Georgetown (6-2) has lost to Northeastern — and to No. 15 Oregon — and barely got past Colgate at home. Maryland and George Mason are both just 5-4. Navy is 5-3 but has lost to St. Francis (Pa.) and Towson. American and Howard have losing records.
So the start of the college basketball season hasn’t been superb in the area except at George Washington. At 8-1, the Colonials are off to their best since 2005-06, the season that Mason usurped them to become the DMV’s No. 3 program.
“We’re fighting for respect,” said GW coach Mike Lonergan, which upset then-No. 20 Creighton and All-American Doug McDermott 10 days ago and edged Maryland 77-75 on Maurice Creek’s jumper at the buzzer on Sunday. “Beating Creighton means more nationally, but beating Maryland meant more for our program’s credibility locally. And it meant a lot to me because I grew up [in Bowie] as a Maryland fan and I coached there [as an assistant in 2004-05 between his head coaching tenures at Division III Catholic and at Vermont].”
GW, whose only loss was to then-No. 25 Marquette, is the area’s only program to receive Top 25 votes this week.
“Things are going great,” said Lonergan, who was just 23-38 the past two seasons after succeeding the fired Karl Hobbs. “We’re pretty unselfish. We’re sharing the basketball, playing pretty well.”
There’s no doubt about that. Creek, a graduate student transfer from Indiana, has taken 94 shots. Big men Isaiah Armwood – who shut down McDermott — and Kevin Larsen and sophomore guard Kethan Savage have taken 84, 70 and 77, respectively. Sophomore point guard Joe McDonald is averaging 5.0 assists. All the starters except McDonald are shooting at least 48 percent and averaging at least 9.4 points. That’s pretty impressive for the Atlantic 10’s worst shooting team of 2012-13.
Savage, who shot just .405 last year, is hitting a sizzling .558 while filling in for injured ace defender Patricio Garino, a sophomore who figures to be the sixth man when he returns on Dec. 21 against UMBC.
“Kethan’s not trying to be a jump-shooter anymore,” Lonergan. “He’s taking the ball to the basket which is his strength.”
While Armwood, who transferred from Villanova in 2011, and Creek began their college basketball careers in 2009, no one elese who plays much is older than a sophomore so the Colonials don’t have much experience. That was evident as they lost a 68-54 advantage over the Terps with just 5:17 remaining after blowing leads against Creighton and defending ACC champion Miami before rallying to win.
“We lost our composure against Maryland’s press, but now we have guys who can make a play at the end,” Lonergan said. “Last year, the freshmen weren’t ready and we didn’t have a wing player like Mo. He can really shoot and he’s got so much confidence.”
The Colonials’ confidence is soaring so Lonergan is glad in retrospect that the lead against Maryland dissipated because it got his players’ attention in practice the next day.
“I don’t want us getting full of ourselves because our schedule doesn’t get any easier,” said Lonergan, noting that tonight’s visitor to Smith Center, Boston University, is favored to win the Patriot League, and that GW has to visit Kansas State on New Year’s Eve before beginning its rigorous A-10 competition at 2013 Sweet 16 participant LaSalle. “Our league is really good. We had five [NCAA Tournament] bids last year. We lost Xavier and Butler [to the revamped Big East Conference], but St. Louis, VCU and UMass are really good. We want to be in the mix for an at-large bid if we don’t win the A-10 Tournament.”
Winning the A-10, which doesn’t have a team below .500, might be a bridge too far for GW, which hasn’t made the NCAAs since 2007, the year that Georgetown was the area’s last Final Four qualifier. However, the Colonials are certainly back in the mix locally.
“We’re just trying to put the program back on the map,” said Lonergan, along with Howard’s Kevin Nickelberry, the only area coaches with local roots. “It’s hard to overcome the Maryland-Georgetown thing, but I think [recruits] will be more interested in us now.”
As they should be.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.