- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

They admit this is strange: The George Washington Colonials usually prepare for the Atlantic 10 tournament with a sense of urgency, knowing they need to capture the championship to reach the NCAA tournament.

Not after this dream regular season.

The sixth-ranked Colonials are coming off a record-demolishing regular season and simply are playing for pride and NCAA seeding when they begin competition in the A-10 tournament today against Temple.

GW went 16-0 in the league, posted the best regular-season record in college basketball and set a school record for wins with a 26-1 mark.

“It’s good to be us,” said forward Mike Hall, whose team is riding a program-record 18-game winning streak into U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. “We have done a lot, but at the same time, we have a lot to do. We have to approach this tournament like we need to win it to get into [the NCAA tournament] like everybody else.”

Only the Colonials aren’t like anybody else in the tournament. They are attempting to become only the second team in the league’s 30-year history — Temple was the other in the 1988-89 season — to go undefeated in league play and win the tournament.

In fact, if GW wins its second consecutive A-10 tournament title, it likely will be the only conference team in the NCAAs. That would mark the second consecutive season and the third time in five seasons the league had just one berth.

Meanwhile, GW might have a little wiggle room as it cements its NCAA seed heading into Selection Sunday.

“I think we are probably a four, maybe a three if we win the tournament” said GW athletic director Jack Kvancz, a former member of the NCAA tournament selection committee. “I base that on the teams on the top two lines [of seeds] on the board and what they have done. They will take into account Pops [Mensah-Bonsu’s] injury and our nonconference schedule.”

The Colonials’ spectacular record and A-10 supremacy will be countered by the effects of Mensah-Bonsu’s recent knee surgery and the program’s weak strength of schedule.

Mensah-Bonsu, an all-conference selection, was able to walk without crutches before the team bus left Foggy Bottom. The senior center missed the final three games of the regular season and will miss this tournament, but coach Karl Hobbs is “overly optimistic he will be able to play in the NCAA tournament.”

GW’s schedule ranks 203rd out of 334 Division I teams, according to collegerpi.com. The Colonials have an overall 22 RPI and are 1-1 against top-50 teams in the RPI, with a win over Maryland (47) and a loss to N.C. State (40).

Even though the Colonials have a high seed locked up, they are vulnerable this weekend. They have dominated the league but did so with close wins: They were taken to overtime by Saint Louis and Charlotte in Smith Center. The Colonials also needed strong comebacks against Xavier, Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts and La Salle.

“A lot of teams are capable of [pulling an upset],” said La Salle coach John Giannini, whose Explorers are the No. 3 seed. “They obviously will miss Pops a little bit. Their margin of error is not as big as it might have been earlier. It’s on a neutral court. That’s a factor. I very much think it is a wide-open tournament, while at the same time giving tremendous respect to a great George Washington team.”

The Colonials actually are down two players. Freshman forward Montrell McDonald has missed five games in serving an indefinite suspension for breaking team rules. Despite those losses, GW keeps winning.

GW needed a last-second 3-pointer from Maureece Rice to force overtime in Saturday’s 86-85 win over Charlotte and a putback by Carl Elliott with less than a second left in overtime to turn a demoralizing defeat into what Hobbs called “one of the greatest wins in school history.”

“I am pretty sure it is going to come down to a game similar to the one on Saturday,” said Hobbs, who says his shortened bench will be tested. “Much to what people like to say, there ain’t a whole lot of difference in talent between my team and these other teams. UMass comes in, and we barely pull that one out. That’s what makes it so amazing what these guys have accomplished.”

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