Game Preview: VCU at George Mason [INSIDER]

The Rams remain on the road today after a big comeback win at Saint Louis on Tuesday, this time taking on former CAA rival, George Mason. VCU rides in on a two-game winning streak they hope to build on, the Pats a two-game losing streak they hope to snap. A win and the Rams would move to 3-2 in A-10 road games while pushing the pace of the pack in what would be a 6-3 A-10 start.

VCU (13-8, 5-3)
MASON (9-11, 3-4)

A QUICK LOOK AT GEORGE MASON

Year-three in Fairfax has been a bit of a rough one for former Bucknell head coach, Dave Paulsen. Coming off Mason’s first 20-win season since 2013, Paulsen’s inexperienced and small GMU squad heads into this game ranked 242nd nationally by kenpom.com, Paulsen’s worst ranked team as a head coach since his second-year Bucknell squad and George Mason’s worst ranked team since Pomeroy has been ranking teams (started the 01-02 season).

The Patriots have struggled to fill the void left via graduation of all-conference guard Marquise Moore and underrated big, Jalen Jenkins, and with those graduations have gone from one of the better rebounding teams in the country to one of the worst. Mason is led by Otis Livingston, a dangerous senior marksman who’s hitting 41.7% of his threes this season and is getting efficient minutes from versatile 6’5 junior, Jaire Grayer, but has for the most part struggled thanks to a lineup that has seen big minutes from four underclassmen in sophomores Justin Kier and Ian Boyd and freshmen Goanar Mar and Greg Calixte.

With that youth an lack of size, Mason has been forced to play beyond small at times, sometimes even playing the 6’7 175-pound Mar at the 5. The result has been a defense that struggles to defend inside the arc, ranking 277th nationally in two-point defense at 52.8%. Those defensive struggles have been magnified in Atlantic 10 play, with the Patriots ranking 13th out of 14 conference teams in that stat at 56.2%, helping drag Mason down to the worst-ranked defense in conference play.

Offensively Mason has actually been somewhat improved in conference. The Patriots rank 284th nationally on the season in 3-point offense at 32.5% but have pulled that number up to 36.3% in A-10 games, good for third in the conference.

George Mason has played three A-10 home games this season, narrowly escaping Saint Joseph’s (81-79) and Saint Louis (86-81) but were blasted by Davidson in an 86-59 EagleBank Arena rout.

Stat to watch: George Mason has scored most of their points in the “fourth quarter” (college games are played in halves) of A-10 games this season, doing so five out of their seven contests. The two times that wasn’t the case was in a crazy home win over Saint Joseph’s –where the Hawks rallied from down double-digits early to take a late lead, only to eventually lose on a game-winning Livingston prayer three — and at UMass, a road overtime win.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

It’s all about progressing on defense for this year’s Rams and through at least the last three halves of play, the Rams seem to be showing signs of progress.

I say “seems” because one must consider the opponent when measuring defensive progress. VCU for the most part locked down Saint Louis for the entirety of the Rams’ most recent win, a defensive performance that came on the heels of an impressive second half against George Washington. But those two offenses rank 240th and 221st nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 324th and 291st out of 351 teams in the country in effective field goal percentage, meaning I wouldn’t go spiking the football on the Rams defense turning a corner just yet.

VCU will take on a Mason team today that ranks 205th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 284th in effective field goal percentage, meaning yet another opportunity for a solid-looking defensive performance.

But if you want to really measure the Rams’ improvement on that end of the court, see if the black and gold can hold Mason under 70 points today. Better yet, make that number 65. Mason has scored 70 or fewer points in eight of their 11 losses on the season and were held below 65 in seven of those games. Can VCU join that group of seven teams?

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 77.1, GMU 70.8
Scoring Defense: VCU 74.5, GMU 75.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 52.2%, GMU 49.6%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 51.9%, GMU 52.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.6%, GMU 32.5%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34.8%, GMU 34.9%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 51.6%, GMU 50.1%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 51.8%, GMU 52.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.9, GMU 35.8
Turnover% Offense: VCU 18.6%, GMU 19.3%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 18.9%, GMU 16%

VCU WINS IF

For starters, take a look at all that green up there. I highlight VCU in green when they post better numbers than their opponent in statistical matchups and in red if they post worse ratings. I can’t remember the last time I had an all-green matchup. And there’s a big sign that’s screaming “GEORGE MASON IS A BAD TEAM” in all that green.

At No.131 nationally, VCU would be Mason’s best win of the season. At 242 nationally, not only would Mason be VCU’s worst loss of the season, but their worst loss since 2009.

So to answer the “VCU wins if” question, they win if they play like VCU, play with pride, play smart and play like a team that expects to go to NCAA tournaments every season. “But Mat, Rhoades inherited a tough situation!”…Get out of here with that type of talk.

VCU has two seniors that were four-star recruits out of a high school, one is an A-10 player of the year candidate and is one of VCU’s best bigs in the history of the program, has a sophomore guard who is just a few months younger than both of those players and was a top-50 recruit out of high school, has two transfer players that averaged 16+ ppg at their last schools, has a four-star freshman in Sean Mobley who played for one of the best high school programs in the country and has a slew of other talented pieces that would’ve pushed some former Ram starters to the bench on previous teams. We’ve got a bunch of talent and certainly more than enough to beat a team like this George Mason group.

Six of Mason’s seven A-10 opponents have dropped 80 points on the Patriots and how many of those teams do you think has the scorers VCU has? You think GW does? How about Saint Louis?

VCU should be able to score on these guys, so throw in some inspired defense and we head into a matchup against the nation’s 24th-ranked Rhode Island Rams next Friday riding a three-game streak and hungry for our biggest win of the season.

Kenpom: 77-73 VCU win with a 65% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 2PM at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, VA

Watch: CBS Sports Network, Official game day headquarters at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: Fox Sports 910 AM & 98.5 FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

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