NEW YORK -- George Washington coach Mike Lonergan thinks his team is one win away from locking up an at-large NCAA bid -- especially if the competition is a low mid-major conference team such as Monmouth.
After the Colonials beat Saint Louis 73-65 on Thursday to setup a third-round game at the Atlantic 10 Tournament against fourth-seeded St. Joseph's, Lonergan took a few minutes to lobby for his team and give his assessment of George Washington's postseason prospects.
"If we lose (Friday) we're going to the NIT. I have no problem saying that," Lonergan said. "If we win (Friday) I truly believe we'll be in the NCAA tournament."
The Colonials (23-9) finished fifth in the A-10 at 11-7, though in a 14-team conference not all schedules are equal. GW has notable nonconference victories against Virginia, Seton Hall, Tennessee and Penn State, and in conference the Colonials won at VCU and lost by seven at Dayton without their starting point guard.
"I think if you take the names off the top of the list and you do a blind taste test, if you look at the resume; Seton Hall was a top-three Big East team last time I looked. ACC, Virginia might be No. 1. Penn State is not a bad team, they beat a couple nationally ranked teams. VCU at VCU. St. Joe's would give us four top 50s. Even within our league if you look at some of the teams that everybody has locked in, some of them don't have four top-50 wins. "
George Washington does have losses to DePaul, one of the worst teams in the Big East, and Saint Louis (11-21).
Most bracket projections have Dayton solidly in the field of 68 no matter which team wins the A-10's automatic bid and VCU, St. Bonaventure and St. Joe's with good chances to receive at-large NCAA invitations. Lonergan said the Colonials should not have to win the A-10 Tournament to get in if it comes down to the Colonials or Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season champion Monmouth, with its entertaining bench players, or LSU, with star freshman Ben Simmons.
"Some of those other teams I see on the TV, they can't do anything else. They're done," he said. "I'll put our wins against Monmouth's wins any day of the week. They're a big story, but I truly believe if we do the right things here, whether we have to win one game or two, the people in that room (the selection committee) that know basketball, it's not going to be about who has the best player in the country or who has the bench, it's going to be about the deserving teams."
Monmouth beat some high-profile teams early in the season in UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown, though UCLA and Georgetown ended up having poor seasons. The Hawks also split with Southern California and lost at Dayton by three.
They won the MAAC, but also lost to Army, at Canisius and Manhattan and dropped two games to Iona, including the conference tournament championship game.
"We have not lost a game to a team from a one-bid conference all year. If we were in the Big East or ACC everybody would be talking about we lost to Dayton, we were up six with five minutes left and Joe McDonald didn't even make the trip, but nobody knows that," Lonergan said. "We're still fighting for respect just like our league is. I don't talk to the team about that but I laugh when people say we have to win the whole thing here to go to the NCAA tournament."
Against Saint Louis, Yuta Watanabe scored 19 points to lead George Washington and McDonald had 10 assists.
Jermaine Bishop scored 15 points to lead No. 13 seed Saint Louis, which fired coach Jim Crews after the game.
GW lost its only meeting with St Joe's 84-66 last month. The rematch could end up being a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament.
"I don't study it, but I think we're in great position," Lonergan said. "But none of that matters tomorrow."
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