A-10 favorites undermining themselves
Last Wednesday, George Washington players sat down with ESPN.com in Washington, D.C., and talked about how the Colonials are on the verge of a special season.
That story line hasn't changed, but the Colonials came dangerously close a night later to possibly ruining their season before it begins when three of them were at a local bar where a fight broke out. The campus newspaper, the GW Hatchet, reported Monday that the bar's manager wants criminal charges filed against the players, but as of Wednesday afternoon, no charges had yet been filed. Colonials coach Karl Hobbs said he would deal with the issue internally.
During the same week, Xavier junior guard Dedrick Finn, the team's top returning scorer, was foolish enough to run afoul of head coach Sean Miller -- so much so that he wasn't with the team Wednesday when it left for a weekend trip to the Bahamas. Finn was suspended from the team indefinitely, although Miller is hopeful he will get his act together in time to join the Musketeers later this month. He expects Finn will miss the first two weeks of practice, in addition to the aforementioned trip to the Atlantis Hotel in Nassau.
George Washington and Xavier are the clear-cut favorites in the Atlantic 10. The Colonials could make a case for a preseason Top-25 spot. The Musketeers have the potential to be right on their heels.
How could these students be so careless?
Maturity, or the lack thereof, is the easy answer.
Finn no longer has the crutch of Romain Sato, Anthony Myles or Lionel Chalmers to hide behind, and Miller isn't going to put up with Finn not abiding by his rules and disrupting the team's chemistry.
Miller said the decision to suspend Finn was his alone, adding that the guard wasn't in trouble with the law or school policy. He's hoping that by laying down the heavy hand, he can get Finn's attention. Xavier was 10-9 at one point last season before Chalmers and Sato got the team turned around. The Musketeers shelved their chemistry issues and got together for an Elite Eight run. They don't want to go through that process again.
Miller made a tough choice in declining to take his highest-profile returnee on the weekend trip. Xavier already couldn't take Nigerian Churchill Odia, who will likely be the other starting guard, because of visa concerns. That means newcomer guard Dupree Lucas and Stanley Burrell will get the minutes in the backcourt and, if either one plays well enough during the trip and the ensuing practices when they return to Cincinnati, then Miller has that to hang over Finn's head, too. Ultimately, he needs Finn to be on the same page for the Musketeers to have an A-10 title run.
While Finn's attitude has been a downer for the Musketeers, the play of Vanderbilt transfer Brian Thornton, who couldn't practice last season because of tendinitis, has been a pleasant surprise. Thornton, Justin Doellman and Justin Cage are all quality forwards who could cause plenty of matchup problems with their ability to shoot from mid-range and out.
Xavier's 10 practices thus far were spirited and filled with energy. Miller had a chance to see how his six new faces would get through rigorous practices. He couldn't be more pleased with the way it turned out, save Finn.
GW's Hobbs shares a similar disappointment in his players' choices last week. He doesn't fault the three players -- J.R. Pinnock, Carl Elliott and Pops Mensah-Bonsu -- for going to an establishment last Thursday night that was filled with college students. But the key is when a fight breaks out, whether they were the target or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, then the right option is to walk. GW can't afford any off-court issues, not this year, not when the Colonials have done a good job of making believers of administrators on campus. This team has fans up and down the administration, but can't afford to trash that with one night of poor judgment.
Hobbs will discipline the players internally for their judgment, according to GW athletic director Jack Kvancz. The university is conducting its own investigation but doesn't expect there to be any more penalties.
The Colonials, like most college teams, have a simple rule: never go out by yourself, and if a volatile situation arises, then the players are supposed to grab their teammate(s) and leave, avoiding confrontation. Regardless of who started what at a bar, on the street, or wherever, they are supposed to walk away.
Learning this lesson now without criminal charges is a lucky move for the Colonials. They are on the doorstep of a fantastic season. They can't afford to let anything off the court derail them from that -- whether it's October or February or March.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.