Fans 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.
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.