Sunday’s match-up against Penn State is arguably one of the biggest non-conference games that Green and Gold fans had circled once the schedule came out.
Not only is it the only home game against a Power 5 opponent since Virginia in Nov. 2012, but this will be a huge battle for recruiting rights in the Northern Virginia-Washington D.C. With George Mason upsetting the Nittany Lions 85-66 only a year ago, it is fair to be optimistic.
Already Penn State (8-3, 1-1 Big Ten) has wracked up a dominating win over an Atlantic 10 team. They beat George Washington in their last contest back on Dec. 9 with five players reaching double figures, 74-54.
Defensively the Nittany Lions are one of the best squads in the country. As a team they are 16th in steals per game with 9.6 and fourth in total blocks with 71. Sophomore Mike Watkins is third in the NCAA with 37 blocks. Standing at 6-9, he is not too much taller than the Patriots bigs, but he plays a similar role like Mason’s A.J. Wilson. His help side defense is fantastic.
Returning all of the starters from a season ago, and four of the starters that lost to George Mason last season, they do have experience. All starters thus far in the year are averaging 10 points or more.
They are led by Tony Carr who averages 20.0 points a game and is shooting 53.3 percent from behind the arc. He had 19 points and six rebounds against the Colonials. Their offense primarily runs on screens and pick and rolls set up by Watkins who has 12.6 points per game. They either dish it off to him or take an instant three depending on how the screen works. If left open Watkins will dominate the paint. Screens and proper switches have plagued the Patriots in numerous match-ups this season.
Since Nov. 20, Penn State has alternated wins and losses. If this trend were to continue it favors the Green and Gold, but Penn State has not played in eight days.
Coming off a terrible loss against Georgia Southern on Tuesday, George Mason (5-6) needs to have a bounce back game to get some momentum before conference play.
If this is a repeat performance from last game, where the Patriots had 21 turnovers, then it will not be a pretty game. The Nittany Lions thrive off playing with momentum and control set up by their defense. As the primary ball handlers it is imperative that Otis Livingston II (14.8 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Justin Kier (9.0 ppg, 2.1 apg) have clean games.
Although Wilson (13 points, 10 rebounds in his last contest) is developing game-by-game, Goanar Mar is going to have to be in to control Watkins. Not only is his defensive abilities better against traditional post players than Wilson, but he can legitimately spread the court and force Penn State to keep Watkins in the game and away from the rim. In an ideal situation both would be starting for the Patriots, but the depth chart does not support it.
Attacking from the mid-range, which favors Livingston, Kier, and Jaire Grayer the most, will be the best option for their offense. Penn State will apply pressure in the full court from time to time, but typically they try and hold down in the half court. The Patriots will fall down at some point by a sizable margin and they cannot jack up unorthodox three point shots. In fact when the team falls behind they resort to some tendencies that was common with the last head coach.
Here are three things to watch for vs. Penn State:
- Mason needs to attack the paint and get Penn State into foul trouble. Get the starters, primarily Watkins out of the game or playing less aggressive. Attacking the paint hasn’t been a forte this season for Mason, but they can make free baskets at the line.
- Rebounding edge; Penn State is going to force turnovers, it will be a matter of Mason getting extra possessions back.
- Goanar Mar; last game was his worst of the season. How will he rebound against a tough match-up?
In short, Mason needs to be smart with the basketball, fight for every loose ball, and do not take ill-advised shots. Penn State is not a team that can beat you with their offense, they try and smother you with defense.
A loss would not be the end of the world for the Patriots. A competitive contest though is something that the team desperately needs after losing five of their last seven.
After this match-up the Patriots only have a MEAC opponent, Morgan State before Atlantic 10 play kicks off against Rhode Island.
Otis Livingston II (1,031) is 12 away from Andy Bolden for 32nd; 17 away from Byron Allen for 31st.
Overall three pointers:
Jaire Grayer (131) is 11 three pointers behind Brian Miller for 13th all-time.
Otis Livingston II (111) is seven three pointers behind Brian Miller for 14th all-time.
Otis Livingston (266) is three assists behind Amp Davis for 16th all-time.
Jaire Grayer (57) is one behind Falerin Campbell for 20th.
Prediction: Penn State 74, Mason 65
Prediction Record: 8-3