Virginia is a defense-first team and the Patriots should certainly remember that after the whooping they received in Charlottesville last season. Mason turned over the ball 20 times and allowed the Cavaliers numerous open looks behind the arch. It’s a much younger roster for UVA this season but they have a very talented class of freshmen, their best newcomer being 6-11 center Mike Tobey. The inside, outside combo of Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott are gone, so much like Mason this season they will be looking for new contributors on offense. Shooting guard Joe Harris is the team’s leading returning scorer but the instability in the team’s back court could hamper him in the early going, or so we can hope. Look to see who is guarding him as that will be the key match-up to watch.
Essentially the Cavaliers, picked to finish seventh in the ACC, are at their fourth option at point guard. This will force the team’s shooting guards to handle the ball more, no coach’s dream. That’s good news for Mason because Virginia doesn’t have an imposing front court and will still be relying on scoring from their guards. It would have been nice to have Erik Copes as an imposing figure in the middle for this one but oh well. Bryon Allen and Vertrail Vaughns will be the key in this game and they give Mason the edge in the back court. Sherrod Wright slashing from the wing is also something the Patriots will try to get going early to get their back court into foul trouble. They will try to speed up the pace of the game and Virginia will try to slow it down, I think Mason needs to win this battle in order to win.
The front court is a different situation, both teams have much different looks from last season and don’t return big time scorers in the post. If Jon Arledge, Johnny Williams and Marko Gujanicic can score early the Patriots night will be so much easier. I think this would help prevent turnovers and test how well the young Cavalier defenders are learning Tony Bennett’s scheme.
The Patriots’ scoring trio of Allen-Vaughns-Wright should be enough for them to start off the season with a win on Friday night. Marko and Anali could be major x-factors though as both will see added minutes due to the suspensions. I think Mason has the firepower to overwhelm the short-handed Cavaliers but they will have to be smart on both ends of the court. A low scoring game does not favor the Patriots in this one
What could doom them however, is turnovers and that’s why Bryon Allen being 100% is very important. Corey Edwards will play a lot this season but he still needs to earn his stripes in terms of protecting the ball and defending the perimeter. It was a little scary watching him defend against Division II Bowie State players two weeks ago. Another issue the Patriots could run into is if the Cavaliers’ defense forces Mason into a half court offense. We don’t want to see this team being forced into settling for long jumpers or throwing some ill-advised passes into the post out of desperation.
Kenpom prediction: GMU 61 UVA 60 (55% chance)
Here’s my guess at the probable starting lineup:
Bryon Allen – Is said to be back to full strength
Vertrail Vaughns – Only returning player from last season who started every game
Sherrod Wright – Might still be in the doghouse with the coaching staff, but he’s the team’s best player and needs to start
Anali Okoloji – This is where Copes being unavailable affects the lineup. AO can play the 3 or 4 in my opinion but can he guard other 4s? Hewitt’s high on him and I think he starts again with Marko Gujanicic getting a lot of minutes as well.
Jonathan Arledge – I’m certain Arledge starts, the only question is whether it will be with AO or with J2. Ideally you’d rather have Arledge at the 4, but J2 isn’t as good a defender in the post. Marko played some at this spot in the exhibition and I wouldn’t be surprised if did again Friday night.
Pregame discussion can be found here
[Photo by John Powell]