Game Preview: VCU v Mason [INSIDER]

The 60th meeting between VCU and George Mason today and it's a big one. The Rams have a shot to accomplish two key tasks today: 1) officially double-up Mason in the all-time series, the Rams currently holding a 39-20 advance and 2) stay in the hunt for a regular season A-10 title and conference tournament double-bye.
<h4>VCU (14-6, 5-2)
GEORGE MASON (13-8, 7-1)</h4>
<h4>A QUICK LOOK AT MASON</h4>
Fourth-year Patriots head coach Dave Paulsen saw this Mason squad start the season with the highest expectations since he's been on campus. Picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll and receiving a first place vote in the process, this was to be the year for Mason, a completion of a rebuild following the Hewitt era that took Mason from consistent NCAA tournament threat under Jim Laranaga to a 9-22 team in the final season of Hewitt's tenure. Things did not get off to a promising start however, with Mason losing five of their first seven games including season-opening home losses to the likes of Penn and American.

Mason struggled even in some of their early wins, just narrowly avoiding upsets at the hands of kenpom No.335 Southern, No.241 William &amp; Mary and No.328 Morgan State. They've have two close calls since, but after looking dead in the water as an A-10 contender to start the season, something seems to have clicked.

The Patriots are off to their best conference start since opening CAA play at 7-1 during their 2012 campaign and boast a combination of blowouts and road upsets to make the start that much more impressive. GMU opened A-10 play by destroying St. Joe's 85-60 in Philly, dominated Rhode Island by 17 in Kingston and quieted 13,000 Dayton fans with a monster road upset of the Flyers two games ago.

The combination of early success -- especially on the road -- with a fairly favorable remaining schedule, makes Mason a legit threat to not only hit their fourth-place preseason expectation, but to potentially win the league as well.

Mason boasts a +5.3 adjusted efficiency margin on the season that puts them No.115 in kenpom's national rankings but an even more impressive +13.1 in A-10 play, good for tops in the conference. They are currently the only team in A-10 play to rank within the top-4 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

What perhaps makes that even more impressive/shocking is they have found that success despite a string of injuries. GMU lost both senior Jaire Grayer (12.3 ppg, 7.3 reb last season) and Goanar Mar (10.9 ppg last year) and have won without promising 6'6 sophomore, AJ Wilson, these last two games including that road win at Dayton.

Injuries led Paulsen to take the redshirt off of freshman Jordan Miller, a 6'6 wing who dumped 14 points on Rhody in the first game of his career. Add a breakout season from legit A-10 Player of the Year candidate, Justin Kier, a solid start from sophomore Javon Greene (9.7 ppg, 5 rebs) and some depth in the paint thanks to finally eligible UVA transfer, Jared Reuter and Mason finally appears "back".

KEY STATS: 

29.3% - Mason ranks 15th nationally in 3-point defense and have been even stingier at 24% in-conference, good for first in the A-10.

90.4 - Mason's in-conference defensive efficiency ranks No.1 in the A-10, just ahead of VCU at 91.3. Mason has climbed into the top-100 on the season at 98.9. VCU ranks eighth nationally at 88.3.
<h4>A QUICK LOOK AT VCU</h4>
You should know these guys by now, so I'll jump into some main things to think about.

On the positive side, VCU's two losses in-conference have both come on the road and both were games the Rams led by double-digits. Despite things coming apart let for VCU in that Davidson game, that 64 ultimately allowed by VCU was still the fewest points Davidson has scored at home all season. Give the Rams a mulligan for that 50-point second half on D following a 21-point first, because overall the Rams defense has been solid all season.

VCU's 8.83 points allowed per possession ranks eighth in the nation on the season and is the stingiest defense since kenpom has been tracking the stat -- yes, even stingier than during the Briante Weber-led hight of Havoc. While VCU's 9.13 in conference is a bit of a step back, that number would still rank 10th nationally in raw defensive efficiency if it was VCU's season D efficiency number. Point being VCU's defense all season long has been historically good.

So again, like I've said in previous previews, it comes down to the offense and VCU's two biggest bugaboos: three-point shooting and turnovers.

The Rams have turned the ball over 21% of their possessions on the season (298th nationally) and an even worse 22.4 in conference action (dead last in the league). VCU has turned the ball over 18 or more times in four of their seven conference games this season.

VCU's three-point shooting has been slightly better overall in-conference, but essentially the Rams have been either red-hot or ice-cold from deep in A-10 action. VCU is one of the bottom-25 three-point shooting teams on the season at 29.7% and in conference have shot 43.8% (at Fordham), 29.4% (v La Salle), 16.7% (at Davidson), 47.4% (v Dayton), 46.2% (v UMass), 16.7% (at Rhode Island) and 23.1% (at Duquesne).

VCU struggled to hit threes against UVA (20.7%) and Charleston (22.2%) as well, which, like Rhody are top-100 three-point Ds on the season, making Fordham the only top-100 three-point defense VCU has found success on all season long.

The Rams will take on one of the best three-point defenses they've seen all season today against Mason.

TALE OF THE TAPE[/HEADING=3]
Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 71.6, VCU 69.8</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 63.5, GMU 67.4</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 51.2%, VCU 48.5%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 42.7%, GMU 48.3%</span>

3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 32.8%, VCU 29.7%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 27.2%, GMU 29.3%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">GMU 52.4%, VCU 51.2%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.8%, GMU 51%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 37.3, GMU 34.5</span>
Turnover% Offense:<span style="color: #339966;"> VCU 21%, GMU 18%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 23.2%, GMU 19%</span>
<h4>VCU WINS IF</h4>
For starters, the Rams must close out on shooters, particularly Livingston and Greene...and ESPECIALLY Livingston. While Kier has being grabbing a lot of the headlines this season as Paulsen's new undersized double-double guy, when Livingston is limited, Mason struggles.

The Patriots are just 1-5 on the season in games he's been held to single-digits, their one win of that sample coming against No.307 North Carolina Central. Take it back another season as well. The Patriots went 0-6 the 2017-18 season with Otis in single-digits. He hit a combined three three-pointers in those six games on 27 attempts. Need more evidence? Mason went 0-7 the season before that during his single-digit games as well.

If you haven't been counting, that's 1-16 the past 2.5 seasons when Livingston is held to single digits (VCU swept Mason in Will Wade's last year by limiting him to 10.5 ppg...so close enough).

One way VCU could potentially help themselves there is if Marcus Evans can do Marcus Evans things against him.

Evans is one of the best players in the nation at drawing fouls (6.6 per 40). If Livingston draws that assignment, pray that Evans attacks it and gets him in foul trouble. If someone else does, presumably to keep Livingston out of foul trouble, pray that whoever sees Livingston in front of them attacks it as well.

Livingston is statistically one of the worst defenders on Mason's team, checking in at -1.2 in defensive box plus/minus, which actually makes him the statistical worst defender that Mason actually plays significant minutes. He's 5'11, hasn't had a steal the past two games and has just three in eight Atlantic 10 games.

Go. At. Him.

Mason's three-point defense has been spectacular while VCU's three-point offense has been a hot mess. Good. That should make the Ram's decision to attack GMU's 207th-ranked two-point D that much more of an easy decision.

Get downhill. Look for great shots instead of good shots. Limit turnovers. Win.

Kenpom: 68-60 VCU win with a 78% chance of a VCU Rams victory.

Game tips at 6:30PM at The Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: NBC Sports Network
Listen: <a href="https://www.iheart.com/live/fox-sports-910-richmond-2461/?autoplay=true&amp;pname=1248&amp;campid=header&amp;cid=index.html">Fox Sports 910 AM &amp; 98.5 FM</a>
Live Tweets: <a href="https://twitter.com/vcuramnation">@VCURamNation</a>

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Natty
Licensed Virginia Realtor and part-time basketball writer. Co-founder of VCURamNation.com and A10Talk.com.
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Mat Shelton-Eide
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