Welcome back to the weekly rundown! As is tradition, we’ll run through some good things, some not so good things, and some generally interesting things from this week in Mason basketball. Let’s get to it.
Javon Greene’s breakout game
The most important thing that happened this week wasn’t the win against JMU; it was Javon Greene finally finding his stroke from deep. After starting the season 0-15 from three, he hit 5-8 against Auburn, including 4-7 during a second half comeback that saw Mason flirt with the lead. It was a breakout performance that’s been desperately needed by a team struggling to generate points outside of the starting lineup. We’ve seen one bench rookie breakout already that hasn’t led to sustained production (which we’ll get to in a moment) so it’s too early to declare that Javon is here to stay, but the stroke looked smooth, confident, and reliable. His 0-15 start looked like a fluke the whole way, because he can clearly shoot.
To this point in the season, over 40% of Mason’s shot attempts are threes, and only 34.2% of those were going in prior to the Auburn game (it’s up to 35.9% now). Additionally, fewer than 8% of Mason’s points were coming from the reserves. Hopefully Javon’s emergence is permanent, because he can make major contributions to Mason’s badly lacking shooting and bench scoring.
The AJ Wilson experience
After AJ’s game-saving breakout against CSUN, here’s what he’s done in the four games since:
35 minutes, 3 points on 0-6 shooting, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block.
Yikes. After watching him all through the offseason at Kenner League, By George was really high on him. His positive traits are apparent – he can jump out of the gym, he’s got a smooth three-point stroke, and he’s got the gift of timing that will allow him to be a great shot-blocker. However, he’s still working on putting it all together against legitimate college competition. During the first half at JMU, he got an earful from Coach Dave Paulsen, due to what appeared to be a missed assignment on defense. Shortly thereafter he took an ill-advised three, contested and early in the shot clock. He didn’t play the second half.
When people gripe about Mason’s lack of depth, it’s partially because of this. AJ is a freshman big playing in his first college games. He’s going to have highs and lows. The problem is that the team can’t afford too many lows if they’re going to be competitive, so those get the most attention. In a perfect world the coaching staff wouldn’t have to rely on AJ so much and could bring him along at the right pace, but that’s not really possible given the limited options around him.
The opening minutes
The slow starts this week were bizarre. Mason had only 3 points in the first six and a half minutes against JMU. Against Auburn, they were stuck on 3 points for over nine minutes of gametime after the ball tipped. They were outscored 33-6 in nearly 16 minutes to open the two games this week.
Otis’s assist rate
According to Kenpom.com, Otis has the 83rd best assist rate in the country, assisting on 30.8% of buckets made while he’s on the floor. With 15 assists this week, he’s crept over the 5 assists per game threshold. He carries a tremendous minutes load because the team struggles to generate offense when he’s not on the floor. His ability to create for himself as well as his teammates keeps the offense viable.
The other side of the height argument
I’ve focused a lot on how Mason’s size leads to defensive lapses because the defensive scheme is to sag off shooters and borrow guards from the perimeter to help defend the paint. Against Auburn, it became apparent that the size deficit was also making it difficult for the offense to get to the rim. Mason finished the game with only 14 points in the paint, the lowest total this season. The second lowest total was 16 against Louisville, another team with a big size advantage; Mason hasn’t scored fewer than 24 points in the paint in any other game.
Quirky stat that reaffirms all this: 13.1% of Mason’s two-point attempts get blocked, the 21st worst number in the NCAA. Auburn’s 7 blocked shots on Sunday didn’t help.
A miracle was needed to beat 1-5 JMU
File this under the “not good” category. As fun as the win was, there were some concerning elements. Mason had only three points through the first six and a half minutes. From the time Mason took a 52-45 lead with 12 minutes remaining up until there were about ten seconds left, the Dukes outscored them 26-15. Mason was trailing by four with mere seconds on the clock. Develle Phillips, JMU’s forward, was 7-8 from the field for 15 points, doubling his season average. Stuckey Mosley was 6-9 from three; Mason got a little lucky that the rest of the Dukes shot only 2-18 from distance.
All of this is in addition to the fact that JMU is not a very good basketball team. A concern for Mason’s season outlook is that the wins are close games against mediocre competition and the losses to good teams are decisive. That’s part of the reason Kenpom’s algorithm has Mason finishing a disappointing 5-13 in the A10. I’ll still bet on them to do better, but there are reasons to think this team will underwhelm in A10 play.
I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Calixte this season, but he’s been putting in some good minutes lately. A lightly recruited, raw big man who’s still available in the late signing period is a prototype that generally doesn’t contribute much in year one. Against JMU he got called for a blatant travel, didn’t recover quickly enough on a couple hedges that left him outside the top of the key, and lost his man on a few boxouts. However, he’s also demonstrated patience on the block with the ball that bodes well. He’s becoming very comfortable with the process of catching the ball near the rim, waiting for the nearest defender to leave his feet, and going up for either a clean look or to draw a foul. Add in his strong rebounding (5 boards in 13 minutes against JMU) and he’s been a pleasant surprise.
Ian Boyd’s floater
Ian does a very good job using his big frame to create space in the lane, where he’s been showing surprisingly soft touch on the floater. It feels like he’s hitting them at a high percentage. His game is starting to come around – he started the season 5-21 from three but has hit 6-12 over his past three games, including a mega-clutch three with time ticking down against JMU. On a team that lacks consistency in both paint scoring and three-point shooting, getting him going on offense is a welcome development.
I’ll see you back here next week. Until then, go Mason!