The Patriots have the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule over the next three games. Northern Iowa is up first and visits the Patriot Center Saturday. Much like George Mason they have only losses to respectable teams and missed opportunities for big wins in their early season tournament. This is the final game before the break for exams starts so it will be important for the Patriots to get a win heading into the long break. Last time these two teams met was during the 2010-2011 season in the Bracketbusters event. For some long time readers you may remember the drinking game post I had for that one, good times.
This year’s Northern Iowa team isn’t quite as lethal as that team was from behind the arch but if left open they can take advantage. They average around 21 attempts from there per contest and this will be a big factor in this game because the Patriots lapses on defense this year have been around the perimeter. A measure of how well a team defends three-point shooting shouldn’t be solely based on their opponents three-point shooting percentage. How many attempts a team gives up on the defensive end is a more telling thing to watch and Mason has let this be a problem in the past. Perfect examples of this are in the games this season against Mercer (19 3-pter attempts), Boston U (26), Rhode Island (18), and UMBC (23). In all those games the Patriots either had serious trouble building a lead or watched themselves squander one in the second half to lesser opponents. I believe a bit of lost focus on defense, especially around the perimeter, was a big factor in all of those games. They can’t let this happen against UNI because they could torch Mason from the outside if left open.
In the front court UNI has a legit post player in senior Jake Koch. He had a big game the last time these two teams met, 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, and is an excellent free-throw shooter. This could be a concern for Mason, as their forwards have struggled to stay out of foul trouble this season. If they play as disciplined as they did against the Maryland bigs, they should be fine, but we’ll just have to see.
It will be interesting to see the lineups Paul Hewitt runs in this one because Northern Iowa runs a three-guard rotation on the court. Guys like Marko Gujancic, Jon Arledge, and Anali Okoloji will have a size advantage depending on who is out there, but we haven’t seen them always take advantage of this. At the same time this could also lead to seeing more of Patrick Holloway and Vaughn Gray, which would make the most sense to me.
I would imagine Corey Edwards gets the start again and we will have a good evaluation afterwards. It’s worth noting that Edwards was on the court for a lot of the first half against UMBC when they built an early 19 point lead. The Patriots looked a bit less stiff out their with Edwards running the point and that will be something to watch to see if he can do that again against UNI.
Bottom line in this one is that Mason needs to stay focused on defense for 40 minutes and get their play makers the ball early. Defensively they have held teams to low shooting numbers all season and they will need to limit the Panthers’ looks from the outside. I haven’t even mentioned in this post that UNI is #2 in the nation from the free-throw line but that’s at least an area Mason has improved on recently. On the other side, I’d imagine UNI’s game plan on defense is to slow down Sherrod Wright and if that happens someone needs to emerge as the second option. The Patriots shouldn’t have trouble coming out of this with the win if they play focused for the duration of the game. The question is can they do that for once.
[Photo by John Powell]