George Mason opens conference play with showdown against VCU

vcu-2016-12-27-14_24_40-photos_-vcu-george-mason-vcu-ram-nationFans of both George Mason and VCU can argue all day about the validity of this being an actual rivalry. Who cares? Whether it’s a true rivalry or not it’s a big game for both programs, especially with Mason’s big upset over the Rams at the end of last season and the overall history of the series. Most of the time it’s a great game no matter what the standings or records show at the time. Both teams are 10-3 heading into Friday night’s game and looking like they will be fighting for the top of the Atlantic 10 standings. This will be VCU’s third road game after beating Liberty and ODU by a combined margin of eight points on the road earlier in the season. The Rams have had a much tougher non-conference slate but have not been consistent on offense and have struggled with turnovers and rebounding.

Enter a George Mason team that has been dominating bigger teams on the boards, not turning over the ball, and getting to the free-throw line often. The Rams have also been sending opposing teams to the line a lot (#268 opponent free-throw rate), which might be the biggest key to the game for Mason on Friday. Defense is where VCU has it’s strength and they can control the tempo and flow if they play their system well enough. However, Mason plays a guard-heavy lineup and hasn’t been fazed by press defense this season. In fact you can argue that they play better when opposing teams press more in the back court. Often Mason has three good ball-handlers on the court at the same time with Marquise Moore, Justin Kier, and Otis Livingston II. It will be interesting to see if the Rams start out with a total press or focus more on keeping Mason out of the paint. They’ve had some different looks on the court this year compared to previous years and the results have been mixed. I would think their goal would be to try and make Mason a jump shooting team for the night but other opponents have failed tried and failed so far.

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Mason cannot afford a sloppy start, they need to be smart with early possessions and play their game right from the tip and not just in the second half. Moore will garner a lot of attention, so will Otis, and they will need to keep up the excellent ball movement we’ve been seeing. In the post Jalen Jenkins had one of his best games of the season against VCU last year and it will be important for him to stay out of earlier foul trouble. Too often this year they have relied on big second halves in order to win (Penn St., Penn) and they need to break that habit. We need to see more of what they do so well in the last 20 minutes of game in the first 20 minutes of the game.

The big key in last year’s win was getting to the free-throw line. They managed to get 37 attempts compared to the 14 they got in their loss to them earlier in the season. If Mason gets 20+ free-throw attempts I think they have a very good chance of winning. They are 8-0 this season when they make at least 15 free-throws. With how well they are rebounding they don’t need to rely a great night shooting the ball in order to win, they just need to follow their formula. The difference against VCU is that it may require a lot more work than the effort they’ve needed in recent games.

Both teams play efficient defense but I think the real difference is Mason’s offense and the Rams’ task of trying to stop Marquise Moore. JeQuan Lewis will most likely be guarding him and that should be a good match-up to watch all night. With how good Moore has been playing and how he’s out-working everybody on the court, it’s tough for me to think he won’t win that battle. VCU has gone through a lot of scoring droughts this season and Mason’s offense has been rolling. I think this match-up favors Mason in more areas but they need to play their game for a full 40 minutes to win.

  • ricandersen

    * fazed (“phased” means something else)

    • gmuhoops

      Fixed it, thanks Ric. Sounded right haha!

      • ricandersen

        Thank you. There’s almost no way to not sound like a dick when offering a correction in a comment section; I’m glad you know I wasn’t being one. [This time. 🙂 ]

  • Gunston98

    VCU missed a ton of three pointers in that win we had, doubt that happens again. Our rebounding and FT rate should get us the win but I agree they can’t dig themselves in a hole in the first half.

    • SkinsGMU

      Or miss a lot of easy put-backs and layups, we tend to do that a lot in the first half of games.

  • Masonfan01

    This definitely isn’t the same VCU team we are used to, they nearly lost to Liberty and were lucky to escape ODU with a W. Their offense disappeared for a long periods in the ODU game, I doubt they come out on fire on offense in this game but you never know.

  • gmusigs

    VCU will press and Otis and Moore will have a field day at the line and in the lane for easy baskets. Outside of Jenkins getting in foul trouble, we got this one.

  • Chris Hirsch

    Still not ready to say we are a true contender in the A-10 this year, but a strong performance on Friday night will help push me to start really believing.

    • gmuhoops

      So close to making Chris a believer, so close.

      • Chris Hirsch

        It takes a lot to push past my glass half empty mentality 🙂

        • mkaufman1

          Very soon Chris will…

          BO-LIEVE

    • jake21

      I’m in the same boat, it’s great to see us beat up on bad teams but this is the real litmus test for me. A win here makes me believe we can challenge for top 5 spot in the A-10. #SilenceoftheRams

    • StopWearingPurple

      Same here. Happy for the wins but tempering expectations. If we lose this game, even by a fair margin, it won’t be the end of the season. It might mean that Coach has more tweaking to do to get the team to compete in the A-10.

  • Grad2003

    This will still be the best defensive team we’ve played so far, I worry our young guns get thrown off and resort to dumb shots. Trust that Paulsen will have a good game plan but VCU has the seniors on their side. Having said that if Moore remains in beast mode I don’t see us losing.

    • StopWearingPurple

      Good point. Young teams are rarely consistent teams.

    • adam2405

      This worries me also, I like that the freshmen are cocky but I fear it might bite us against a team like VCU where there’s less margin for error. Would love to be proven wrong and see Mason run over VCU though!

  • masonfan014

    Mason has held opponents well under their eFG% average all season, I think they will once again create a bad shooting night for the Rams. Limit turnovers, get to the line, and rebound, rebound, rebound.

  • Gamoo79

    On the rivalry issue…it will only be a true rivalry when they think they’re game against us is as big as we think ours is against them. I don’t think they do….yet. Stay tuned…..

    • ScottRandall

      VCU fans love to say it’s not a rivalry, then they jar at our fans all week leading up, pretty hilarious. They are delusional about their team this year also.

  • tomel0014

    “Both teams are 10-3 heading into Friday night’s game and looking like they will be fighting for the top of the Atlantic 10 standings.” Are you inferring that from a 10-3 record against subpar opponents? Let me taste what you’re smoking please…LOL Mason’s strength of schedule on that 10-3 record is #297 out of 351 (VCU is #67). With any luck, Lebanon Valley, Longwood and Prairie View will be right there with us battling for that final bid to the Big Dance.

    • gmuhoops

      Sure it’s a weak non-conference schedule but you conveniently left out solid wins they had against Penn State, Penn, UNI, and even Kent State (who just beat Texas). The A-10 as a whole hasn’t done shit during this non-conference schedule so yeah I’m optimistic a win over VCU shows they will be competing near the top of conference. It’s a down year for the A-10 and Mason’s playing pretty good basketball, Friday night is a big test to prove the doubters like you wrong.

      • tomel0014

        The SOS doesn’t lie. Kent State just beat a very young down Texas team. Penn St and Penn are not very good, and UNI is having a down year. I also left out Bradley LOL. VCU would be a good win, Go Patriots. And you’re right about it being a down year for A-10!

  • tomel0014

    PS: GMU’s opponent’s winning percentage is 39%. That ranks #330 out of 351 college team’s schedules. I’m all for positivity and seeing the rebound, but I’m not sure the 10-3 record is forecasting top of the A10.

    • gmusigs

      I’m guessing you haven’t watched this team play at all this year and are just looking at the schedule. Great analysis.

      Yes, their non-conf schedule was weak as hell, but playing efficient defense and being one of the best rebounding teams in the country allows us to be a bit more optimistic finishing in the bottom of the A-10. I don’t think we’ll be top 5 just yet in the conference but I can see why some are high on this group, lot of upside.

      • ricandersen

        This post is a good example of why people shouldn’t be snarky in a comment section.

  • mkaufman1

    It’s a good early conference test for both teams. Both come in at 10-3. Make it that it’s an old rivalry, and it should be a hell of a game.

    That said, if Mason does what it’s done against everyone, and holds vcu at bay with easy baskets and from 3 point range, they have a good chance.

    I mean, if they can get worked by last years team, no reason mason doesn’t have a chance here, and a good chance to boot.

  • Gunston98

    Line has moved to VCU now only being favored by 1.5. Can’t wait for tonight!

  • TonyD

    Defensively we don’t go for steals, try to force opponents into contested threes, and deny second chance opportunities. That will work well tonight against VCU if they keep up the intensity.

    • Gamoo79

      Contested threes? Oh yeah, I had forgotten about those. Lol

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