Three local teams are in Sunday's BB&T Classic. Only one received any votes in the latest AP college basketball poll. The same squad has only one loss this season and the only victory among the trio over a ranked opponent. Factor in George Washington's previous success against Maryland and there are plenty of reasons to project the Colonials over the Terps in this year's event.
Whether Mike Lonergan's team is healthy enough to knock off their fourth power conference program within the last two weeks is the question.
The Colonials (7-1) and Terps (5-3) matchup for the 68th time and first since 2008 in the second game of the BB&T's doubleheader at the Verizon Center [TV- MASN]. George Mason (5-3) and Oklahoma (7-1) tip-off at 1 p.m.
Led by shot blocking forward Isaiah Armwood (14.4 ppg, 2.8 bpg) and wing guard Maurice Creek (15.3 ppg), GW is already more than halfway to matching last season's 13 total wins. Credit the combination of significantly improved 3-point shooting -- 13th nationally at 43.2 percent -- plus production inside from former Montrose Christian products Armwood and Kevin Larsen.
Facing the Terps offers challenges, especially without guard Patricio Garino. An ideal wing defender to get after Maryland's Dez Wells, the Manu Ginobili disciple is out with a finger injury.
The task's degree of difficulty increases several notches if fellow sophomore Joe McDonald (Landon) also cannot play. The starting point guard (4.5 assists) suffered a hip injury late in Wednesday's win over Rutgers and remains a game-time decision, Lonergan told CSN. Maryland has played all season with starting point guard Seth Allen (broken foot).
The test however will not involve any kind of step up in competition for the Colonials. During Thanksgiving Week at the Wooden Legacy in Southern California, George Washington defeated Miami (Fl.) and No. 20 Creighton while falling to No. 25 Marquette. The Colonials faced a fourth straight power conference opponent on Wednesday in 93-87 win over Rutgers at the Smith Center.
"We're happy where we are," Lonergan said after his team shot 53 percent from the field and scored 40 points in the paint against the Scarlet Knights. "We've got a long ways to go, that's for sure, but I really like our team. I think they really like each other. I think we have good chemistry."
One oddity with Sunday's matchup that in terms of an NCAA profile, this game now means more to the ACC program than the team projected 10th in the A-10 preseason poll.
Though Maryland claimed the Paradise Jam championship, none of three wins likely moves the résumé come bracket selection time. After losing to Connecticut in their season opener, to Oregon State at home and by 16 at Ohio State on Wednesday, GW stands as the Terps best opportunity for a notable non-conference win among its remaining games.
No doubt the matchup also means plenty for the Foggy Bottom program not to mention the coach who grew up in the area and served as an assistant during the 2004-05 season at Maryland under former coach Gary Williams.
"It's definitely a big game and we're excited about it," Lonergan said. "GW definitely has a proud a tradition in the BB&T."
Much of that proud tradition involves taking on and down Maryland.
Prior to defeating Creighton, George Washington's last win over a ranked foe came against No. 21 Maryland in 2005. The previous win over a top 20 team also came versus the Terps in 2004 with Lonergan on the Maryland bench. The Terps lead the BB&T portion of the series 5-4.
"We beat a good Manhattan team last year that played in the championship in their conference," said Lonergan, referencing the Colonials previous BB&T victory. "But it's the not the same for our fans or the area. I think it's great for local teams to play each other. ...We're hoping we're going to be healthy and it will be a good game."
The Colonials have played enough good games, including a 44-point victory over Delaware State and double digit triumphs over Radford and Maine, to warrant one AP top 25 vote three straight weeks.
"At first it was like, 'hey, this is kind of cool to get votes.'" Lonergan said. "Now, with the schedule we've played - I'm not saying we're top 25, but hopefully we're to 50, in the mix."
With a win Sunday, the Colonials even up their BB&T history with Maryland - and take one-step closer to staking a claim to being the area's best team.