Here is what they will have to do to win this weekend in Richmond:
Tighten up on defense, everywhere. It’s no secret defense wasn’t this team’s strength this season and it really destroyed a lot of good things they did on offense. It’s almost shocking how this aspect of their game never improved over the course of the year. Paul Hewitt wanted to a run a more up-tempo offense (remember how many times I used that phrase in the off-season?) and that starts with making stops and forcing turnovers. It never materialized and often Mason fans watched open shot after open shot. They have had real trouble closing out on the perimeter but the trouble wasn’t just there. Mason players were so out of position in a lot of games that fouling was literally their only means of stopping the opposing team’s players. That’s just bad and we saw it happen way too many times this year. This weekend a big key will be limiting the amount of three-point looks they yield to their opponents and forcing more perimeter players to put the ball on the floor.
Stop sending teams to the free-throw line so often. This is a big killer as well and it kind of goes off what I said above about their sloppiness on defense. But it deserves it’s own point because tournament games are usually close and can come down to free-throws. There are only 16 teams (out of 347) that send their opponents to the free-throw line at a more frequent rate than George Mason. It’s so bad that the Patriots last loss was in a game where Delaware had more made free-throws (26) than they had field goals (25). That’s an interesting and frustrating way to lose. They have to reduce this rate in Richmond and stop giving away points at the line. It ruins their tempo and stalls any momentum they may have built.
Get Sherrod Wright going early. George Mason’ success on offense is usually tied to how well Sherrod Wright is doing in that particular game. Lately he hasn’t been putting up the kind of numbers that earlier in the season had him in the running for CAA player of the year. Perhaps he is a bit worn out but he’s had a week to rest and focus. As a team they are at their best when Wright is drawing a lot of attention, hitting outside shots, driving to the lane, and getting to the foul line. They have to run plays for him and early and ride him because they don’t have better options that score consistently. It’s great that they try to get Erik Copes going in the beginning of most games but the focus has to be on their best player this weekend.
Keep a short rotation. This ones for Paul Hewitt. I’m not sure what the status of Johnny Williams is but either way they need to keep a short rotation. Off the bench I think we should really only be seeing Vertrail Vaughns, Marko Gujanicic and Patrick Holloway. Fouls can muck this up and that’s why they need to stay more disciplined. I think keeping Wright, Allen, and Edwards on the floor for more minutes is the best recipe for success in this tournament. Hewitt loves to throw Anali Okoloji in the mix for his energy on defense but a lot of times he hurts more than he helps. Paris Bennett should only be brought in if foul trouble is an issue with the forwards and if Johnny Williams isn’t playing. I think the big reason why we never saw a shorter rotation as the season went on was because Hewitt couldn’t find a group that consistently played good defense together. It all starts with defense.
[Photo by John Powell]