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.