Hello Mason Nation! All the chalk talk this week is from the VCU game. I’m always up for arguing basketball so leave a comment below or follow me on twitter (@peteybuckets) and we can have words. Due to the disjointed viewing experience (thanks, MASN) there’s some stuff I wanted to highlight but don’t have on tape. Before we get to the good stuff there are a few things I want to talk about:

– Otis Livingston II has an outside shot at 2,000 career points. He’s already at 825 career points, which means he likely hits 1,000 in the OOC portion of next season. I did the math, and if we conservatively assume he has 65 games left in his career, here’s what he needs to average to hit different point thresholds:

o 14 points per game: 1,735 career points
o 16 points per game: 1,865 career points
o 18 points per game: 1,995 career points

So he gets to 2,000 by averaging a little over 18 points per game for the rest of his career. It’s a long shot, since the system Paulsen wants to play spreads out the scoring load, and he can’t really miss any time, but it’s fun to think about.

– Mason has a turnover problem, and it’s on both sides of the ball. We’ve lost the turnover battle badly in four of the past five games, turning the ball over 67 times vs just 36 turnovers for our opponents. That’s about six extra possessions per game the opponent gets a chance to get a shot up, which really reduces the margin for error in other aspects of the game. This problem is twofold – we’ve been turning the ball over a little bit more (60 turnovers combined against VCU, GW, Dayton, and Rhode Island), but we’re also not forcing enough turnovers. Mason is now the 6th worst team in the country at turning over the opponent. All but one team in the bottom 20 gives up an average of less than one point per possession, and that’s UCF, who has a 7’6” center anchoring their defense. Dave Paulsen teams have never generated a lot of turnovers, as he prefers to play a very conservative and conventional defensive style, but this is extreme even for him.

– Ian Boyd is coming on at the right time. Since being held scoreless in the Richmond game, he’s averaging 9.2 points on 54% shooting. Moreover, he looked very comfortable against VCU’s bruising style of play, which bodes well for the future. Mason will need a big lift from him off the bench if we’re going to make a run in Pittsburgh.

Alright, now on to the gifs that you came for.

One thing I took away from reviewing this game is that there was a lot more positive than I initially thought. The turnovers were mostly halfcourt mental mistakes, which is good because those are correctable. VCU’s press actually doesn’t bother our guards that much (it didn’t in the first game either). The bigger issue on offense was that we didn’t get many, if any, good looks with Mo Alie-Cox on the floor. He’s a tremendous paint protector and the guards looked hesitant to drive with him near the paint. On defense, you already know the story – we can’t stop Justin Tillman with a guard playing the 4.

Let’s get all the bad stuff out of the way first.

Early in the game Kier offers up almost no resistance to a Samir Doughty drive. Kier is usually a solid defender but this is an uncharacteristically poor effort. It looks like Doughty’s fake to the left puts Kier on his heels and he’s off balance for the rest of the drive:

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I promise I won’t beat you over the head with Justin Tillman gifs but here’s a good illustration of how he bends our defense in bad ways. Kier comes down from the wing to help Grayer by doubling Tillman. Tillman kicks out to Doughty. Kier runs out and bites on Doughty’s shot fake, taking himself out of the play. Doughty drives and Grayer has to leave Tillman to contest. Even though Grayer’s contest is successful, he’s now out of rebounding position and Tillman gets an easy putback:

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Here’s a really simple pick and roll action between Jequan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox. First, every Mason player looks tired in this play. Each rotation is late. Second, this shows the dangers of Jalen hedging screens against VCU – when Alie-Cox shoots, Jalen is behind both him and Tillman. Even if Alie-Cox misses this shot (he doesn’t) VCU still probably gets an easy putback bucket.

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One thing that stood out from rewatching the game was that Marquise Moore and Ian Boyd looked like the only guys who wanted to drive while Alie-Cox was on the floor. It’s tough to beat a team with a good shot blocker like that without penetrating, but a lot of possessions went like this – lots of dribbling, lots of swinging the ball around the perimeter, and a bad shot forced at the end of the shot clock:

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Last Tillman gif: here’s another illustration of how easy his looks were all night. Credit Will Wade for drawing these up. Here he inbounds to above the key, gets a simple baseline screen from Ahmed Hamdy, and has all the space he needs to hit a turnaround over Boyd. I only gif’d two plays because I don’t want to torture you or myself, but most of Tillman’s buckets were this easy.

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Okay, we’re done with the bad stuff now. As promised earlier, there was some encouraging stuff from this game. Really!

VCU’s full court pressure can work against them. Marquise is very well-suited to take advantage of a stretched-out defense that’s not set yet. He does so here and gets to the rim easily. Note that Hamdy is on the floor instead of Alie-Cox – that’s a recurring theme any time Mason hits a layup.

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Marquise does the same thing here. Doug Brooks attempts to pressure him well above the arc, but that’s a bad idea. Marquise’s first step is too quick. He goes around Brooks, around Doughty, and over Tillman for the layup. Note: Alie-Cox is on the floor, but he’s guarding the wing on this possession. I have no idea why Wade would have Tillman anchor the 2-3 instead of Alie-Cox, particularly since Alie-Cox wasn’t in foul trouble, but maybe he’s keeping that in his back pocket for a potential rematch.

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Again, there was a lack of penetration from Mason’s offense all night. Here’s a play from Ian Boyd that shows how important dribble penetration is. Boyd gets around Tillman, Brooks steps up off Jalen, and Boyd hits Jalen for an easy layup:

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Jaire was quiet in this game (5 points on 2-5 shooting) but I really liked seeing this from him. He splits the seam in the 2-3 zone and hits a pretty floater over Tillman. He doesn’t do this often enough, and he can become a really dangerous player if he adds these drives to his arsenal:

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These next two gifs are a celebration of Slim Otis. Mason lets VCU’s defense stretch out across the halfcourt. Jalen screens VCU’s Jonathan Williams out of the play. Otis takes the ballscreen and has Doughty and Hamdy in front of him. He goes to his left around Doughty (longer defenders like Doughty usually bother Otis) then takes the ball right at Hamdy, who can’t stop him from finishing with his right. This is a good way to take advantage of Alie-Cox being off the floor.

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A very similar play happens here with Relvao on the floor. Again Williams is roadkill on the ballscreen, and Otis goes right at Hamdy, who fouls him while giving up the layup. Hamdy simply can’t defend the paint like Alie-Cox can.

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Relvao gave us some good minutes, which is always encouraging to see. Here he comes through with a help side block of Williams that starts a fast break. Otis leaves the ball for a trailing Boyd, who finishes over Tillman. One sneaky surprising thing about this game is that it looked like transition favored Mason.

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This was my favorite play of the night. It’s a simple pick and roll with Kier and Jalen. It doesn’t really create any space, but it gets Alie-Cox on his heels. Jalen goes right up into him and completes the play while drawing a foul.

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People call Kier a point guard but he hasn’t really played a point guard role at all this year. Otis and Marquise take turns initiating the offense, and Kier does most of his work off the ball. Here, however, he initiates a great drive and dish, using the ballscreen to get into the paint and set up Karmari for an easy layup. Kier still has some freshman mistakes to work out but plays like this make him easy to love:

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Finally, here’s Ian Boyd once again driving into the teeth of VCU’s defense. Against the toughest, most physical opponent we’ll play all year, Boyd looked totally comfortable.

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If Mason sees VCU again, Dave Paulsen absolutely has to come up with a different way to guard Tillman or else he’ll eat us alive again. Assuming Dave has something in his bag of tricks for Tillman, there’s a lot to suggest Mason could make it a competitive game in Pittsburgh.

That’s all for this week’s breakdown. Until next week – go Mason!