Villanova's first-round matchup (and possibly their last game of the season if things continue to NOT go to plan) will be against the George Mason Patriots in Cleveland, Ohio. As far as I can tell, just about the only good thing so far is that Gus Johnson will be calling the game. I kid.
You'll remember the name George Mason because 'Nova played them last season in the Puerto Rico, nearly losing to them in the 1st round. It took an Isaiah Armwood 3-pointer (yes, I said 3-pointer from Armwood) to claim the victory.
Both teams are obviously quite different this year, with 'Nova losing Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding and Taylor King (who played a big role in the last meeting) and George Mason losing Louis Birdsong and Kevin Foster. But for George Mason at least, most of the major threats of last year are back for the rematch.
More on the Patriots after The Jump.
The most important thing to remember about last season's matchup, is that both teams were crap. Seriously. Scottie Reynolds was 6-14 from the field. Corey Fisher was 1-12 from the field. Maalik Wayns was 3-10. Corey Stokes scored a single point. Mouphtaou Yarou didn't play after he was sent home after it was discovered he had Hepatitis B.
It was a similar story for George Mason. Ryan Pearson was just about the only player worth a damn for them, as Cam Long shot 3-10 from the field. The teams combined for an astounding 76 free throws during the game, with each school recording double-digit misses from the line. Just piss poor play.
So two things are most likely going to happen on Friday. First, both teams will probably play much better basketball, and George Mason will be out for revenge after losing a heartbreaker to us last year.
Player To Watch: Cam Long
The senior from Palm Bay, Florida has been outstanding for George Mason this season, averaging 15.3 ppg and 2.8 apg. He's shooting nearly 48% from the field, including 43% from beyond the arc. He's a complete offensive threat, with the ability to get to the rim or stroke it from outside. Don't be fooled by the crap he put out last year, he's very very good. And we haven't exactly done well dealing with marked men (think Dwight Hardy and Ben Hansbrough in recent weeks).
Don't Forget About Him: Ryan Pearson
With all the focus on Long, we can't forget the leading scorer for GMU in last year's game. Pearson was the only player on the floor providing efficient offense, finishing with 14 points. He's averaging just that this year, averaging 14.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg. At 6'6' he's much more of a wing player than a banger down low, so expect Corey Stokes to get the assignment here.
These Guys Are Good
Sure, they didn't play the toughest OOC schedule and they ran rampant in the CAA this year, but the numbers don't lie. They're 18th in FG% in the entire country, and they're Top-100 in assists per game and points per game. The only area they truly struggle in is rebounding the ball, which should play right to Villanova's advantage, as they're frontline should be able to deal with the undersized Patriots.
Even though it means very little, the two teams shared one common opponent this year, the Delaware Blue Hens. Villanova won their meeting with Delaware by 19 early in the year, while George Mason dispatched the Hens twice, the first time by 9, and the second time by 20.
Before getting demolished by 16 at the hands of VCU on March 6th, the Patriots had ripped off 16 consecutive wins. I doubt one loss is going to derail their confidence, but we can hope. As you know, confidence is a major issue, and right now Villanova doesn't have a ton of it after losing 5 straight to end the regular season/conference tournament schedule.
We'll have a game preview posted tomorrow, but in the meantime, make sure to check out this George Mason basketball blog for more coverage on the Patriots.