Petey’s Bucket of Knowledge: George Mason Basketball Weekly Rundown, Volume 7

Welcome back to the weekly rundown! After a longer-than-expected hiatus, I’m back to write way too many words about George Mason basketball. A couple house-keeping items first:

  • The plan is to get back on the cadence of writing a weekly column, starting now. In case that doesn’t happen, you can always follow me on twitter (@peteybuckets) for shower thoughts and in-game commentary.
  • Look out for another A10 Player of the Year watch coming out soon. It was a lot of fun to write and ended up being pretty accurate, so there’s no reason not to keep it going.

Since the last rundown, a lot of things have happened. Mason came back to win a fun one against a frisky Morgan State team, opened A10 play with a non-competitive loss to Rhode Island, surprised everyone by winning in overtime against UMass, got murdered at home by Davidson, won a gut-check game against St. Joe’s (did anything cool happen in that game?), and hammered one out against a physically imposing St. Louis team. Per usual we won’t get to everything, but there’s a lot to talk about. Let’s start with the most obvious topic of conversation surrounding Mason basketball.

Otis Livingston II

Otis Livingston the second (say that in your best PA announcer voice) has been unreal in a lot of different ways to start A10 play. We can start with the stats, as he’s averaging 23.6 points, 4.6 assists to 2.2 turnovers, 1 steal, and shooting 54.5% through five games. According to my research on College Basketball Reference, no one has finished a season of conference play with those numbers since at least 1992-93. Assuming he can’t fly this high all season, if you knock those numbers down to a more reasonable 20 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 50% shooting, he would join an impressive list that includes Nate Wolters, Ben Hansbrough, and Ben Simmons.

Otis’s efficiency numbers in conference are absurd as well. He’s sporting a 29.9 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a 128.7 offensive rating, and a true shooting percentage of .660. He’s doing that on a 28.5% usage rating, which illustrates just how much he’s relied on to create. If advanced stats aren’t your thing, just take my word for it that those are all really good. Mason’s offense is better when Otis has the ball.

Ultimately, statistics are just a reflection of how a player performs on the court, and Otis has been sensational. The buzzer beater against St. Joe’s was awesome for a lot of reasons, one being that players like Otis tend to have defining moments like that in their careers, and sometimes you can feel it as it’s happening. (Warning – we’re about to get a little sentimental). Sometimes the moments are a single play that helps define how you’ll remember the player, like Jalen Jenkins’ full-court heave against Manhattan, Sherrod Wright’s Valentine’s Day buzzer beater against VCU, or Cam Long’s dunk over Larry Sanders. Other times it’s a player turning into a human tow truck and dragging the team to victory along with them, like Marquise Moore’s triple double at the Palestra, Ryan Pearson’s 35 point, 14 rebound game against College of Charleston, or Will Thomas torturing the much larger Josh Boone over and over again in 2006. Otis’s game against St. Joe’s was a little bit of both. He had 25 points on 10-13 shooting; the rest of the team shot 12-28. He was nearly perfect in a game where the margin for error was razor thin. And in crunch time when it seemed like Mason was somehow going to lose a game it led the entire way, he was nails.

Jaire Grayer has a sneaky case for all-defense, is an incredibly unique player, and is probably underappreciated

I’ll start this section by saying that I don’t think Jaire makes the A10 All-Defensive team. Generally those players have one of three things going for them: they play on a team with great defense, they have a reputation as a great defender, or they have eye-popping stats. Jaire is a no on the first two and a kinda on the third. The thing that pops out to me is his 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game – it’s rare to find a player that has a per-game average of over 1 in both categories. Defensive juggernaut Rhode Island has none. VCU’s frenetic trapping and pressing scheme has yielded none. In fact, I can’t find a single player in the A10 who has more than 1 steal and 1 block per game. Even Yuta Watanabe, GW’s 6’8” spiderman-style guard, is only at 0.7 steals per game, and he’s a near lock for A10 All-Defense honors. A couple other players are close, like Tydus Verhoeven from Duquesne and Ladarien Griffin from St. Bonaventure, but no one is comfortably above the threshold in both categories like Jaire.

In fact, Jaire is such a unique player (or perhaps, asked to play such a unique role) that he’s one of two people in the country averaging 1 steal per game, 1 block per game, 7 rebounds per game, and shooting over 40% from 3 on six or more attempts per game. The other is Keita Bates-Diop, a fast-rising senior who has led Ohio State to a surprising 15-4 record. Mikal Bridges from Villanova and DJ Hogg from Texas A+M are the only other players even close.

Again, it’s going to be tough for Jaire to receive all-defense honors when he doesn’t yet have the reputation of a great defender and the team he plays on is poor defensively. It’s also true that his block and rebound numbers might trend down now that Calixte is in the starting lineup and Jaire doesn’t have to play the 4 anymore. However, that won’t stop us from appreciating just how good he’s been in a role where he’s been asked to do a little bit of everything.

Greg Calixte (Greggy Buckets) just keeps getting better

According to Kenpom, Greg Calixte has a 19.8% defensive rebounding rate, a 9.4% offensive rebounding rate, and a 4% block rate in conference. Those are all top-15 numbers, and all very solid for a true freshman. Greg’s game isn’t flashy – he doesn’t stuff the stat sheet with blocks like AJ or throw down highlight reel dunks – but he continues to show signs that he can be a prototype 5 man in a pack-line defense. He rebounds well, understands defensive positioning, alters shots in the paint, and he’s getting more comfortable with the ball in his hands on a game-by-game basis. He’s 11-18 from the floor over the past three games, and that included a sweet lefty hook shot that gave Mason the lead late in the second half against St. Louis. How much Greg continues to improve over the rest of the season will go a long way toward determining next season’s outlook.

Random stats that I find interesting

I’ve been saying all season long that Mason should run out in transition more to generate easy buckets, and here’s some data from hoop-math.com to back that up. Mason is:

  • 288th in the NCAA in percentage of shots taken in transition
  • 267th in non-transition eFG%
  • 120th in transition eFG%

That’s a fancy way of saying Mason is much better in transition than in the halfcourt. I think it’s been obvious in a few games, notably Morgan State, UMass, and St. Joe’s, that playing faster helps Mason. The halfcourt offense is still clunky; players like Kier, Boyd, and AJ thrive in the open court; a team that plays a bunch of guards generally wants to play faster to generate open threes and neutralize opposing bigs. It’s safe to say this won’t become a point of emphasis this season, but the team clearly hits a groove when the pace picks up.

Quick notes about today’s game at George Washington

I’ll be watching to see what GW Coach Maurice Joseph does with Yuta Watanabe. Yuta is a 6’8” guard who is a tenacious defender and can score in a variety of ways. His shooting has been streaky his whole career, but defensively, he’s the queen on the chess board.

Last season MoJo took advantage of Paulsen’s switch-heavy defensive scheme to get Tyler Cavanaugh and Yuta switched onto the much shorter Otis (you may even remember me doing a gif breakdown showing how easily these switches were being conceded). Cavanaugh and Yuta combined to score 72 points in two GW victories. Cavanaugh isn’t there anymore, but Yuta is, and I expect Joseph will try to get that same matchup. Watch for Yuta setting screens for Otis’s man (likely Terry Nolan, a very good freshman) to see if Mason concedes switches again. If they do, it’s not the end of the world. Yuta is a shaky shooter so keeping him out of the paint or slowing him down until help arrives should suffice.

On the other side of the ball, Yuta is likely to spend time guarding Otis. Yuta is the kind of quick, lengthy defender who can give Otis fits. The worst game of Otis’s career came in a loss at GW last season, when he was held to just 2 points on 1-4 shooting. GW isn’t as complete a team this year, so if Yuta does guard Otis I expect to see a lot of scoring from Mason’s supporting cast, and given the way he’s playing lately, I bet Otis gets his anyway. This feels like the kind of game where we might see 20 from Justin Kier.

I’ll see you back here next week. Go Mason!

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