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Photo: By George

On Saturday George Mason will play in their most significant regular season game since 2011. Welcoming Rhode Island to EagleBank arena, the two teams will be battling for one of the Atlantic 10’s coveted double-bye seeds.

For the first time during their tenure in the Atlantic 10, Mason is competing against some of the conference’s best.

Consistently the team is getting quality play from five players a night. Marquise Moore is continuing to average a double-double on the season, the only player in the conference to do so; Jalen Jenkins has stayed out of foul trouble; Otis Livingston II is shooting the best he has all season; and Jaire Grayer always finds a way to contribute, whether its outside the paint, driving, or rebounding (reminder he does lead the team in blocked shots).

And that is just the regular starters.

Some nights its Kamari Newman, 12 points (2-3 3pt range) vs. Richmond, sometimes it is Ian Boyd, averaging 5.4 points a game as a bench player, and then there is Justin Kier who has scored five points or more in each of the past six contests. Not to mention Boyd and Kier have been defensive studs this season.

Either way, George Mason (18-8, 8-5) has won four games in a row. They have done it through a team first mentality that was the focus at the beginning of the season. All players are finding ways to be productive offensively and the team has defensively found ways to shut down opponents offenses.

LAST GAME: GEORGE MASON SHUTS DOWN RICHMOND IN CLOSING MINUTES

With Rhode Island (16-9, 8-5) though, they are a tricky team to scout. At the beginning of the season, they were projected to be one of the conference’s front runners and finally make the NCAA tournament after an 18 year hiatus.

Having E.C. Matthews (14.6 points a game) return from a devastating injury was a majority of the hype, including one of the most talented starting-fives in the conference. Despite the talent, and one of the more underrated coaches in the country, Dan Hurley, things have not come together season.

Hassan Martin (3.0 blocks a game) is in contention for the league’s defensive player of the year. In addition, he scores 14 points a night. Jared Terrell (12.9 points a game) has blossomed into one of the elite point guards in the league and and not to mention the team has the cousin of Allen Iverson, Kuran Iverson in their lineup.

This will be a game that the Patriots will want to be aggressive on their individual matchups. The Rams are a team that do not play a physical, pound-for-pound style, but rely on ball movement finding the open shooter. By doing so, the team relies on each shooter to have a consistent night.

Mason will have to value each possession. With the Rams size and skill, should shut down the Patriots offensive rebounding abilities. The Rams are also the third best defensive shooting team in the league.

Defensively, the most intriguing matchups will be Moore on Matthews, Livingston on Terrell, Jenkins on Iverson, Grayer on Martin, and Kier on Jeff Downtin.

Coming off a terrible 53-43 home loss to Fordham, one would expect this to be a rebound game for the Rams. However, as experienced as the Rams are, they are not known for quick turnarounds. In fact, the team has had three stretches where they had back-to-back losses.

Keys for Mason in the game:
1. Rebounding
2. Aggressive man-on-man defense
3. Draw fouls

Whomever wins this game will be in the driver’s seat for on of the top four seeds in the tournament. While the Patriots schedule is much more difficult than the Rams, a tiebreaker over this team will go a long way.

#MasonRecords:

Points:
Marquise Moore (1,157) is 35 points behind Steve Smith for 23rd all-time.
Jalen Jenkins (1,007) is 13 points behind Byron Tucker (32nd), 36 behind Andy Bolen (31st).

Rebounds:
Marquise Moore (599) is 59 rebounds away from Mike Morrison for 15th all-time.
Jalen Jenkins (662) is 14 rebounds away from Kenwan Alford for 13th all-time.

Assists:
Marquise Moore (342) is 14 assists away from tying Cam Long for 6th all-time.

3pters:
Otis Livingston II (86) is five 3pters away from tying Curtis McCants for 19th all-time.

#RootForMason

Root for Massachusetts (13-13, 3-10) over Davidson (13-11, 6-7) at 12:00 on NBCSN.
Root for Dayton (20-5, 11-2) over St. Bonaventure (16-9, 8-5) at 2:00 on NBCSN.
Root for Saint Louis (9-17, 4-9) over Fordham (11-15, 5-8) at 2:00 on A10 Network.
Root for Saint Joseph’s (10-15, 3-10) over La Salle (13-11, 7-6) at 4:00 on CBSSN.

La Salle and Davidson are both within striking range of the Patriots, so it is obvious that George Mason fans should want both of those teams to lose. With Fordham essentially 3.5 games behind the Patriots, since George Mason has the tiebreaker, it doesn’t matter who wins that game with Saint Louis. However fans should root for Saint Louis because if you want to look at ‘postseason resumes,’ it diminishes how bad the two losses are for Mason. Finally, root for Dayton because there is practically no way Mason is passing the Flyers in the standings, St. Bonavanture though is right in the thick of the No. 4 seed race.

Prediction: Rhode Island 76     Mason 74

Prediction Record: 17-9