It’s been 5 years since George Mason shocked the world and made a run to the Final Four as an 11 seed. Since then they have made the NCAA tournament only once, a first round loss to Notre Dame in 2008.
There is no one left, except coach Jim Larranaga, from that 2006 team, and only two remaining players from the 2008 tournament team.
Whats the point? There are not many similarities between Cinderella George Mason of 2006 and this years team, other than the name on the front of the jersey.
The Patriots, an at-large 9 seed this year, and regular season champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, are led by 6’4 senior guard Cam Long and 6’6 junior forward Ryan Pearson.
Long averages 15.3 ppg and shoots the ball extremely well from the field for a guard, at 48% and almost 43% from three. Pearson is the most versatile player on the floor for the Patriots. At 6’6 he leads the team in rebounding at 6.8 rpg to go along with his 14.4 ppg. The junior swingman also shoots the ball at a high percentage from the floor (52.3%) and can step out and hit the three when needed (39.5%).
They are a young bunch, with only 2 seniors (Long and 6’4 guard Isaiah Tate), who are the only players with any tournament experience.
To go along with their inexperience, George Mason is also small. At 6’9, junior Mike Morrison is the only player taller than 6’6 that sees consistent playing time.
The Patriots combat their lack of size with shooting. As a team they shoot close to 40% from three and are ranked 14th in the country in points per possession. Thy are also the 16th ranked team in the nation in offensive efficiency, so look for George Mason to take care of the ball and move it well to get open looks.
Mason comes into the tournament with an RPI of 27, but a strength of schedule of over 100. Their best wins of the year are Old Dominion (who they also lost to), Harvard (which was the first game of the year), Duquesne, and VCU (who also blew them out in the CAA tournament). Simply stated, they haven’t beaten anybody.
Because of their lack of schedule, much of George Mason is unknown. One can not decipher whether or not they are a formidable opponent simply by looking at their schedule and seeing who they beat and who they lost to. However, contrary to Villanova, the Patriots are coming into the tournament hot. Prior to the semi-final loss to VCU in the CAA tournament, Mason had won 16 in a row. Had they not lost that game and won the conference tournament, they would probably be looking at a much higher seed than an 8, so it is important Villanova take the Patriots very seriously. That being said, I give you the keys to victory for the Wildcats.
1. Defend the three point line
George Mason comes into the game shooting 40% from three as a team and can send shooter after shooter into the game off the bench. Team defense must be the key for Villanova, as bigs Mouph Yarou, Antonio Pena, and Isiah Armwood will be forced to guard smaller guys. Getting through screens, switching, helping, and closing out will be paramount if Villanova wants to contain the Patriots from beyond the arc. Anything near to the defense they played against Notre Dame, when the Irish made a school record 20 three’s, and Villanova will be going home early.
Villanova can play the best defense possible against the Patriots for 35 seconds, but if they do not get the defensive rebound, you’re giving a good shooting team another shot. The Wildcats will be considerably bigger than the Patriots, so the aforementioned bigmen for Villanova must dominate the paint and win the rebounding battle. Some offensive rebounds and more possessions for a team struggling with it’s shot wouldn’t hurt the Wildcats either.
3. Get out to an early lead
The NCAA tournament is as pressure packed as it gets for 18-21 year old men. Add in the fact that you have lost 10 out of your last 15 games and have seemingly forgotten how to play the game, and that’s enough to make a player crumble. If Villanova can make shots early and control the pace and tempo of the game, it will ease the tension and force GMU to play catchup, rather than control the ball and find open shooters.
4. Attack! Attack! Attack!
Villanova has good shooters on their team, but they shoot way too many three pointers. They are at their best when Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns are getting into the lane and onto the free throw line. This opens up the game for Corey Stokes from the outside, who is automatic if open and in rhythm. George Mason is not a deep team. They only have 6 players who average double-digits in minutes, so if the guards can attack the rim and get to the line, they could get the Patriots in foul trouble early. If Wayns and Fisher are getting to the hoop early, it will open up the entire rest of the floor and spell great news for the Wildcats for the rest of the game.
Villanova is led by 3 seniors (Fisher, Stokes, and Pena), who have played in 10 NCAA tournament games, 2 Sweet 16′s, and a Final Four. George Mason has two players who have played in one tournament game each. The Wildcats have been here before. They must play like the better, more experienced team. Play as if they were expected to win (although they are a one point underdog). The seniors have one last chance to salvage their season, they must play like it.
The last time these two teams met was in the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic in 2009. Villanova beat George Mason 69-68 on a three pointer by Isiah Armwood with 13 seconds left in the game.
In 2006, had Villanova beaten eventual champion Florida in the Elite Eight, they would have faced the Patriots in the Final Four.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.