One game remains in the regular season, possibly in the entire season for George Washington. Late season slumps can have that affect, as can playing in a highly competitive and deep conference like the Atlantic 10.
Once the losses began mounting, the Colonials (12-16, 6-9) went from being in the contending mix to a position where even a victory Saturday against Dayton might not be enough for a berth in next week's Brooklyn-based conference tournament.
Only the top-12 teams will play at the Barclay's Center. George Washington, seeking its first trip to the main draw of the tournament since the 2006-07 season, currently sits in 13th place. The dream remains alive, but the closing stretch has been no pleasure.
"We wish we weren't in this position to win to make the tournament," Colonials head coach Mike Lonergan said. "A few weeks ago we were a game out of first place."
The Colonials are now a game behind a four-way tie for ninth between Dayton (17-12, 7-8), Charlotte, Richmond and St. Bonaventure. George Washington holds head-to-head tiebreakers over Charlotte and St. Bonaventure, but not so with Richmond. With a victory in their only game with the Flyers this season, the Colonials could finish with a seed as high as ninth or remain on the outside looking in depending on the other results.
On Feb. 6, the Colonials soundly defeated Duquesne, improving to 5-3 in conference play, just a game back of the A10 leaders. Next came Butler, one of those first place squads and likely NCAA Tournament teams the conference is packed with this season. The Colonials took the Bulldogs down to the wire before falling 59-56. They haven't stopped falling since, losing six of seven including the last four games.
George Washington has played three teams headed to the NCAA Tournament (Butler, VCU, Saint Louis) and possibly a fourth (LaSalle) in this scuffling stretch.
Lonergan has tried navigating the last four games without key senior guard Bryan Bynes, who suffered a season-sending right leg injury.
Trying to sort out the recent woes, Lonergan said, "A combination of things - we aren't playing as well, a guy having a great senior season gets hurt and is lost to injury, having to play a lot of the top teams in our league at the end of the year. it's frustrating, but it is what is. We have got to try and get a win tomorrow at home against a team that is pretty hot right now."
Led by guard Kevin Dillard, the Flyers have won three straight. Dillard, a fifth-year senior, leads Dayton in scoring (15.1) and assists (4.7). In Wednesday's 75-63 win over St. Bonaventure the 6-foot guard was even better than that, tallying 18 points with eight assists and five rebounds.
"He's definitely one of the best players and most underrated players in or league," Lonergan said. He's been playing great lately and that's why they're playing well now...We can't let Dillard have a monster game against us."
The top shooting team in the conference, Dayton picks up more backcourt experience comes from junior guard and ex-Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford (12.1 points).
Meanwhile without Bynes, the Colonials primary ball handlers are freshmen. During the current four-game slide, starter Joe McDonald has 16 points and 13 turnovers. After throwing his body into the fray on both ends of the court all season, wing guard Patricio Garino's production has dipped.
"Joe's been struggling lately, but I think that has to do a lot with Bynes," Lonergan said. "We were playing them a lot together which gave us an extra ball handler. Now Joe is the only ball handler we have on the court."
Inside the Colonials continue generating production. Leading scorer and rebounder Isaiah Armwood tallied 18 and 10 in Wednesday's loss at LaSalle and freshman center Kevin Larsen averaged 12.7 over his last three games.
Boldly starting four freshman as Lonergan has for most of the season figured to give the Colonials a jump-start on the 2013-14 campaign. For a while, it looked like the big picture plan might kick in a season early. It still might.