Game Preview: VCU at George Mason

VCU looks to keep pace with the top teams in the conference, three of which (VCU, SLU and Dayton) sit tied at 8-3. But on the heels of that group are two four-loss squads in St. Bonaventure and George Mason, two teams hoping to chip away at the standings, enough so to find themselves within the top-4 at the end of the season to earn the A-10 tourney double-bye that comes with that. A road win today would be VCU's fifth conference road W, but that will be no easy task. This George Mason team is, on paper, the toughest version of Mason the Atlantic 10 has yet to see, hoping to become GMU's first top-100 squad since Jim Larranaga's final Patriot group in 2011.

VCU (15-7, 8-3)
GEORGE MASON (12-10, 5-4)[/HEADING=3]

First year Mason Head Coach, Kim English, is off to a promising start at George Mason. Despite their just-over-500 record, the Patriots are a win today away from possibly climbing into the top-100. Not only that, but beating VCU would give them A-10 wins over the Rams, St. Bonaventure, Dayton and Richmond, four teams expected to compete for a A-10 tourney title next month in Mason's backyard of Washington DC (they also lost in double overtime to SLU).

So how are they so solid, so quickly?

Well, English started off with an aggressive re-recruitment of starting center, Josh Oduro. Oduro put his name in the transfer portal following the following of former coach, Dave Pauslen, but English got the big man to return and he's not having an A-10 Player of the Year type of season (17.9 ppg, 6.8 rebs, 27.2 PER). But Oduro alone wouldn't have Mason in the position they are in. English added three key transfers to make this George Mason squad a completely different group: 5th-year senior D'Shawn Schwartz via Colorado, junior Tennessee transfer Devonte "Ticket" Gaines and 5th-year Moorehead State transfer, Devon Cooper. That foursome, along with returning junior point guard, Xavier Johnson, are logging over 30 minutes per contest for the Patriots.

Those additions have taken the Patriots from 195th in the nation in offensive efficiency last season to 82nd this year. They rank top-25 in both three-point shooting and effective field goal percentage offense and are the second most efficient A-10 offense in conference play, presenting a big challenge for VCU's elite defense today.

Defensively the Patriots are solid. They've had some trouble defending the three-point line -- VCU has been the second best three-point shooting team in conference -- but help themselves with elite defensive rebounding thanks mostly to Oduro and Gaines, limiting second chance opportunities for their opponents.

All of this has made the Patriots just a well-rounded team in their first year under English and a true threat to do some damage in DC.

The Rams, when healthy, have proven they can beat any team in this conference. VCU's defense has been NATIONALLY elite all year long, but with the return of Ace Baldwin and a conference breakout from Vince Williams, they've added enough offense as well to make them a real headache for their opponents.

VCU's biggest challenge however, all season long, is they are one of the absolute worst turnover offenses in the country.

The Rams have made a name for themselves nationally the past decade with "havoc defense" and while that remains, they turn the ball over almost as much as they take it away this season, effectively canceling out one of the Rams' biggest strengths. To add to their offense struggles there, the Rams have found it borderline impossible to draw fouls on their opponents, particularly in Atlantic 10 play where they rank 12th among conference teams in offensive free throw rate. That is a bit of a double whammy because it allows the Rams' most talented opponents a better chance to stay on the floor, something that hurts in a conference where most of its top teams are heavily dependent on a core of five players. Conversely, VCU really struggles with fouls on the other side of the ball. While Mike Rhoades' boasts VCU's "army" approach (throwing towns of players at the opposition), the reality is VCU has to thanks to the conference's most foul-prone defense.

Add those up. Unforced errors on offense, too many fouls on defense. VCU's biggest opponent has quite frankly been themselves this year. Is it fixable? The data seems to suggest no now that we're going on game-23 of the season. The numbers suggest this group is who they are. But IF they That's a potential A-10 champion.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 72.9, VCU 63.7</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 60.3, GMU 68.5</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 54.9%, VCU 49.8%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.3%, GMU 49.9%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 37.9%, VCU 34.2%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 27.3%, GMU 35.1%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 53.2%, VCU 49.1%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.5%, GMU 47.7%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 35, VCU 32.3</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 17.6%, VCU 22.5%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.1%, GMU 17.4%</span>

I just really think VCU needs to have a big turnover advantage in this one to pull this out. This is not the Dave Paulsen Patriots. Kim English went out and added some really smart pieces to make his first year in Fairfax an exciting and perhaps more importantly, promising one. They are a more efficient scoring group than the Rams, so I think with a negative rebound margin likely on deck, VCU has to make up for that by playing a clean game offensively to really take advantage of what the Rams seems to always do defensively. I'm also worried about Oduro's ability to bully guys down low. His ability to draw double teams in the paint creates open opportunities for a great group of three-point shooters. VCU's bigs need to have a great game defensively in this one. If that happens the Rams could move to 9-3 with just​

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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