For the fifth year in a row, George Mason (4-3) and Northern Iowa (3-2) will meet up in what has become a consistent out-of-conference matchup between the two mid-major programs.
Each time these two schools have met up, it turned into a classic. It will be the sixth time these schools have played in the past seven years with Northern Iowa leading the series 3-2. Twice Mason and UNI have gone into overtime and the overall point differential is seven with the advantage going to the Panthers.
The two schools are both in a pivotal season in their development.
Northern Iowa is entering the season after making the second round of the NCAA tournament last March. The team finished with a 23-13 record while claiming the Missouri Valley Championship. Throughout the season only five players started for the Panthers with a tight bench rotation.
From the championship team, three of the team’s starters graduated. As a result, Northern Iowa was projected to fall to third in the conference and even miss the NCAA Tournament this year.
It is a young team though with only two seniors on the roster and a freshman starter, Juwan McCloud. The lone senior starter, Jeremy Morgan, 6’5”, leads the team in points (16.4), rebounds (6.8), and assists (2.6). In addition, he has made 24 3-pointers on the year at 44.4 percent.
For George Mason he will likely be guarded by one of the top defenders Marquise Moore, 6’2”, or Justin Kier, 6’4”, to limit his production.
Northern Iowa has gotten two huge wins over Arizona State and Oklahoma this season and their two losses have both come against Xavier. One matchup was in the Tire Pros Invitational championship game and the other in a scheduled out-of-conference tilt.
The team likes to run a three guard, two forward rotation compared to Mason’s four guards. If DeAndre Abram is not still benched by head coach Dave Paulsen, look for Abram to see playing time in the rotation.
Throughout the season, Moore has been the go-to player for the Patriots. He is nearly averaging a double-double on the year with 18 points a game to go with nine rebounds. Moore’s innate ability is to drive to the basket and draw contact. On the season he has made it to the free throw line more than three times of the next closest Patriot.
While at the line, he is only converting at a rate of 65 percent. With the size and physicality of the Panthers, Moore will need to not only draw contact but finish the play from the charity stripe.
In the Patriots overtime win against James Madison, Mason survived by converting on the Dukes turnovers despite a low shooting percentage. Northern Iowa is not a team that will regularly turn the ball over and will likely hold a rebounding edge throughout the game, forcing Mason to be more precise on the offensive end.
Otis Livingston II (14.0 ppg) will have a favorable matchup against the freshman McCloud. The sophomore point guard should be able to continue his hot streak with a smaller and less experienced defender. In the past several games, he has become the team’s biggest deep ball threat, who is also able to distribute across the floor.
Last game Jalen Jenkins (11.0 ppg) did not start for Mason due to flu-like systems. It is unclear his status for this game but he still managed to play 21 minutes against the Dukes. With the Panthers’ height, he would be a pivotal key if Mason can pull off the upset.
Prediction: Northern Iowa 71 Mason 67