Recon: George Mason

Recon: George Mason

What’s to stop Dayton from becoming George Mason? I remember a Xavier fan asking me this pointed question during the Flyers run to the Elite Eight. He is a Twitter follower I’ve conversed with amicably over the years, so I was curious as to the spirit in which he posed the query. I don’t believe he meant it as a slam, he assured me otherwise, or was attempting to take the air out of my (then) elated tires. He was merely making the point – how does a mid-major program keep the momentum going, particularly when coaching turnover is a direct consequence of sustained success?

Make no mistake, as far as I am concerned, Xavier, Our Overlords, produced the blueprint all like-minded basketball programs should follow (the succeeding words will bolster the “Blackburn is really just a Xavier fan in Flyer clothing” theorists, so be it). Xavier, contrary to popular opinion, did have success prior to joining the Atlantic Ten in the fall of 1995. The Muskies enjoyed several twenty win seasons while in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, winning eight regular season titles and six conference tournaments. Xavier reached the Sweet 16 in 1990 and went to the second round of the tournament three times over the next following seven seasons. So to suggest that their accomplishments are a recent phenomenon is a tad misrepresentative.

Although the Muskies struggled in their first season in the A10, they quickly got their bearings and became one of the league’s frequent tormenters, earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament in thirteen of their eighteen years in the league. Xavier won at least one tourney game in nine of those appearances, advancing to at least the Sweet 16 in five of those trips to the Dance.pi-cbk-arizona-xavier-sean-miller-chris-mack-032515_vresize_1200_675_high_26While X was building its reputation, they were improving their facilities, playing stronger out-of-conference matchups and continuing to win NCAA tournament games. Success clearly begets success. The key, obviously, was Xavier’s ability to hire the right coach each time the previous one headed out to seek their fortune. Pete Gillen—Skip Prosser—Thad Matta—Sean Miller—Chris Mack is quite the impressive coaching tree.

Which brings us back to this: how does Dayton avoid being a flash in the pan like Mason (or VCU if we are being speculative)? The simple answer is Dayton isn’t George Mason or VCU. When you examine it closely, there are realistically just a handful of mid-major programs capable of achieving the type of recurrent success Xavier has enjoyed over the past two decades, UD is one of them.

With their fan base, tradition and excellent facilities, Dayton already has the vital elements to separate itself from 85-90% of the 351 Division One basketball programs in America. That’s a given. The key to sustaining the Flyers’ current rise is consistent prosperity in the Atlantic Ten and winning NCAA Tournament games. That, and only that, is the singular impediment keeping Dayton from making the next leap. With an appearance in the NCAA tournament looking extremely probable this season (and an advantageous seed to boot), UD is well on its way to establishing itself as a formidable program for the foreseeable future.

So, no, I don’t think we will look back on UD’s Elite Eight appearance in the same manner as GMU fans reflect on their Final Four run. I believe a firm foundation is being established, one that will sustain Gem City success for years to come.

Also LOWD, don’t forget the LOWD factor.

Overview

The season started with a promising start for the Patriots, after losing their first two games of the year GMU rallied and reached the finals of the Charleston Classic – beating Ole Miss and Oklahoma State in the process. Then things went to pot for Dave Paulsen’s squad. GMU took a few tough losses before the league schedule and have gone 2-7 in conference play. Mason’s trek to the Final Four seems like it occurred a decade ago because it did, way back in 2006. Everybody was obsessed with flash mobs, Texas Hold ‘Em Poker and George Mason hoops. But life goes on. 

GMU plays a fairly slow, methodical pace that assures Saturday’s game will be a sloppy affair. A major factor in Dayton’s favor is the fact that Mason does not turn over their opponents on defense. Paulsen’s team forces a turnover against their opposition on just 10.8% of possessions – that’s 351th in the nation, DEAD FUCKING LAST. As we know, turnovers, particularly away from the Sweater Centre, have kept UD’s challengers in ballgames they probably shouldn’t have had any business being in. No worry for the Flyers as they journey down to Fairfax, as Mason has little interest in forcing the issue defensively.
So what does Mason do well, if anything? Well, rebounding, for one. The Patriots do a good job of keeping their opposition off the glass, having firmly established themselves as one of the better rebounding teams in the Atlantic Ten – right up there with VCU, Dayton and George Washington. Another positive aspect of this current Mason team is that they know their limitations. GMU is not blessed with a wealth of perimeter shooting talent so they pound the ball inside and get the majority of their points from inside the arc. Not exactly rocket science, but it’s refreshing to see a team accept their cruel fate and push forward.
 
Paul Hewitt put his foot all the way instead the GMU basketball program’s ass and twisted. As a result, Paulsen is essentially rebuilding from the ground floor up. He had success while at Bucknell and seems like the type of coach that could utilize Mason’s resources and rich recruiting base to get the Patriot train back on the track. Until then, he is forced to manage an extremely inexperienced roster that is short on talent.

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GMU is yet another A10 squad that features a starting lineup with a three-guard attack. Marquise Moore has been Mason’s most consistent offensive player this season, leading the team in points and assists. Moore is athletic, a phenomenal rebounder and can get to the basket off the dribble but he may be one of the worst perimeter shooters that plays major minutes for a D1 program.  

Freshman Jaire Grayer joins Moore in the starting backcourt. Grayer, a guard with good size, is an inconsistent scorer with some solid potential. Otis Livingston completes the triumvirate, an under-sized freshman with elite speed. Livingston has played extended minutes during his first-season in Fairfax and, like Grayer, must develop offensively for GMU to make strides in the conference over the next few years.

Shevon Thompson has the body of a NBA player but the drive of a North Korean fashion model. Regardless, Thompson is a solid big man, good around the hoop and one of the nation’s best rebounders. He is a major liability from the charity stripe and, at 6’11,” a completely underwhelming defensive factor. Thompson will be an interesting matchup for Big Steve, I’d expect both players to slip into foul trouble.

Shevon-Thompson

DeAndre Abram, another freshman, rounds out the Mason starting lineup. Abram came into Fairfax with a reputation as an excellent outside shooter. Unfortunately for Paulsen, the 6’7” wing has failed to live up to expectations thus far, shooting a dismal 29% from behind the arc. Abram has gone off in a few games this season but for the most part disappears into the background.

Marko Gujanicic, Jalen Jenkins and Kameron Murrell are George Mason’s main contributors off the bench. Gujanicic has recovered from a dismal junior campaign and is arguably Mason’s best perimeter threat (and is a solid rebounder to boot). Jenkins has increased his productivity in conference play and chips in on the boards. Murrell, yet another freshman featuring prominently this year, is merely there to give GMU’s guards a breather.

Nate’s Numbers

clocks-e1c-printsI will have to admit I haven’t seen a single George Mason basketball game all year, but looking at their numbers I can only assume it’s because I would prefer to watch a 5th grade girls game at the West Dayton Boys and Girls club. Outside of Shevon Thompson I assume the rest of the team has the shooting capacity of Maurice Beyina. Not a single player other than Thompson shoots over 50% on two-point field-goals. As a team their rankings on shooting percentage are abysmal. 330th, 247th and 296th in three-point, two-point and free-throw percentage, respectively. George Mason averages almost nineteen seconds on offense possessions. This could be as obnoxious as watching La Salle, and it will be quite an accomplishment if the Patriots hit 60 points.

I spoke of Thompson earlier, he may be the only redeeming part of George Mason’s offense. He does shoot 62% from the field (that’s evidence of how bad the rest of the team is if the team shoots a combined 46%), and is a monster on the glass. He’s grabbing 16% of his offense’s misses and 33% of his opponents, ranking 14th and 2nd nationally. He only plays about 50% of the minutes, so I’m very interested to see how he and Big Steve match up. At 6’11,” and clearly competent on both the offensive and defensive side, it will be a stern test for Chief.

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Prediction

The Flyers have had a full week off to catch up on their studies and spend quality time with their school chums. UD will be raring to go and the Patriots don’t have the type of fire power to hang with them. Road game or not, Dayton rolls on, winning 75-59 over the Patriots. As much as it pains Archie Miller, his club will make consecutive appearances in the national polls.

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Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o’ D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.

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