a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during a scuffle in the game against Maryland-Eastern Shore. … The game was originally scheduled for tomorrow at noon but was changed to allow N.C. State fans to attend the basketball contest and N.C. State’s bowl game. The football team plays South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Charlotte, N.C.

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