Time for conference play for George Mason and the rest of the Atlantic 10. It is essentially a new season for the Patriots and a majority of the other teams in the conference.
There are some other teams that are not in that situation. Some are trying to build on their season resume and make a case to the NCAA Selection Committee. One of those squads is the one that Mason opens conference play against, Rhode Island.
Back in October, the Rams were overwhelmingly chosen to repeat as Atlantic 10 champions. Garnering 27 of the possible 28 first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll, only St. Bonaventure appeared to be primed to contest the 2017 champs. Currently Rhode Island has two points in the AP Top 25 poll; every week this year they were considered in the rankings.
But it is now time for conference play and it always lead to a strange result or two with the familiarity between competition. Rhode Island should win this game hands down. Their starting five is better than Mason’s in almost every individual match-up, their defense does exactly what the Patriots struggle against, and they can score from all areas of the court. According to ESPN’s power index, the Rams have a 94.6 percent to win.
Rhode Island (8-3) played one of the more difficult non-conference schedules in the conference. They gathered a huge victory over in-state rival Providence and beat then-ranked Seton Hall on the road. All three losses were to team’s in the KenPom top-50. More impressively, of their 11 games, they missed the Preseason All-Atlantic 10 first team selection, E.C. Matthews for six of them.
The senior’s history is injured filled but highlighted by accolades. He missed a majority of the 2015-16 season due to a knee injury, but in every other season he received an All-Atlantic 10 nod and was named A10 Most Outstanding Player in the postseason tournament. Playing in only five games this year, he averages 11.6 points and shoots 38.6 percent from the field, both career-lows for the 6-5 guard. Last year he had 18 points for the Rams in a 77-74 victory over the Patriots.
Matthews is not the player that can scare the Patriots this go around. Another senior, Jared Terrell, scores 17.8 points a game making 45.5 percent of all shots he takes, including 37.0 percent from deep. Stanford Robinson also brings home 10.5 points and 6.1 rebounds a contest. The primary post player, Andre Berry (8.8 ppg) doesn’t get too many touches but he splits time with the talented sophomore, Cyril Langevine (1.25 blocks per game) from the bench.
Rhode Island protects the ball better than anyone Mason has faced this far, and have the fifth fewest turnovers in the country. They also lead the conference with a +5.9 turnover margin.
BACK-IN-TIME: WHAT ABOUT THOSE PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS?
There are some advantages that George Mason (6-7) have though as they try and knock Rhody down at the Ryan Center for the first time all year. Rebounding kept the team in this contest last year and now Rhode Island is without the towering Hassan Martin. Once again the Rams are not dominant off the glass like they are in many other categories and Mason loves to have everyone crash the boards.
Goanar Mar (12.1 ppg), if he performs like he did in the early part of the season, can open up holes for Mason’s offense in this one. His presence down low will bring more bodies in the paint and allow shooters Jaire Grayer (39.1 percent from 3pt) and Otis Livingston II (38.5 percent from 3pt) to bring a dual threat. The freshman also has a knack for drawing fouls, one area that has slightly plagued the Rams all season.
Here are three things to watch for vs. Rhode Island:
- Rebounding edge; If Mason wants to have any chance, they have to earn extra possessions off the glass
- Fouls; Rhode Island gets into foul trouble often and Mason does not have a deep bench, could be problematic for both squads
- E.C. Matthews; he still clearly is not 100 percent. His production can led to the Rams success or their demise
Looks like head coach Dave Paulsen is convinced of the development of Greg Calixte to continue starting him for Mason. If he can hold his own down low it can change the game for the Green and Golf. It would also help if he put up some points after coming off a career-high nine points against Morgan State.
With four days or more off this season, George Mason is 2-1 and comes into this one with seven off days. Also on the road, Mason is only 1-2 with a win at James Madison.
I cannot end this preview though without a shout out to the George Mason Women’s Basketball team. They kick off conference play at home on Dec. 31 against Davidson with an 11-3 record. They won their most non-conference games since the 1987-88 season. Dating back to last season they have won 10 straight at EagleBank Arena, a program record. Expect more content from the GiantKiller team as their impressive season continues.
Otis Livingston II (1,053) 20 points away from Jesse Young for 30th all-time.
Overall three pointers:
Jaire Grayer (136) is six three pointers behind Patrick Holloway for 11th all-time.
Otis Livingston II (111) is seven three pointers behind Brian Miller for 14th all-time.
Otis Livingston (272) is 11 assists behind Jamel Perkins and Troy Mans for 14th all-time.
Jaire Grayer (59) is five blocks behind Shevon Thompson for 19th all-time.
Prediction: Rhode Island 78, Mason 62
Prediction Record: 10-3