There are few things as underappreciated in college basketball as the art of scheduling, at least for good teams --- especially for those with only so much leverage to work with.
That's one way of describing George Washington, which built a brilliant slate for a veteran team for this particular season. It got Penn State, Rutgers and Seton Hall to come to the raucous Smith Center in December, and also returns a game to DePaul. All have some power conference pedigree. None are particularly dominant (though the Colonials lost to Penn State and Seton Hall last season).
But the jewel of the schedule was a visit from Virginia, the back end of a home-and-home coach Mike Lonergan acknowledges wasn't easy to come by. And Monday's 73-68 victory over the Cavaliers in a crammed building is only going to make it even trickier for George Washington to lure more quality teams to its home gym.
"We really have trouble scheduling," Lonergan said. "We work very hard, [director of basketball operations] Matt Lisiewski, myself and [athletic director Patrick] Nero. For them, that loss shouldn't hurt them if we do what we're supposed to do this year. We have to take advantage of those opportunities. We don't get them very often. Sure, I wish Maryland would play us or Georgetown would play us. I give all the credit. This guy will play."
"This guy" is Tony Bennett, whose Cavaliers have shown a willingness to play in a variety of settings as they've gotten better and better. Virginia opened 2012-13 at George Mason and last year at James Madison. It played a home-and-home with Virginia Commonwealth. It visited Wisconsin-Green Bay (Bennett's alma mater) and lost two seasons ago.
The number of high-major coaches willing to regularly risk such situations isn't particularly high, both for competitive and financial reasons. When the discussion is about playing a school with a track record of beating big-name programs, the willingness to take a gamble decreases even more.
In just the last three seasons, George Washington defeated Miami, Creighton, Rutgers (twice), Maryland, Georgia, DePaul, Colorado, Wichita State, Pittsburgh and Virginia. Not all of those teams from high-profile leagues are actually good (here's looking at you, Rutgers). The Colonials caught an apathetic Pitt team in the NIT. The Maryland of two years ago isn't as good as it is now.
But with that many notable triumphs, it's not accidental. And the Colonials' hope of getting Virginia to visit Foggy Bottom for the first time since 1983 in this particular year wasn't random, either.
Patricio Garino, who scored 18 points on an efficient night, is a senior. Point guard Joe McDonald? Also a senior. Center Kevin Larsen, whose passing was crucial to besting the Cavaliers' stingy defense? A senior as well. Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh, who matched Garino with 18 points, is a fourth-year junior.
In Lonergan's rebuilding project, this was the season George Washington was building toward. Monday doesn't completely silence some of the larger concerns about the Colonials (though reserve guard Paul Jorgensen turned in a stellar performance to provide some oomph off the bench), but it also functioned as a reminder of how dangerous this veteran team can be in the right circumstances.
"It's definitely memorable for life," Garino said. "I think beating ranked teams three years in a row is a big deal, but we're honestly not surprised."
Nope, and he shouldn't be. But getting Virginia (or an another nonconference team of its quality) to come to the Smith Center again anytime soon would qualify as increasingly unexpected after Monday.