Welcome back to the weekly rundown, George Mason basketball fans. Our Patriots are off to a 1-1 start after an iffy win in the season opener and a better-than-expected showing against Louisville. Better than I expected, anyway. There’s been plenty of good and bad to start the season, and I’m a bad news first kind of guy, so we’ll start there. Per usual this rundown is a mostly random assortment of stats, facts, and whatever else I find interesting.
Let’s get this out of the way early – there’s no sugarcoating how ineffective the bench players have been. Through two games they’re 0-11 shooting, they’ve committed 9 turnovers, have no assists, and have 10 rebounds to 9 personal fouls. If you’re not getting bench contributions it makes it almost impossible to survive off-nights from your starters, like Otis’s game against Louisville. Additionally, the starters have taken on a tremendous minutes load, with Otis and Jaire only sitting three minutes through two games. This doesn’t bode well for a team that ran out of gas down the stretch with a similarly short rotation last season, and looked to run out of gas after only going six deep in the second half against Louisville.
I’ll caution that I was apoplectic about our bench through the first few games last season before Boyd and Newman came around. AJ, Calixte, and Javon are going to be fine this year and very good in the years to come, but we’ll need them to get acclimated quickly to stay afloat in out-of-conference play.
When Relvao left the program and it became apparent we’d run a lot of four-guard again, I don’t think anyone thought free throws would be a devastating shortcoming. So far, Mason is 21-38 from the line, and that number doesn’t totally reflect the damage inflicted after missing the front end of several one-and-one’s at Louisville. I don’t expect this to keep up all season.
Mason has done a great job of packing the paint and mitigating the size advantages the first two opponents had, but it doesn’t feel sustainable. Louisville ran some sets in the second half that got the ball in to their bigs and gave them very easy buckets. It feels like this will probably happen more easily as the bigger teams on our schedule (like Penn State) get to see more of how we defend the paint. The strategy of swarming the paint with bodies also leads to open looks from deep on kickouts, which helped spur the run where Louisville pulled away.
Three Point Shooting and Three Point Defense
Our three-point shooting rate is the stuff I’ve been hoping for – 44% of our attempts have been threes – the problem is they aren’t falling. Jaire is 7-16 from deep on the season and the rest of the team is 8-31. A team that runs four guards needs to be able to shoot well from three, and under 33% isn’t going to cut it. A four-guard team also needs to defend the perimeter well, and Mason’s opponents are shooting 37.2% from deep on the season.
Jaire Grayer taking over Marquise Moore’s role
Jaire has been an absolute monster through two games, with a combined statline of 37 points on 26 shots, 19 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks. It’s not ideal to have him playing power forward but he seems well-suited for it.
Recruited to play the wing, Goanar has had to show off his versatility and play down low a whole lot more than anyone planned on. His ability to credibly defend the post without fouling kept Mason in the Louisville game (though he ultimately picked up four fouls) and he hit a BIG three against Lafayette in crunch time. Mar also found his way into the paint multiple times in the second half against Louisville and got to the line, scoring eight points despite shooting only 1-5 from the field. Mar has moved to the four at times with AJ Wilson coming in at the 5 in the few overlapping minutes they’ve played. This is a more ideal lineup and something we’ll hopefully see more of as AJ gets acclimated.
Hyperefficient Justin Kier
Kier has scored 33 points on 17 shots. That’s crazy efficient, and what’s more is that he’s doing it by putting his head down and driving to the basket. He’s had a couple great finishes and even hit a stepback jumper in the Louisville game. He’ll come back to earth since his current pace would be some sort of record, but if he stays in the 15ppg range and remains efficient that’s a big development.
Otis’s Assist/Turnover Ratio
Otis played well against Lafayette and had one of the worst outings of his career against Louisville, so it was tough to decide to put him in the good or bad section. His 9 assists to 3 turnovers on the season wins the day. I’m rooting for Otis to hit the 5 assists per game threshold this year, as no Mason player has done that since Terry Reynolds in the 2003-2004 season.
If you read me you know that I’ve harped on how little Mason turns over the opponent, which doesn’t make a ton of sense for a four-guard team. So far we’ve generated 14 turnovers in each game, which might not be a ton, but it looks like the emphasis on generating turnovers is there. Turnovers will lead to transition offense, and this team can use some easy buckets. Justin Kier has led the charge here with six steals, actively working to disrupt passing lanes and strip ballhandlers.
Ian Boyd From Not Deep
Boyd is 2-9 from three but 8-11 from inside the arc. His midrange jumper was working against Lafayette’s zone and he was capable of getting to the rim and finishing against Louisville’s lanky defense. If I’m Coach Paulsen (and we’re all very lucky that I’m not) I’m telling Ian to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim more.
I’ll see you back here next week. Until then, go Mason!