Welcome back to the weekly rundown! Sure, Mason went 0-2 this week, but I feel like we learned or confirmed a few interesting things. Let’s jump right in.
Defensively, the first half box scores against George Washington and Duquesne were U-G-L-Y. GW missed ten shots but had three offensive rebounds. Duquesne was even worse, with eight missed shots but four offensive rebounds. That’s a total of eleven possessions across the two first halves where the opponent got a shot up but didn’t score. That’s absurdly bad, and emblematic of the slow starts that have plagued Mason all season.
Turnovers were what kept both games from being over at the half. George Washington had eight and Duquesne had twelve. Both teams had only four in the second half, but in my mind this offers some more evidence that this teams’ best chance of generating stops is to turn the opponent over more, rather than attempting to play straight-up defense every time down the court. It became particularly apparent in the second half of the Duquesne game, when the team was gassed, that keeping Duquesne off the boards was nearly impossible. Duquesne finished the second half with ten offensive rebounds (including the one that let Eric Williams Jr. hit a game-tying three).
It’s tough to say if the increased turnover production is the result of a particular point of focus or just random noise, but the Patriots did outperform their season average in turnover percentage (16%) in both games (GW 17.9%, Duquesne 19.3%). The 16% opponent turnover percentage is 320th in the country according to Kenpom, and not nearly enough for a team that has so much trouble preventing good looks.
Otis’s troubles at the Smith Center
Otis Livingston The Second is putting together one of the most impressive career resumes in Mason history. The Smith Center (George Washington’s home court) stands alone as the one place in conference he’s never had a good game, despite multiple tries. Here are his lines from the past three years:
2-11, 7 points, 5 assists, 3 TOs
1-4, 2 points, 3 assists, 4 TOs
1-7, 3 points, 3 assists, 5 TOs
That’s 4-22 shooting, 12 points, and 11 assists to 12 turnovers over the course of three games. It’s bizarre until you remember that GW has a 6’8” freak named Yuta Watanabe. His feet are quick enough that Otis can’t sauce him up, and his reach is long enough that Otis can’t shoot over him. GW Coach Maurice Joseph used Yuta to defend Otis in each of the three games he’s coached against Mason, and it’s always effective. Joseph used the word “luxury” several times in the postgame presser when asked about being able to use a defender like Yuta on a player like Otis.
Yuta Watanabe is a one-of-a-kind talent, so I don’t think it’s right to worry about the GW game in the sense that other teams will be able to do the same thing. There simply aren’t any other Yutas in the A10 waiting to be deployed. My biggest worry is that Otis and Dave won’t be able to solve this puzzle the next time around, which will mean that Yuta ruins homecoming. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
Justin Kier taking over
Something interesting happened in the second half and overtime of the Duquesne game – Otis started more possessions off the ball than any game this season. Justin Kier had a plus matchup, consistently getting to the rim against his defender, and Paulsen rode him down the stretch. Despite the loss, Kier delivered with 27 points on 15 shots. He also hit a layup in the closing seconds of the first overtime to extend the game to a second, taking his man off the dribble from the top of the key. Multiple possessions in crunch time started with something that looked like a clearout for Kier, who was consistently winning the 1 on 1 battle.
Kier hasn’t been relied upon as the primary creator like that in his career. Last year he deferred scoring duties to the other four starters; he’s been asked to take on a bigger scoring role this year and occasionally spells Otis at point guard, but what happened against Duquesne was brand new. Kier is still the kind of scorer who isn’t super polished, so how much he shoots and scores each night will likely be dependent on matchup. His three ball has disappeared this year and teams are starting to play well off him on the perimeter. His handle isn’t tight enough to consistently drive into the paint without losing a few turnovers. But when his matchup is right and he can get the corner on his man and evade the help defenders, he can deliver. With 40 points on 24 shots this week, he certainly rose to the occasion.
Because this is my column and I get to make the rules, we’re going to bring it home with some random bullets since the rest of these thoughts don’t really have anything to do with one another.
- I think we’ve all hoped for a little more offensive production from Javon Greene’s rookie year, particularly given all the minutes he’s been getting, but he continues to show flashes of what has Mason fans so hopeful. In the first half against GW he had 7 consecutive Mason points, helping close what had been a 15-point deficit to just one. On the first possession he hit two free throws after getting fouled on a strong take to the rim. On the second he took the ball coast-to-coast and used a pretty little hesitation move at the top of the key to blow by his defender, and on the third possession he hit a rhythm three off an assist from Kier. That was the closest Mason would get all night, and they were the only points Javon would score. In the postgame presser Paulsen said that Javon is still getting his sea legs under him in game situations and he routinely does things like that in practice. The sooner Javon finds his sea legs the better the team will be, as he has creativity and scoring chops that the other guards (Otis aside) simply don’t have.
- Ian Boyd’s three point shooting may be coming around. Or maybe it’s not. I’m not exactly sure. I do know that he was 13-50 from behind the line before this week, then went a combined 5-13 against GW and Duquesne. That’s a super small sample, so we can’t draw any conclusions from it, but it’s good to see. We’ve talked a lot in this space about how badly the team lacks three point shooting from the supporting cast, so I’m hopeful that Boyd can emerge as a shooter.
- I enjoy finding little statistical oddities, so here’s a new one – Goanar Mar is in an exclusive club of guys who are more likely to grab an offensive rebound than a defensive rebound. His ORB% is 8.4% and his DRB% is 8.1%. There are only seven other players in the country with more than 2.2 offensive rebounds per game but fewer than 2.5 defensive rebounds per game. This is both a positive and a negative – the offensive rebounding rate is good (top 400 in the country per Kenpom), but the defensive number is bad. Goanar is crafty and does a really good job of sneaking under the boards and rebounding short misses, but he really struggles to keep his man boxed out on the defensive end. Adding weight to his skinny frame in the offseason will probably be a priority.
That’s it for this week Mason fans. See you back here next week, when we’re hopefully celebrating a win over VCU. Go Mason!