Game Preview: No.18 VCU at George Mason
VCU heads to Fairfax tonight to take on the Patriots of George Mason in the Rams’ first road trip to the Patriot Center since the two teams were CAA rivals. VCU is coming off a home loss to Richmond that snapped a 12-game winning streak for the black and gold. George Mason will also look to bounce back from a loss, as the Patriots fell 62-53 at Duquesne this past Saturday. The Rams went 7-0 against in-state teams last season but are a winless 0-3 this go-round. VCU will look to change that tonight.
No.18 VCU (17-4, 7-1)
George Mason (7-13, 2-6)
A QUICK LOOK AT GEORGE MASON
George Mason is a combined 6-18 since joining the Atlantic 10 this past season and are once again off to another underwhelming 7-13 start. A Final 4 participant in 2006, the Patriots have been on a steady decline since head coach Paul Hewitt took over for Jim Laranaga in 2011. Hewitt started his Mason career with two consecutive 20+ win seasons but but followed those up with Mason’s first losing season (11-20) since Laranaga took over in 1997 (9-18). The Patriots are 6-4 in home games this season with their best win coming against Iona (kenpom No.90) in late December but also own an opening season home loss to Cornell (No.179). They are 2-2 at home in A-10 play with wins over Saint Louis and La Salle and an OT loss to Davidson (without Jack Gibbs) as well as a 4-point loss to UMass. All but one home game, win or loss, has been decided by single digits. The Patriots find their strength in the frontcourt and are led by 6’11 junior JUCO transfer, Shevon Thompson. Thompson is a rebounding machine and boasts an impressive 10 double-doubles this season while averaging 13.1 ppg and 11.5 rpg for Mason. Thompson is joined by junior Patrick Holloway as the only other double-digit scorer in this year’s team but the 6’1 shooter has missed the last three games with an illness. He is questionable for tonight. Jalen Jenkins is a dangerous piece for the Patriots (7.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg) as well. The Sophomore is coming off an All-Rookie season and finished with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double the last time he faced the Rams. Marquise Moore and Isaiah Jackson are the other two names to watch tonight for GMU. Moore is a sophomore guard who’s had some of his best games against Mason’s toughest competition this season (averaged 21.7 points against UNI, ODU and Iona) but has however struggled somewhat in conference play thus far. Jackson has increasingly become a bigger part of Mason’s gameplan. The 6’6 freshman saw his minutes take a jump about halfway through the season and is averaging 8.4 points per contest in A-10 play. As a team Mason makes their living off rebounds but have struggled to hit shots. They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country at 29% on the year and haven’t had much more success inside the arc, ranking 316 nationally in 2p%. Defensively they haven’t been much better, ranking 11th in the A-10 in defensive efficiency during conference play.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU suffered two painful losses this past Saturday, the first coming in the form of a home loss to rival Richmond, the second hours later when it was announced the injury starting point guard Briante Weber suffered was a career-ender. Focusing on the two in that order, VCU has increasingly had a tougher time hitting shots this season and shot an abysmal 3-20 from long range against Richmond. That inability to get anything going combined with a -12 rebound differential doomed the black in gold in the loss. Offense has been an issue in Atlantic 10 play. On the season VCU’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranks third in the A-10, but in conference games the Rams check in at a middle-of-the-pack sixth. VCU ranks seventh in 2p% in A-10 play and 8th in 3p%. Those aren’t exactly conference championship type numbers. That is unless you are playing some legit D, which currently VCU is pretty good at. What the Rams aren’t good at however is rebounding. VCU’s defensive rebounding in A-10 play ranks dead last, their offensive effort 11th. That helps negate the Rams huge turnover margin, and is a major reason why bad teams like Saint Louis and Duquesne (both sub-240 teams according to kenpom) have been able to hang with this year’s preseason No.1 (+23 rebound margin for those two teams over VCU). In theory VCU’s turnover margin shrinks without the services of the best ball thief in the country over the past four seasons. Weber is injured and leaves a 8.7% steals percentage hole (No.1 nationally). Again, IN THEORY that means VCU will be forced to play better halfcourt defense while also stepping up at things like rebounding. However, it is worth noting the one game the Rams played without Bri this season was a 16-point neutral court win over top-100 power conference team, Tennessee. The Rams turned the Vols over 19 times that night. It was however just the first game of the season from a Vols squad replacing a lot of players (and a head coach), so will be interesting to see what havoc has cooking this time around without Weber.
Scoring Offense: VCU 74, Mason 65
Scoring Defense: VCU 65, Mason 68.6
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 50.3%, Mason 43.4%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: Mason 48.7%, VCU 48.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.2%, Mason 29%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: Mason 33.2%, VCU 33.8%
Rebounds per game: Mason 37.1, VCU 35
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.2%, Mason 19.1%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.4%, Mason 20.3%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: VCU 108.7, Mason 98.6
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 91.8, Mason 101.2
Strength of Schedule Ranking: VCU 3, Mason 42
VCU WINS IF
Must. Hit. Shots. After such a tough OOC schedule you hate to see VCU trending in a negative direction offensively when the games are supposed to be easier. The Rams are just 15-65 over their last three games from distance, which is the same amount of threes VCU hit against UMES one evening in Richmond. VCU will be without their leading assist man with the absence of Briante Weber, making open threes seemingly more difficult to come by. I however believe in JeQuan Lewis’ and Johnny Williams’ abilities to get into the paint to find the open man, be it Mo/Justin/Mike/Jared for a dunk or an open guard for a triple (guards need to start knocking those down). I think they could surprise some folks with just how up to this new challenge they are and I hope they prove me right tonight.
GEORGE MASON WINS IF
Mason would love a rock fight in Fairfax tonight, so if VCU is as cold as they’ve been and can’t set up the press to really force the game they want, the Rams could be looking at an 0-4 record in in-state games so far this season. A huge difference however between this Mason team and the Spiders squad that won at the Siegel Center on Saturday is backcourt play, offensive turnover percentage in particular. Mason checks in at 11th in that stat in conference play so they’ll need a much-improved effort tonight to pull of a home win against the Rams.
Kenpom: 73-63 VCU win with an 83% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA
Watch: CBS Sports Network, Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation