The beginning of George Mason’s season has been underwhelming and at the same time not surprising. With eight scholarship players, the Patriots struggle with consistency across the board.
Shockers include the lack of a three-point game, an enlightened showing at Louisville, and falling apart against William and Mary. On a per game average, scoring is down by six points compared to last year, rebounding is down by five boards, assists are down by nearly two. Yet the team is on pace for the same amount of turnovers, lets up a similar amount of points, and defensively have near identical shooting numbers.
Nevertheless, there has been some good moments and encouraging performances in the first half of a 7-9 (1-2) season. As of this moment the team is on pace for their second best season in the last five years. While playing a considerably more difficult schedule, the team has no ‘bad losses’ on their record. The worst loss was against William and Mary (KenPom No. 188).
It is a rebuilding year that comes off of a shocking 2016-17 campaign. This year is more about learning for the players and the staff than it is performing. As for myself, it is the chance for us to learn about the team too. Here are our thoughts on George Mason Men’s Basketball’s mid-season awards:
Team MVP: Otis Livingston II
At the beginning of the season there was an expectation that both Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer would rise up to the occasion as the two leaders in the locker room. Livingston would continue doing what he had done throughout his entire Mason career and Grayer would fill in some of the gaps from the loss of Marquise Moore. Lets just say the play-making ability of Grayer is not quite what to the level Moore’s was a year ago.
Its clear the 5-11 point guard is the only player that can generate opportunities for the offense. Sophomore Justin Kier can attack defenses, but he is still developing that aspect of his game. As such, Mason has not been successful with Livingston has a bad outing. The Patriots have only won one contest when the junior did not dish out five assists or more (NC Central – three assists).
Also look at his scoring numbers in wins as compared to losses:
Wins: 19.14 ppg, 47.9 percent FG, 6.0 apg
Losses: 13.11 ppg, 40.2 percent FG, 3.0 apg
When Livingston plays strong (scoring and assisting), he makes the other players on the court look good as well. And it appears the three-year starter is starting to realize that. He has scored 14 or more points in the last four contests, including 33 against Massachusetts and 20 against Davidson.
Mason definitely needs more of Livingston to compete in the last half of the schedule. If he cannot get open shots or distribute the basketball, do not expect the Patriots to win that contest.
Here is the latest on where Livingston is in the Mason Record book (as of Jan. 8):
Otis Livingston II (20 points) brings his career total to 1,120 pts. Passes Jalen Jenkins & Kenwan Alford to move to 25th all-time. #MasonRecords
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) January 8, 2018
Otis Livingston II (3 assists) now has 285 assists in his career. Passes Jamel Perkins, Troy Manns and Corey Edwards for 13th all-time. #MasonRecords
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) January 8, 2018
Otis Livingston II made on 3pt basket last night. He now has 107 in his career, tying Sherrod Wright for 15th all-time. #MasonRecords
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) December 7, 2017
Note: He is now all alone in 15th all-time
Best Freshman: Goanar Mar
This one is fairly straightforward. Goanar Mar is the only freshman to have regular contribution on the court for Mason. There has been flashes of what he can do offensively and against appropriate size match-ups he has been up to par on defense. Although his season-high of 22 points was early in the year against Cal State Northridge, he is still averaging 11.4 points on the year. Of all the new players, he is the only one that appears to be confident with the ball in his hands. For his 6-7 length though he does need more than 4.4 rebounds a contest and three blocks on the year.
By the end of the season, I suspect that Greg Calixte might take this honor away from Mar. Calixte has really settled into his role since he took the starting job away from Ian Boyd. In the post he is a more sizable defender than Mar and does give a presence that allows the court to open up from different angles. Besides, Mar is better playing outside the arc anyway.
Coming into the season I thought Greg Calixte was going to have the biggest impact from this class. Its been slow developing but tonight he is working it against one of the best interior defensive teams in the A10.
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) January 4, 2018
A.J. Wilson is still developing as a player that can have an impact in all aspects of the game. He will have some stat stuffing games from behind the arc and at the rim, but for now wait for his development.
WANT TO READ MORE: FLASHBACK TO THE PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS
Biggest Surprise: Ian Boyd
While Kier may be the easy vote in this category, Boyd should be given more credit than he has so far through 16 games. Everyone, probably Boyd did too, knew that he was a placeholder for either Calixte or Wilson to get accustomed to the college game. Yet, that has not stopped the 6-4 guard from having a quietly successful season.
Starting the first 11 games on the year, Boyd did provide offense in times where Mason needed it the most. He had 18 against Louisiana Tech and had 13 at James Madison just to keep the Patriots within striking range.
In nearly every category Boyd has improved his game compared to a season ago. This holds true for even when he was moved to the bench. His scoring has gone up 1.5 points a game, he is shooting better from all over the court, he is +1.9 in rebounds and already has five more assists than he did in all of 2016-17.
There is something to be said about a player that was a starter, was then moved to the bench, and continues to be productive. Since that move Boyd is averaging 5.0 ppg (35 percent FG, 100 percent FT), 2.4 rpg, 1.4 apg. It could be better, but it is right on pace with what he did while he was starting and playing seven more minutes a game.
Best Defensive Player: Justin Kier
Another easy one, even though Kier does not put up the defensive numbers that jump off a stat sheet. Consistently he matches up against the best guard from the other team and makes their day miserable.
Against Massachusetts, he (combined with Grayer and Livingston) held Luwane Pipkins, the leading scorer of the Minutemen to 5-14 shooting and 1-7 from deep. It led to Mason’s only conference win so far.
At the same time it has led to the expense of his offense. Spending so much effort against elite guards does drain one rather easily. On the season he does average 1.31 steals but at 6-4 he only does have one block. If you don’t believe me in this category, just watch the players the Kier marks up against for the rest of the season and tell me how he does.
Grayer does get an honorable mention in this category (1.69 spg, 1.19 bpg)
Best Walk-on: Jack Tempchin
Being a walk-on is difficult, but the number one job in a game is to pump of the bench. Jack Tempchin may not have the sideline celebrations like Troy Temara, but does keep everyone up even when the game is trending in the wrong direction.
They are often underrated and are of huge value in practice. Although I have not personally been at a Mason practice, it would be safe to say he goes up against Livingston. Aside from Livingston and Kier, Tempchin may also have the best ball handling skills of team. He also is a vocal leader of a quiet group of young players.
Additionally he has been the most productive of the walk-ons on the court. He has the trifecta of a point, rebound, and an assist.
Best Win: Massachusetts
It was going to be James Madison, being the first of two road wins of the season and a comeback for the ages, but then the Massachusetts game happened. Although it took Livingston being Superman (33 points, nine assists), the offense looked the best that it had been all season. It did not look like the Patriots were nickel-and-diming their way through a game. Of the 27 made baskets, 15 of them were the result of an assist. The Patriots outrebounded the opponents and even went out on the fastbreak.
Oh and it resulted in their only top 200 (RPI or KenPom) win of the season. For more, read the game recap and more on Livingston’s career night.
Chance at All-Conference Accolades:
As we all learned last season, not only do you have to be good to get all-conference honors but you also have to be on a decent squad and have some preseason hype. A year ago only two players, Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge made the top three teams from a squad that was below .500 in conference play. Then again, Davidson is a media darling and those guys put up ridiculous numbers.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, it will not be likely that they will finish in the top half of the league this season. The best chance that Mason has get a player on is Livingston (15.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.3 apg). One, because he is the leader of the team and without him it would be questionable if Mason would have even won a game this year and two, because there was some early hype around the 5-11 guard. If the Patriots can finish above 10th in the conference, he has an outside shot at the Third Team but keep in mind his assist numbers are only sixth best in the Atlantic 10 as of Jan. 8.
In terms of the All-Rookie squad. There is a little bit of a youth movement in the Atlantic 10 and a lot of freshmen playing considerable minutes and being productive while doing so. If anyone of the three has a chance it is Mar but that will be if he wills some wins to the Patriots and gets his three-point game going.
My A10 Power Rankings for @A10Talk:
3. St. Joe's
7. La Salle
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) January 8, 2018
I’ve done pretty well on my picks so far this season (13-3). It is pretty early (and I never like making picks more than a week out), but I suspect that Mason will go 6-9 the rest of the way. That will put their record at 13-18 (7-11 A10), which I think would actually be a decent year considering everything. At the very least, they will be somewhere around 4-8 conference wins.