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Preview: men’s basketball vs. VCU

Senior guard Joe McDonald exits the court at the Siegel Center after GW's win against VCU on Feb. 6. The rematch takes place in Foggy Bottom Saturday afternoon. Hatchet File Photo.
Senior guard Joe McDonald exits the court at the Siegel Center after GW’s win against VCU on Feb. 6. The rematch takes place in Foggy Bottom Saturday afternoon. Hatchet File Photo.
What: Men’s basketball (21-7, 10-5 A-10) vs. VCU (20-8, 12-3 A-10)
Where: The Smith Center, Washington, DC, NBCSN (TV)
When: Saturday, Feb. 27, 12:30 p.m.

With only three games (gasp!) left in the regular season, the Colonials welcome a VCU team looking for revenge to the Smith Center Saturday afternoon.

The Rams come to Foggy Bottom fresh off one of their worst losses of the year, a 76-69 result at George Mason, and still sore after the Colonials took one in Richmond, 72-69, on Feb. 6. A win for GW would mean a season-sweep of the current league leaders (VCU is in a three-way tie for first) and another quality win to add to the team’s NCAA resume.

Here’s what to expect from the game:

The Case for the Colonials:

Earlier this month in Richmond, Patricio Garino was the key to GW’s big win in the Siegel Center, scoring a career-high 27 points. Though the senior forward may not have another personal-best night, VCU is a good matchup for Garino. The Rams pressure-based defense creates driving lanes that Garino can exploit, and his three-point shooting is so good that sinking off him isn’t a good option either.

“That’s where he’s really good, when he can get that right hand dribble going to the rim,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

If Garino can get going to the rim, VCU’s perimeter guys will need interior help from their bigs, which could distract them from focusing on their individual matchups and make them vulnerable to foul trouble. Fouls were a huge part of VCU’s loss to George Mason (the Patriots were outscored from the field but made 22-of-37 shots from the charity stripe and VCU point guard JeQuan Lewis fouled out after scoring only three points) and the Colonials have made more free throws this year than any other team in the Atlantic 10 conference.

If VCU’s forwards, particularly Mo Alie-Cox, are worried about foul trouble or stopping drives, that should open up space for the Colonials on the inside. GW won at VCU while losing the rebounding battle, which Lonergan said he didn’t expect, and it seems unlikely that will happen twice.

Kevin Larsen has been playing well lately – Lonergan called him the most consistent guy in the last 10 games – and posting up closer to the basket. VCU, a team that starts four guards, should be a good opportunity for Larsen and Tyler Cavanaugh to assert themselves at home, particularly while players like 6-foot-9 junior forward Ahmed Hamdy aren’t in the game with Alie-Cox.

The Case for the Rams:

The Rams come into the game with their backs against a wall and should be extremely motivated.

That motivation has been clear from Melvin Johnson, who scored 24 points as one of two players in double-figures at George Mason. Garino will take Johnson and, while he’s the right matchup for the Colonials to put on the senior guard, who has the green light to shoot from 25-feet, he’ll have to be focused on both ends of the floor while being asked to do a lot.

Lewis should also be motivated to have a bounce-back game, and the Colonials will need Joe McDonald to stay aggressive. Lonergan said he’s been asking McDonald to score more and has seen an improvement in McDonald’s offense, but that there have been times when he’s felt GW was getting outplayed at the one. That will be critical against Lewis, who’s expanded his game to be both a scoring and passing threat in his third year.

The Bottom Line: This game should be a dog fight in a packed Smith Center. Both teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, and with the Rams angry from their losses the Colonials will have to feed off the energy of the crowd to match them.

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