3 takeaways from George Washington’s upset of No. 6 Virginia

Well, we officially have our first upset of a top-10 team in the 2015-16 college basketball season.

No. 6 Virginia went down the road to Washington D.C. to take on George Washington and came away with a 73-68 loss. Mike Lonergan’s Colonials deserve an awful lot of credit in this one, as they continually pressed the action against the Cavaliers and simply out-executed what has been one of the best defenses in the country since coach Tony Bennett was hired back in 2010.

So how did this one go down? Here are three takeaways from the Colonials’ upset.

1. Virginia was uncharacteristically over-aggressive defensively, and the Colonials took advantage.

The 73 points that Virginia gave up were the most that the Cavaliers have allowed in regulation in nearly two years, since Tennessee dropped 87 on them on December 30, 2013. Yeah, we’re playing under a different set of rules this season, but the point total had more to do with the Wahoos struggling than it did with pace of play being increased.

Under Bennett, the Cavaliers’ defense has typically been one of the most disciplined in America, always staying with cutters and rarely being fooled by misdirection. However, in this one the Colonials hit backdoor cut plays that have rarely occurred over the course of the last few years. Fouls also added up, as the Wahoos were overly aggressive with armbars and hand-checks. That resulted in 28 free throws for the Colonials. Finally, the Cavaliers aggressively doubled in the post, but were a step slow almost every time and never really bothered a Colonial post player. Mike Tobey, in particular, struggled against all comers, as Tyler Cavanaugh and Kevin Larsen basically did whatever they wanted inside. It’ll be worth watching if that continues to be an issue this season, given that Tobey is replacing ACC Defensive Player of the Year Darion Atkins.

George Washington also deserves a ton of credit for its execution in this one. Particularly, Larsen was much better in the matchup this year than he was last year, taking advantage of every time that the Cavaliers doubled and continuously making the perfect crosscourt pass or weakside dump-off into the double. He ended up with nine points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Cavanaugh and Patricio Garino were also terrific, each scoring 18 points and combining to shoot 12-of-18 from the field. The floor was always perfectly spaced and they seemed to have an answer for everything Virginia did, and that’s a credit to Lonergan and his staff for coming in with a terrific game plan.

2. Virginia might have some issues scoring in the half court this season outside of Malcolm Brogdon.

Oh, boy. Where do we start? Brogdon was absolutely terrific in this one, scoring 27 points on 18 shots and dishing out four assists. He was the only consistent solution to a stagnant offense, as at about the three-minute mark in the first half he just decided to aggressively put the game on his shoulders. It’s hard to say that a player played a perfect game in a loss, but he was pretty darn close in the way het continually attacked and put pressure on what was a tough-to-crack Colonial defense.

However, there was precious little in the way of efficiency beyond him. Take Brogdon’s contributions out of the equation, and the Cavaliers shot 36 percent from the field, only got to the free throw line seven times, and really struggled to create any semblance of a threat in the half court. London Perrantes was a particular problem in this game, as the point guard wasn’t a threat to score, passed up on open shots, and also didn’t do a great job of creating for others. The team also only got nine points from its bench, which was fewer than the Colonials’ Paul Jorgensen poured in by himself.

Someone else beyond Brogdon is going to need to step up, be it Anthony Gill or Tobey inside, or Perrantes outside. Otherwise, this will be a consistent problem throughout the year.

3. George Washington might be a team to be reckoned with in the Atlantic-10.

If the Colonials bring the type of energy defensively and the type of execution offensively that we saw tonight, they have a legitimate chance to contend in the A-10 this year. Garino is an All-Atlantic-10 guy as a two-way player, and Cavanaugh is a bit of an X-factor inside that the team didn’t have last season. That, along with further depth makes them a strong opponent every night.

It’s also worth mentioning the league is clearly pretty ripe for the taking right now. Dayton has the uncertain situation with Dyshawn Pierre. Rhode Island is now missing E.C. Matthews for the rest of the season. Davidson will have to figure out how to replace A-10 Player of the Year Tyler Kalinoski. VCU has a new coach in town. There are just a lot of moving pieces in the league right now to the point where George Washington could become a threat if they can simply play steady, reliable basketball on both ends of the floor.

George Washington took it to No. 6 Virginia on Monday night. (USATSI)
George Washington took it to No. 6 Virginia on Monday night. (USATSI)

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