WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – George Mason and George Washington meet Saturday in Fairfax for the first time as conference rivals in the wake of the Patriots’ switch to the Atlantic 10 after 28 years in the Colonial Athletic Association.
That’s great news for local college basketball fans with Maryland poised to leave the ACC and its annual battles with Virginia and Virginia Tech. With no disrespect intended, American vs. Navy in the Patriot League just doesn’t deliver the same oomph as Terps vs. Cavaliers or, hopefully, Patriots vs. Colonials.
Maryland’s move to the Big Ten next season will give Washington area fans rooting interest in that league along with fellow power conferences the ACC, A-10 and Big East (Georgetown) as well as the lower-tier Patriot and Mid Eastern Athletic (Howard).
Trouble is, the area schools rarely play each other unless conference schedules dictate such contests. This season, GW beat Maryland at the buzzer in the BB&T Classic at Verizon Center. AU opened the season with a loss at Mason and beat Howard at Bender Arena. Navy fell at Virginia. That’s the entire list of non-mandated games.
Georgetown is the worst offender. Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas flew to Seoul to square off with Oregon. Here are the non-conference foes whom Georgetown welcomed to F Street: Wright State, Lipscomb, High Point, Colgate, Elon and Florida International. These games are supposed to interest Hoyas fans? Surely Howard, Navy and AU would be decent tune-ups for the more rugged competition in the Big East.
Contrast that pathetic list of visitors to the schools that Georgetown’s long-time arch-rival Syracuse – now banished from the schedule for the first time in 35 years – welcomed to the Carrier Dome this season: fellow upstate New York schools Binghamton, Colgate and Cornell as well as St. Francis of Brooklyn and former Big East foes St. John’s and Villanova. The Orange also invited two no-point cupcakes, Eastern Michigan and High Point, but Empire State fans should be content.
In fairness, Maryland’s non-conference home slate of Abilene Christian, Boston U, Florida Atlantic, North Carolina Central and Tulsa was almost as unappealing as Georgetown’s, but coach Mark Turgeon’s Terps did play Morgan State from Baltimore and Oregon State of the Pac-10.
Like JT III, GW’s Mike Lonergan is a Washington area native. And the Catholic graduate is pumped for the new rivalry with Mason.
“A lot of our students know each other,” Lonergan said. “I think it’s great for the area. It’s great for college basketball. I think all local teams should play each other. When I was at Catholic, I always appreciated [coaches] Ed Tapscott and Chris Knoche playing us when they were at AU. The same thing for Jim Phelan when he was at Mt. St. Mary’s. I’m excited that we’re playing Maryland and George Mason and I’d love to see Georgetown play us and Maryland as well.”
Paul Hewitt had no ties to the area before he became Mason’s coach in April 2011, but he’s a proponent of local rivalries.
“We played AU because we were both looking for a game,” Hewitt said. “I would love to play Maryland, Georgetown, any of the local schools, anything to promote college basketball in this area. I think it’s tremendous that we’re now in the same league with GW. It creates excitement among both fan bases. Some of our players have known each other since they’re 10-12 years old so they’re excited.”
Indeed, many local college players know each other from playground ball, AAU and high school competition, and from being teammates or foes in the Kenner League whose games, ironically, are played every summer at Georgetown’s McDonough Gymnasium.
“[Mason sophomore guard] Patrick Holloway is one of my best friends,” said GW sophomore guard Joe McDonald. “We played on the same team in the Kenner League. We’ve talked about it. I’m glad we played Maryland. I don’t know why we don’t ever play Georgetown. I’m hoping we will in future years.”
That’s up to the Hoyas. Unlike college football programs, many of whom already know their opponent in 2019, most college basketball programs schedule their non-conference foes on a year-by-year basis.
Patriots senior guard Bryon Allen and Colonials senior forward Isaiah Armwood competed against each other in high school and are looking forward to finally doing so again.
“It’s going to be good to bring back that rivalry with GW,” Allen said, recalling the victory over the Colonials when he was a freshman. “It’s going to be a battle. The Battle of the Orange Line, they’re calling it.”
Armwood played his first two seasons at Villanova. The Wildcats belong to Philadelphia’s Big Five, in addition to their Big East membership, meaning that they take on La Salle, Penn, St. Joe’s and Temple each winter in front of often-frenzied battles for local pride.
“I don’t know why we don’t have something like that here with us, Maryland, George Mason, American and Georgetown,” Armwood said. “We all know each other. We’re friends with each other. Our schools are right next to each other. Why not play each other? I know [junior guard Jabril Trawick] and a lot of the guys at Georgetown. I tell ‘em that we should play and they say, ‘It ain’t our call.’”
It’s not and that’s a damn shame for D.C. hoops.
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 four Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.
Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.