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George Mason is in St. Thomas for the Paradise Jam tournament and will have an opportunity to pick up more quality non-conference wins. Their first opponent is Mercer and a win against them will most likely get them a game with New Mexico in the next round. You will also notice that a re-match of George Mason-UConn is a possibility as well. Mason missed a chance to take advantage of an early season tournament last year when they lost to Florida International in the opening round of the NIT Tip-off. As a result they played a bunch of RPI-killers instead of Virginia Tech and other BCS teams. Fellow CAA member Delaware is capitalizing on the NIT right now as a matter of fact. I imagine the Patriots are looking to avenge that loss from last season and seize the opportunity at hand this weekend in St. Thomas.
In the opening round on Friday afternoon the Patriots face a team that hasn’t played a Division I opponent yet. Mercer started off their schedule playing two Division III opponents, so Mason will have the edge being much more battle tested coming into this game. They return a lot of talent from last year’s team that won 27 games and were CIT champs. However, their returning leading scorer and starting point guard Langston Hall is most likely out with an ankle injury. They have some good shooters in the back court even with Hall’s absence and some size up front. No excellent post players but Mason’s front court will have to careful not to get into foul trouble again like they did against Bucknell.
After this tournament will have a much better understanding of how much this team has improved from last year. Their new aggressive style of defense will be tested and it will be interesting to watch what Hewitt does when Erik Copes and Vaughn Gray return. I think the Patriots are talented and hungry enough to have success in this tournament but there are still a few question marks heading in.
Get to the free-throw line more. I know that Mason is currently shooting better from behind the three-point line (45.2) than the free-throw line (41.9) right now but that doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t be getting there more. They have excellent shooters and these struggles from the line won’t last. Despite having an athletic advantage over Bucknell they barely got to the line at all and then went on send them to the charity stripe for 29 attempts. These tournament games will most likely all be close and some will be won at the line. Mason can’t let sloppy fouls dictate a game this weekend and need to make sure they use some of the mismatches they will have to get to the line more.
Convert off turnovers. It’s only been two games but it’s easy to see how this year’s team is much more tougher defensively. They were able to stay in the game against Bucknell by getting nine points off turnovers in the second half. They ended up getting the Bison to cough up the ball 16 times but failed to capitalize on many of them on the other end. The full court press have been fun to watch and there have been few breakdowns but they need to be smarter on the offensive possessions that follow. I believe they can hang with anyone in this tournament if they continue to do this well.
Attack the glass. Rebounding hasn’t been an area of strength for the Patriots this season. Some of that can be attributed to the absence of Erik Copes but also some of the guys not being aggressive enough. They will still be without Copes for another game so they need to make real effort here. Through the first two games they have only grabbed a total of 13 offensive rebounds while allowing their opponents to grab 19. They have been out-rebounded twice now and need to better their margins. Marko Gujanicic is averaging more rebounds a game than both Johnny Williams and Jonathan Arledge combined, that just shouldn’t be.