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Previewing George Washington: NCAA-caliber team to visit the Rock on Saturday

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Fresh off their Paradise Jam title, Seton Hall will host an NCAA-caliber team in George Washington on Saturday.

Japanese freshman Yuta Watanabe (7.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has been a pleasant surprise for GW
Japanese freshman Yuta Watanabe (7.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has been a pleasant surprise for GW
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The first four games on Seton Hall's schedule have worked out well for them. Each team faced has generally been a tougher ask than the opponent before them: Mercer and Nevada were the weakest while Gardner-Webb was slightly better and Illinois State the best of the bunch. That pattern will continue on Saturday afternoon when the Hall (4-0), fresh off their Paradise Jam title, hosts George Washington (3-1) at Prudential Center.

GW took care of Rutgers at the RAC rather easily two weeks ago and was leading a ranked Virginia team by four at the half before being held to 16 second half points and losing 59-42, so this is a fairly talented and experienced team that looks poised to be in the NCAA discussion come March.

Scouting George Washington:

Picked second in the Atlantic 10, the Colonials essentially return four starters from their 24-9 (11-5) NCAA team a year ago. Small forward Patricio Garino (12 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.5 spg), 6-foot-10 center Kevin Larsen (10 ppg, 6 rpg), and do-everything point guard Joe McDonald (9.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.8 apg) are back as starters while guard Kethan Savage (13.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg) returns from a foot fracture that sidelined him for much of last season. Senior forward John Kopriva (7.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) enters the fold as starting power forward after seeing minutes off the bench last year.

Head coach Mike Lonergan doesn't go deep on his bench (286th in bench minutes), usually using six or seven players. He has received a major boost from 6-foot-8 Japanese freshman Yuta Watanabe, who is averaging a steady 7.8 ppg and 4.5 rpg thus far. Watanabe, who speaks little English, is a Patrik Auda-like forward that has a threatening jump shot: the freshman has shot better from three (6-13) than within the arc (5-18) over four games.

George Washington has a balanced attack with just one player scoring over 20 points in a game thus far. Outside of Watanabe (6-13) and shooting guard Nick Griffin (6-13), the Colonial's most used guard off the bench, GW is 10 of 48 from beyond the arc with no one else proving to be a threat. Their assist/field goals made ratio doesn't show it, but Lonergan's team likes to share the rock and has above average interior passing from their forwards.

GW's biggest strength is defense. The Colonials have allowed 40, 53, 59, and 66 points including 21 points in the first half of both the Rutgers and Virginia games. Garino and Savage are both pickpocket threats (18 steals combined) while McDonald has been adept at avoiding fouls.

Three things to watch for:

Will Angel Delgado bounce back? Although Illinois State center Reggie Lynch didn't have the best game, he disrupted Delgado on both ends of the court and as a result, the freshman had the first off night (1 pt, 7 rebs) of his young career. I'd argue that Angel's performance from the line (1-8) affected his game mentally, especially if he realizes opponents are going to foul him instead of defending.

Due to his versatility, Yuta Watanabe will likely be guarded by Brandon Mobley or Desi Rodriguez when he's in the game, but the combo of 6-foot-10 junior Kevin Larsen and 6-foot-8 senior John Kopriva look to be the tough opposition for Delgado in the post. George Washington plays at a decent pace (96th), but a slower half court game may pose a disadvantage for Delgado, Mobley, and Rashed Anthony in the paint.

Seton Hall's offense vs. George Washington's defense: What becomes of the Sterling Gibbs show? Yes, Sterling played phenomenally and yes, Seton Hall didn't have a ton of time to gameplan for Illinois State, but their overall offense didn't look great in the second half. Everything was running through Gibbs, even shots/plays that would normally considered ill-advised, which begs the question of how the Pirates will fare against the 29th-most efficient defense in the country with a week to prepare. Perhaps Isaiah Whitehead will inherit more of a point guard role as distribution is his strength right now and with Gibbs now a certified outside shooter.

There can't be too many complaints about Seton Hall's attack thus far, but only Illinois State ranked higher than 190th in defensive efficiency. The Hall's game plan shredded their 1-3-1 zone, but give the Redbirds credit for eventually switching to a man-to-man defense and then back to a zone to disrupt the Pirates' flow.

What will the home crowd look like? The Rock's lower bowl was only about one-third full for the season opener against Mercer, though an NFL Sunday is conveniently cited for lack of bodies in seats. The student section showed up, and the crowd was pretty vocal early and late, but this team has earned more support than what they saw against Mercer. If the fans don't show up on Saturday, what will it take them to do so?

KenPom says: No. 68 Seton Hall - 71, No. 59 George Washington - 68 (63%)

Projected George Washington starters:

PG - Joe McDonald

SG - Kethan Savage

SF - Patricio Garino

F - John Kopriva

C - Kevin Larsen

Time: 4pm, Saturday

TV: YES Network locally, FOX Sports Networks nationally

Radio: AM 970 WNYM

Opening line: Seton Hall -3.5