George Mason escapes Georgia State, moves on to semifinals vs VCU

Ryan Pearson was just named CAA player of the year but you wouldn’t have know it as Mason narrowly got by Georgia State 61-59. Pearson finished with 4 points and was mostly in foul trouble during this one. Mike Morrison and others stepped up in his absence. Sherrod Wright barely played in the first half but made all 10 of his points in the second half count. Credit the Mason guards with getting it done when they had to. They had their miscues all night but kept their composure when the team needed them. Bryon Allen made a reverse lay-up that turned out to be the game winner, while Vertail Vaughns help Mason regain take the lead in the second half. Also Jonathan Arledge was called upon with Pearson in foul trouble and he did very well in a tight game.

George Mason tightened up on defense in the second half and it fueled their comeback. They will need that defensive effort tomorrow against VCU. They also kept the turnovers to a minimum (13) despite Corey Edwards getting a lot of early time due to Bryon Allen being in foul trouble. Mason had to deal with players in foul trouble all night and towards the remaining minutes of the game both Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison were fouled out. Bryon Allen and the Mason guards showed up big when it counted and came out with the victory.

Mason can’t beat VCU with Pearson only scoring 4 points and they will need to get Sherrod Wright more involved in the first half.  I have no idea why Sherrod played so little in the beginning of the game but they will need him Sunday afternoon. Despite some miscues by Corey Edwards Mason kept the turnovers to a minimum, can they do that again against VCU? Against the Rams they will need to get to the foul line more and have better shot selection.

As I mentally prepare for another game against VCU (in Richmond) watch Sherrod Wright’s tomahawk dunk, followed Ryan Pearson’s reaction:




Previewing George Mason vs Georgia State in the CAA quarterfinals

TV: CSN+ find channel here

Time: 8:30 pm

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Georgia State quickly dismantled Hofstra last night 85-50, in what was the largest margin of victory by any team in CAA tournament history. It has been a long and tough season for Hofstra but this was still an impressive game for Georgia State as they shot the lights out last night. Wouldn’t you know it that George Mason gets paired in the same bracket pairing as the hottest team on Friday. 

Here is breakdown of their night:
-The Panthers shot nearly 60% for the game from the field.
-Scored 48 points int he paint, Eric Buckner had 21
-Scored 23 points off Hofstra turnovers
-And went 20-for-24 from the foul line
Combine that with their shifting zone defenses and this is George Mason’s worst nightmare. Granted Mason isn’t Hofstra but the Panthers played them tough back in early January at the Patriot Center. Ron Hunter’s game plan against Ryan Pearson worked well and his defensive sets confused the Patriots all night long. That time the game was ugly but that won’t necessarily be the case tonight. Forward Eric Buckner has been strong on the boards lately and he is a pivotal part to Georgia State’s success. 
Here are the keys tonight for George Mason:
Go right at Eric Buckner. They need to get Georgia State’s front court in foul trouble and get Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison going right from the start. Morrison had a good night against this team last time out because Pearson was getting so much attention. They need to make Buckner work all night, which will result in a lot of their shots being blocked, but also some easy trips to the foul line. Mason is deeper in the front court than the Panthers and they need to control the paint in order to win. 
Keep turnovers under 14. They cannot play as sloppy against this team tonight as they did back in January or else it will be a quick out for the Patriots. I’m sick of talking about turnovers but it’s a reality we need to face for the rest of the the season. They have won a ton of games this season when they have kept the number under 15. Keeping it around 10 or so would be great but at this point I think that is wishful thinking. They need to make things easier for Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards, and get the ball out of their hands quickly before GSU’s defense has a chance to set. Hofstra tried to run up and down the court on the Panthers last night and failed miserably. Mason will most likely try to do this as well but they need to be careful with distributing the ball.  
Pump up the up tempo offense. Too often this season other teams have forced Mason to play a half court game, using presses and other traps. They need to use their athleticism and run on this team tonight.  If they can do that they can take Eric Buckner out of the game. This also makes it a lot more difficult for the Panthers to get back in their defensive sets, where they are so good this year. Andre Cornelius, Bryon Allen, and Vertrail Vaughns are key here and they need to push the ball when they have the chance. 
  

CAA Tournament Primer: George Mason back to being the underdog

The expectations at the beginning of this season for George Mason were mixed. Despite losses of key players and their head coach, the media still tabbed them to finish second in the CAA. Some thought that was a generous pick and the team entered the season with many question marks. There were some disappointing losses to begin the year but then the Patriots seemed to find their stride under Paul Hewitt, winning 11 out of 12 from January 14 through February 18. But they ended the year with back-to-back road losses at Northeastern and VCU. Now no one seems to be giving them much of a chance in the CAA tournament this weekend and I think that’s a good thing for this squad.  
There were many times during this season that George Mason needed to be humbled and kicked in the teeth. They seemed to play down to the level of their opponent and even look disinterested. Sometimes when it came close to happening early in the year they somehow pulled themselves out of the funk and escaped with a win. Perhaps they will be under less pressure this weekend coming off their recent losses and flourish in the underdog role. That may be expecting a lot, especially considering they will most likely have to go through VCU to get to the finals, but I think for this group the current situation they are in fits them better at this time.  Let’s face it, when they have been the heavy favorite this year they haven’t delivered. When they were supposed to thoroughly handle a team, they didn’t, and often squeaked by. At this point all of their problems have been exposed and the coaching staff knows what needs to be done. Will the players step up to the task is the main question.
Something to keep in mind is that Mason still has a lot more tournament experience on their roster than most in the CAA. This is last chance for Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison, and Andre Cornelius to make their mark as seniors. I doubt there is anything worse in their minds than ending their careers with another loss to VCU in the conference tournament again. VCU has eliminated George Mason from the CAA tournament five times since 2004.  
If they end up having to face VCU again this year in the semifinals they won’t be any excuses.  Last year they only faced the Rams once in the regular season and thoroughly whooped them at the Siegel Center. Then Andre Cornelius gave them some great, pre-game bulletin board material and the rest is history.  Mason was riding the nation’s longest winning streak before that loss and perhaps may have gotten a bit cocky, especially since they had just recently beat the Rams on their home court. This year the series was split during the regular season and even if the Patriots destroy either Georgia St or Hofstra in the quarterfinals, I doubt they will be the favorite against the Rams.
Photo by John Powell
I think it’s safe to say the Patriots won’t be cocky heading into this tournament but they certainly know they have the talent to beat any team in the CAA. A commitment to defense and disciplined basketball is what we need to see from them. I would also have to say that their bench play during this weekend is going to be as important to the team’s success as say Ryan Pearson is.  They can’t wait til the end for a Ryan Pearson or Sherrod Wright heroic basket. They need to take advantage of some of the talent they have on their bench because most teams in this conference aren’t that deep.  It can be a long weekend for teams that lack depth and Mason can have real advantage if Vaughn Gray, Corey Edwards, and Sherrod Wright can hit shots from outside.  

Point guard play needs to be better

Something I hope the Patriots worked on in practice this week figuring out to keep Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards out bad situations at the point. VCU’s pressing and traps worked too good at the beginning of the game last Saturday and Mason needs to help their younger guards move the ball better down the court.  It’s been a problem all season and it is a big reason why their turnover numbers are so dreadful.  Obviously not all the turnovers are their fault but a lot of them can easily be prevented. The guards need to get the ball into the bigs in the paint because that’s where Mason can take control. They are at their best when they are outscoring their opponents in the paint.

Ryan Pearson needs to do more than just score points

George Mason isn’t a #3 seed without Ryan Pearson and he has almost single-handedly won the team some games this season.  At times they rely on him a little too much but his production speaks for itself this season.  A shame that he probably won’t win the CAA Player of the Year award tonight, Drexel’s Frantz Massenat seems to be the favorite, because he’s certainly played good enough for it.  He has so many ways of getting to the basket but what the team really needs for him at this point is make better passes out of the post and to play better defense. These last two games have really shown how a team can beat Mason if they make Pearson play ends. It’s obvious his offense can sputter when teams challenge him at both ends of the court.  Most teams don’t have the luxury of doing that but it’s that time of year when weaknesses can get exposed more frequently.  As for his passing, he needs to find the open shooter on the wing more.  Guys like Sherrod Wright and Vertrail Vaughns can get hot but they need someone feeding them the rock.  The Patriots attract a lot of attention down low, leaving these guys open but they have struggled to dish the ball to them.  Pearson touches the ball more than anyone besides the point guard and needs to be part of the solution for this.  
Mason’s ability to win ugly, scrappy games this season could help them this weekend

I may be reaching with this one but consider this: March is full of ugly, close games and Mason has been in a ton of those this season, and won most of them. I think it’s a key advantage for Mason that they have won in a variety of different situations this season. They can win despite turning over the ball 18 times and shooting under 45% from the field and they know how to grind out wins in choppy games. Sometimes the slower the game the better for Mason, despite their up-tempo style, because it means they are getting to the line more. Defenses are better at this time of year but games are still often won at the foul line. Mason can control games with strong play in the paint and getting to the foul line, even in the sloppiest of games.  

Pre CAA Tournament links

Drexel suspends starter Derrick Thomas, will miss CAA tournament. This is huge because the Dragons only go 7 deep and  Thomas was often matched up on defense against the opponents best perimeter player.

Hewitt forging new path at George Mason [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] — The news outlet that continually bashed him while he was at Georgia Tech.

– 7 out of 13 ESPN experts pick Ryan Pearson for CAA Player of the Year

-Michael Litos from caahoops.com fills out his CAA bracket predictions:




CAA Notes: League happy with Richmond Coliseum for now [Richmond Times Dispatch]



-Bill Rohland interviews Rudolph Jones, one of the first George Mason basketball stars [GoMason.com]



-George Mason recruit Patrick Holloway was on ABC 7 on Tuesday night:

 




Cinderella Madness: How would the ’05-’06 George Mason team stack up against other memorable Cinderella teams? WhatIfSports.com and CollegeHoops.net run the simulations.

Something has to change or it will be a short weekend in Richmond for George Mason

This is not how George Mason wanted to be playing before heading into the post season.  This season has been full of ups and downs but now the Patriots find them in a position redeem themselves this weekend at the VCU Invitational CAA tournament. But they won’t get very far in the tournament if they play anything like what we have been seeing in these last two games.  The good news is that the loss to VCU on Saturday doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. The Patriots would have still been on the same side of the CAA tournament bracket pairings regardless of who won that game and they still have the to win the conference’s auto-bid to get to the big dance. The question is can the Patriots shrug off these losses and play disciplined, sound basketball in Richmond?
They had a really difficult time with VCU’s trap and could not seem to match their intensity. Towards the end of the game they were better on defense but they needed to play with that energy for a full 40 minutes. Their reputation of “sleep-walking” through the beginning of games was very evident on Saturday.  Teams that win in March play good defense and it needs to be what the Patriots are focusing on this week.
There are a number of things Mason needs to straight out before they head to Richmond and I’m not just talking about turnovers.  We’ve beaten to death the turnover issue this season, and since it’s hasn’t changed much to date, don’t expect it to magically disappear this weekend.  They’ve still have won a ton of games despite their turnover percentage. The more pressing immediate issue is stopping the opposing team’s hot shooter.  Over the last two games the opposing team’s leading scorer had 27 and 31 respectively and combined for 30-for-34 at the free-throw line. This is beyond ridiculous and it exposes how Mason’s defense can unravel. It is difficult to win when you hand the ball over to the other team constantly and then give them countless attempts at the free-throw line.  
The Patriots offense hasn’t been the problem and even though VCU kept landing hay-makers on Saturday they didn’t give up in trying to mount a comeback. Mason has the talent to mask some of their problems and we’ve seen this be the case in numerous games this year. The problem is they continue to shoot themselves in the foot during their runs when they are down by not doing their part on defense.  They don’t keep guys off the perimeter and give way too many open looks.  And then when they don’t give up the open looks, they will bail the other team out by fouling. It just comes down to discipline on the defensive end.  Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards aren’t going to become floor generals overnight but the team can play improve on defense this weekend.
[Photo via vcuramnation.com]

Cornelius provided VCU’s locker room with some bulletin board material

Well here is an interesting article from UNCW beat writer Brian Mull today who was covering this weekend’s CAA tournament. Apparently Andre Cornelius expressed his confidence in his team on twitter before their semifinal game against VCU. 

“About two hours before top-seeded George Mason and fourth-seeded VCU tipped off their CAA Tournament semifinal game on Sunday, Patriots point guard Andre Cornelius posted this on his Twitter account: The game is over don’t forget to tell VCU that’s over.”

Later VCU head coach Shaka Smart printed out the the tweet and posted it the team’s locker room wall next to a picture of Cornelius. As if the Rams needed more motivation.

Hopefully this move doesn’t mean we have seen the last of Mason players on twitter. We already had to deal with the loss of Coach Larranaga daily tweets.

VCU eliminates George Mason from the CAA tournament, nation’s longest winning streak comes to an end

The VCU Rams have now eliminated George Mason from the CAA tournament for the 5th time since 2004.  The Patriots did not look like themselves in this one as the nation’s longest winning streak comes to an end at 16 games. The Rams first half defense and barrage of uncontested three-pointers in the first half doomed the Patriots from the start.  Mason was frustrated on offense all day long while VCU had an answer for all of their runs. The Rams had 11 three-pointers, one shy of the CAA tournament record and it stunned the Patriots. The frustration reached it’s breaking point when Mike Morrison fouled out while hitting Bradford Burgess on a three-point attempt.  Burgess sank all three free-throws and Mason looked pretty lifeless after that.  
The Patriots inability to penetrate VCU’s zone defense resulted in a lot of ill-advised shots.  Mason never settled on offense, despite going a few runs in the beginning of the 2nd half.  At half time the Rams were clearly beating the Patriots at their own game: three-pointers, forced turnovers, and 13 assists to George Mason’s 1.  The second half didn’t bring much change for the Patriots as they only finished with 8 assists and were engaging in way too many one-on-one battles. 
You have to credit VCU’s defensive game plan in this one.  They prevented the Mason front court from making any kind of contributions early on. Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson were frustrated and both ended up in the foul trouble.  Cam Long tried to do too much in the 2nd half and didn’t really get any support. It’s a shame to finish a CAA season like this without cutting down the nets in Richmond but Mason now has to roll with the punches and prepare for a new challenge. 
George Mason now has long week ahead until Selection Sunday where they await their fate in the NCAA tournament. Various experts have penciled them in as a lock for an at-large but it still would have been nice to eliminate any doubt.  Don’t know how much this loss will affect their seeding, perhaps they might not get that #7 spot we have been seeing recently.  
[Pictures via SmugMug]

George Mason takes on VCU in the CAA semifinals. Hmm this looks familiar.

TV viewing options for today.

George Mason takes on VCU today in the CAA tournament semifinals. This will be the fifth time the two teams have faced-off against each other in this tournament since 2004. VCU has pretty much owned George Mason in the CAA tournament in their last four games at the Richmond Coliseum. This dates back to 2004 in the conference finals, remember when Jai Lewis missed the game winning shot in those ugly as hell black jerseys? Most recently the Rams dismantled a young Patriots team in disarray last year at this time by 15 points.  Although today’s game isn’t for the conference championship it will certainly feel like it. VCU needs this victory today along with a win Monday to get into the NCAA tournament, their bubble may very well have burst back when they finished the regular season on a four game losing streak in the CAA.  Don’t discount how much the Rams would love to end the nation’s longest winning streak and again prevent the mighty Patriots from taking the CAA title.  

The Patriots looked impressive yesterday as they battled back from being down by as many as 11. Meanwhile the Rams needed 24 points from Jamie Skeen and a buzzer beater in order to beat 5th seeded Drexel. Back on February 15 a few block down the road at the Siegel Center the Patriots defense never let the Rams get into any kind of rhythm.  They held point guard Joey Rodriguez to only one assist and leading scorer Jamie Skeen to half his scoring average.  Mason’s defense will again need to disrupt the Ram’s flow on offense and they will to stay out of foul trouble. VCU got to free throw line with ease yesterday and got 25 points from there.

George Mason dismantles Georgia State in 2nd half to advance to CAA semifinals

The George Mason basketball team is starting to become a broken record, and one that fans are certainly not getting tired of. The nation’s longest winning streak is now at 16 and the Patriots have advanced to the CAA semifinals. Once again we saw an opposing team start off strong and the Patriots look a little sloppy.  At half time Mason was up 3 after being down by as many as 11.  And yes once again the Patriots went on a huge run to break the spirits of the team they were facing. The team’s overall balance was too much for GSU to overcome. 

After Mason was down 11 in the 1st half they exploded for a 42-9 run that eventually led to a 68-45 victory. The run included Ryan Pearson getting to the line, Vertrail Vaughns hitting shots, and Isaiah Tate throwing behind the back passes. The Panthers just could not keep up with the Patriots for 40 minutes as they didn’t have nearly as much firepower on offense.  Mason just had too many scorers, Ryan Pearson had a relatively tame game and they didn’t miss a beat.  And after allowing GSU to shoot 60% in the 1st half the Patriots locked down on defense and held them to just 21% in the 2nd. Mason had 27 points off the Panthers’ 21 turnovers and 12 fast break points to pull away in the 2nd half.  

George Mason will face VCU tomorrow at noon.

George Mason to face Georgia State in CAA quarterfinals

Georgia State defeated UNCW this afternoon to advance to quarterfinals and will play George Mason at noon tomorrow. Hopefully most of you will be able to actually watch the game. The Patriots played GSU in their final CAA regular season game last week so the tape on them is still fresh.  Mason was a little sloppy in that game but need a big second half from Cam Long to escape with the victory.  They weren’t playing for anything back then other than to extend the nation’s longest winning streak and that isn’t the case this week. Mason has to chance cap off one of the most impressive CAA seasons ever by cutting down the nets in Richmond at the end of this tournament.  
The Panthers are one of the worst teams in the CAA when it comes to efficiency but had a pretty good shooting day today against UNCW.  They gave the Patriots some problems last week by doing a good work on the offensive glass and getting some easy second chances points.  Overall they are shot over 43% from the field against Mason and nearly 48% today against UNCW, both are above their season average.  
The Patriots can do quick work of GSU by simply pushing the tempo.  The Panthers are dead last in the CAA in points per game and don’t have a player averaging double figures. Mason got to the free throw line twice as many times as GSU did in their last contest and that could be another key if the Panthers are hot from the field.  Cam Long and Ryan Pearson have done a great job getting to the charity stripe lately and they should continue to push for that in this one.  
Overall GSU plays pretty good defense, where they have struggled this season is to put points on the board. They don’t give up a ton of threes as the Patriots only got off 11 and 12 attempts from there in their two games against GSU.  Normally the Patriots average close to 17 attempts a game.  That definitely slowed down Mason’s scoring in both of those games and look for GSU to attempt to do the same again.