Welcome back to the weekly rundown! Since there’s only one George Mason basketball game to discuss, today’s post is going to have A10 power rankings as well. My column, my rules. Let’s get to it.
The Trouble with VCU
This year’s VCU team isn’t overwhelmingly good like in years past. They have talent, but they rely on a lot of young players and their defense is shaky. Coming into the game I thought Mason had a pretty good chance to win if they limited VCU’s supporting cast (Justin Tillman is too good, he’s going to get his), got into the paint against VCU’s suspect interior defense, and pushed the pace. VCU’s press hasn’t been very good this season and they’ve given up a lot of easy buckets in transition. I didn’t figure that VCU would have such a tremendous rebounding advantage and that Mason would look so helpless in defending VCU’s bigs. Justin Tillman went nuts in the first half, scoring 14 points on 9 shots and grabbing 8 boards. In the second half it was Khris Lane’s turn, as he scored 11 on 5-5 shooting and grabbed 8 rebounds himself. On the day they combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds and were pretty clearly the difference in what was otherwise an evenly matched game. Some thoughts from the game:
- Greg Calixte and AJ Wilson got some important reps in defending Tillman. Tillman is the best back-to-the-basket big in the A10, so shutting him down isn’t realistic to expect, but making him work can go a long way. Tillman missed a few shots against Calixte and AJ when they were able to bump him before he caught it in the post. That pre-catch bump is important because Tillman isn’t missing if he gets the ball where he wants it. A few times Tillman caught the ball with little resistance and the buckets were automatic.
- Limiting “everyone else” actually went pretty decently with the glaring exception of Khris Lane. Lane and Tillman were 18-27 from the floor; the rest of VCU was 10-39. That includes uncharacteristically bad games from Isaac Vann (0-7) and Jonathan Williams (2-8), but there’s some hope that Mason has plus matchups for the next meeting with VCU.
- VCU did a good job of denying the ball to Otis Livingston. They would double or trap him when he came across halfcourt, forcing him to give the ball up, then spend the rest of the possession using one of their longer defenders to deny him the ball. Mason’s offense isn’t threatening when Otis doesn’t have the ball in his hands, and Otis was 1-3 in the first half. Kier has got to be the guy that steps up when that happens since he’ll have good matchups, but he only mustered 9 points on 7 shots. Mason’s adjustments in the second half were too little, too late.
- Jaire Grayer led the team with 13 rebounds. No one else had more than Ian Boyd’s 3. That’s not a typo. Calixte, Mar, and Kier had 2, while AJ and Otis had 1. The rebounding issues were team-wide and ultimately led to VCU getting 12 more shots up. Letting the opponent get that many more shots makes the path to victory extremely narrow. Jaire supplemented his 14 points and 13 rebounds with 4 steals, as Mason combined for 10 as a team. Jaire can’t be the only junkyard dog when Mason meets VCU again.
Ultimately, there’s some reason for optimism. VCU is good and they only won by eight despite the massive rebounding advantage. The supporting cast was held reasonably in check and the game looks a lot different if Mason shoots better than 4-20 from deep. As has been the case all season, Mason didn’t get a big scoring contribution from the bench (10 from AJ, 3 from Boyd), and they’ll need scorers to step up to beat good teams. The bad news is that VCU didn’t exactly play their A game either, and they still won comfortably.
A10 Power Rankings
The A10 has been bizarre this year, but the big picture is starting to shake out and I think I’ve got a handle on power rankings. If you look at the big, gigantic, disgusting middle tier as a bunch of teams that are solid at home but bad on the road things start to make sense. It doesn’t make it any easier to rank those teams, but it makes sense.
Tier 1 – the juggernaut
- Rhode Island – needs no explanation
Tier 2 – actually good teams, I think
- Davidson – two of their losses are to Richmond and the other is to Dayton, by one point on the road. If you give them the benefit of the doubt and say that Richmond is just a bad matchup for them, there’s nothing to be ashamed of here. However, four of the five wins are against St. Louis, GW, Mason, and Fordham, with the only good win being against the Bonnies at home. You could reasonably have them anywhere from 2-5.
- VCU – losing at Dayton isn’t a bad loss, but getting mutilated 106-79 is. Other losses are at St. Joe’s in overtime and home against upstart Richmond, which aren’t terrible. VCU has a “good” win against Duquesne, but the rest of their wins are Fordham, La Salle, GW, Saint Louis, and Mason.
- St. Bonaventure – 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road in conference. They’ve beaten UMass, Fordham, and GW. Losses have come against Rhode Island, Davidson, and Dayton, and they’ve split against St. Joe’s. Keeping them here because their schedule is about to get a lot easier and I don’t think I trust any other A10 team to knock them out of this spot. I admit I’m betting on the talent to figure it out, and I’m concerned they don’t have a good win. (Side note – the Bonnies are the first of the “road woes” teams but it doesn’t feel right to have them outside the second tier).
Tier 3 – road woes
- Dayton – Richmond is their only road conference win. According to Kenpom, they’ve played nine away or neutral games this season, and they are 2-7 in those games. Keeping them in the five spot since they’ve got the best wins in the conference, beating Richmond, VCU, Bonaventure, and Davidson.
- *Richmond – has now beaten VCU, Duquesne, and Davidson while managing to lose to Fordham, St. Louis, and Dayton. Giving them a “young team that’s clearly getting better” ranking here. The * is there because they’re the only team in this tier that doesn’t have a sharp home/road disparity.
- Duquesne – 5-4 in conference, but 4-1 at home and 1-3 on the road. Only impressive win is Dayton at home, but as we’ve established, Dayton has been trash outside of Ohio. Their only road win is Fordham. Going into Rhode Island and almost knocking off Rhody probably says as much about them as any of their wins. Four of their next six are away, so I see them sliding down the rankings.
- St. Joe’s – 4-0 at home, 0-4 on the road. It would be a lot easier to rank the A10 if we knew whether or not these guys are good or bad. They’ve got more good wins than anyone but Dayton – VCU, St. Bonaventure, and Dayton, while losing to GW, Mason, and UMass. Since they lost at the buzzer to Mason and by one possession to UMass, I think they’re probably due for some luck.
- St. Louis – 3-2 at home, 1-3 on the road. Kind of lost in the shuffle because they’re underachieving relative to their talent level (a Travis Ford specialty), but they’ve played a tough schedule in conference. Candidate to be much, much better next year.
- La Salle – 3-1 at home, 0-4 on the road. Not a good win in the bunch, beating St. Louis, Fordham, and a suddenly depleted UMass team. Big caveat is that two of those losses are without BJ Johnson on the road and in overtime, so they could very easily be 5-3 instead of 3-5.
Tier 4 – just not that good
- George Mason – it pains me to put my Patriots here, but they’ve got a bad loss to GW with defensible losses against URI, Davidson, Duquesne, and VCU. The only conference wins are at UMass, at home at the buzzer against St. Joes, and against a perpetually underachieving St. Louis.
- George Washington – doesn’t have a loss to anyone outside the top 7 in these rankings, but they’ve only beaten Mason and St. Joe’s.
- UMass – might be a little harsh but UMass went in the tank pretty quickly after Rashaan Holloway was announced as out for the season. They’ve lost their past four games by an average of 17 points per game, and that includes giving up 51 second-half points to an offensively inept Fordham team.
Tier ten thousand – just awful
- Fordham – I don’t want to talk about them.
That’s it for this week. Since I’m also a New England Patriots fan, next week’s Monday column is a game-time decision. Go Pats!