George Mason came out strong last night and took care of Quinnipiac to leave the Virgin Islands on a high note. There’s still that soar feeling that they probably could have won this tournament but in the end we got to see just how good this group can be. Sherrod Wright is playing his best basketball of his Mason career and was nearly unstoppable going to the rim last night. Every time I watch him get to the basket that easy and get an and one play I wonder why he isn’t doing it more. However the best thing to take away from the win over Quinnipiac is how this team showed off their depth. Ten different players scored for Mason last night and what was most surprising was that they were lead by guys like Anali Okoloji and Erik Copes. This balance on offense will make George Mason a tough team to scheme against going forward.
Here are the key things to take away from this trip to St. Thomas for George Mason:
Sherrod Wright. He came up big in this tournament for George Mason and averaged 16.7 points in the three games. He was was making shots from the outside and getting to the basket with ease and I still think we have more to see from him. It’s been no secret that he was Mason’s best player coming into this season but the question was would he show up every night. So far so good.
Offensive firepower. George Mason consistently put points on the board during this tournament and offense was never one of their problems during this trip. In the tournament they shot 46.5% from the field and got big contributions from different guys each game. It was also good to see the offensive games of Erik Copes and Anali Okoloji come to life last night. They are also a more consistent three-pointer shooting team at this point then they were last season.
The new Johnny Williams. J2 looks like a totally different player in my mind. He has improved nearly every facet of his game. He can make the outside jumper or mix it up inside to get a tough rebound. What’s most impressive is that he leads the team in rebounding and in steals, yes steals. The only knock on him is that fouls sometimes keep him on the bench too long, something we saw happen again last night.
Defense is better but still needs work. At times so far this season, Mason has looked extremely tough on defense. However they have had their lapses, especially when guarding the perimeter. The press is doing some real good things for them but they have struggled to make points out of the turnovers they collect. They have let their aggressiveness get the better of them too much so far and they need to cut down on the numbers fouls they commit. After last night’s game, there are only nine more teams in the country who have committed more fouls than Mason. I also still have my doubts about them being able to guard a strong three-guard lineup. In fact New Mexico ran four guards at certain times on Sunday night and it gave the Patriots real problems. In the past Mason has had better on-the-ball defenders in the their back court and it’s something they are lacking this year. Vertrail Vaughns is probably their best but his inconsistency on offense has been keeping him off the floor.
Role of Erik Copes. Copes will be a big part of this team’s success this season. We’ve only seen him for two games but his impact has already been noticed. Mason is just a different team in the post on both ends of the court when he is in the game. His rebounding and shot blocking were hard to replace when he was suspended. Last night we saw him collect a career-high 9 points which included a nice jump hook. He’s not going to put many points on the board this year but he gives Mason a different type of identity in the front court.