George Mason is Villanova's opening round opponent in this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Classic. We all remember that cinderella run to the Final Four in 2006 (unless you were at the Villanova game, then you maybe saw the score and some highlights later on). This is not the team that beat UConn back then, all of the 2006 Final Four team members have graduated, however, it is a strong CAA program that has opened its season 2-0.
In it's opener, Mason had a 76-72 win against Liberty (who were blown out by Clemson yesterday). They followed that up with a 20-point win over Ivy Leaguers, Dartmouth. George Mason will almost certainly be heavy underdogs in this game (the vegas spread hasn't posted yet).
Mason has one senior on their 2009-2010 squad, Louis Birdsong. They have three players averaging double digit points in their first two games, Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison, and Luke Hancock, all forwards. Pearson has been their best rebounder so far with 9.0 per game. Morrison has contributed 8.5 rebounds per game thus far.
Jim Larranaga's recruiting class was rated by one service as being the best mid-major recruiting class in the country, so the baby-Patriots have some potential. Three freshman played significant minutes last season and the best player was a sophomore, which means that their middle-classes are going to be leaned on heavily this year. The Patriots need Andre Cornelius (a sophomore) to develop into a quality point guard this year so that junior Cam Long can move off the ball and try to provide the team with some scoring.
This is a deep mid-major team with a good frontcourt and a lot of young talent. Under Coach Larranaga's tenure, the Patriots have been tough defenders, and we should expect that they will play hard this weekend as well.
Asked about this year's team, the Coach said, "Right now our personnel is more suited to the scramble and extending defense and playing quicker. But we'll be playing faster because of our defense, not because we are a run and shoot team." In order to manage that, the Wildcats should prepare to match Mason's intensity on the defensive side of the ball, and trust in their ability to chip away on offense.
I don't expect this to be a high scoring affair. Mason will get in our faces and force us to beat them, and we will do the same to them. Mason doesn't have a huge size advantage over us, so expect to see Jay use different looks depending on the situation we are in. IBBW predicts that Coach Wright will use this game as an opportunity to roll out the four-guard lineup and I won't be surprised if he is right about that. We have a lot of backcourt talent, and the best way to beat this Patriot defense may be to overwhelm them.
UPDATE: ESPN is reporting that Mouph has flown back to PA. He has a viral infection (swine flu?) and will not participate in this tournament. Expect Taylor King and Mo Sutton to divide up Mouph's minutes. We lose size with King, but I don't expect a huge drop off.