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George Mason Basketball

George Mason Basketball: November 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Smith Shines In Blow Out

What a relief it was to witness the Patriots finally beat down on someone even if it was the Florida International Golden Panthers. Remember them; the school whose football team got in a melee with Miami earlier in the year resulting in about 30 players being suspended. No brawl in this game but Mason sure had their way with them. I still don't understand how Will Thomas didn't have 30 points in this game considering the caliber of players guarding him, but I won't complain since we won. 10 Patriots scored in this game and Dre Smith was the only one in double digits scoring 20. I was waiting for when this kid was finally gonna get some more playing time. I hope this is a sign of things to come. Smith has great shooting touch and created a lot of shots for himself, something I have not seen other Patriots do often enough. Smith also showed off his quickness Monday night, reminding us a little of Tony Skinn. Maybe thats why hes wearing #1 this year. I am curious to see if Smith can keep this up against stiffer competition because I think he has game-breaking skills that are just waiting to be unleashed.

On a side note I am sad to hear that Sammy Hernandez is transferring. The Puerto Rico native wants to be closer to home and apparently couldn't handle the winters here in the Fairfax. I know the real reason hes transferring and his name is Jesus. With Urbina's return and freshman Louis Birdsong in the mix, Sammy is the odd man out at the 3 or 4 position. You hate to lose anyone with NCAA tournament experience, but his departure will open up another scholarship for the future; and the way our current recruiting is going that makes me very happy.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Patriots come up short

The scoreboard might have said it was a two point victory for the Creighton Blue Jays but it really wasn't that close as it would seem. The Patriots forced three quick turnovers in the final two minutes to narrow the gap but came up short in the closing seconds. The Patriots were 6-22 from the 3-point line, ok I can deal with that. They also attempted 7 foul shots. I can't understand this. Folarin Campbell drove the lane twice and was fouled twice; so why do you stop doing it? And why did the Patriots keep forcing up 3-pointers? I really like our mid-range shooting against other teams but I rarely see it. The game was frustrating to watch mostly because Creighton's best player, Nate Funk, was kept in the check and the blue jays still lit it up from behind the arc. The Patriots again failed to defend the perimeter and Creighton made them pay for it by shooting 43% from three point land. We saw this happen against Cleveland State and Wichita State, guys were left open behind that line and drained shots all day. When are these guys going to learn?

I also can't understand why Will Thomas is not getting more touches. I believe this the reason we lost to Wichita State and the reason we lost this game. At the end of this game every time he got the ball in the low post he scored. Thomas should be touching the ball more than anyone else on the team. The offense should go through him, because Campbell is taking a lot of dumb shots and turning over the ball too much. He had five turnovers this game and only four assists, everyone is expecting more from this guy. Monroe is starting to annoy me as well. The guy looked real promising against Cleveland State and now hes not even starting and just picking up dumb fouls. I won't give up on him yet though I believe he will start to contribute more once conference play starts.

I'll end this on a positive note. Jesus Urbina had a great game defensively and pulled down 10 rebounds. Thats exactly what we need for him. He deserves to be in the starting lineup right now and I think he will only get better as the season goes on. Another positive thing to add is that John Vaughan continues to be a consistent scoring threat. He is definitely the best perimeter shooter the Patriots have and quickly becoming the go to guy. But he can't do it all himself and needs to get more consistency from his teammates.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shockers Get Revenge

The Wichita State Shockers came to Fairfax on Saturday in front of a sell out crowd and national TV cameras. Something the majority of their players are used to from last season. The Shockers looked like a team determined to put the Patriots away right from the tip off and they followed through. It also didn't hurt that Sean Ogirri (pictured above) got hot in the 2nd half where he scored all of his 19 points including clutch three pointers late in the game. Theres not much you can do when a guy gets hot at the right time. Shockers played great defense and forced the Patriots to take a lot of shots they weren't comfortable with. Although the Patriots were leading at the half, they were not playing their game. They were not going down low to Will Thomas enough and were launching up three pointers too often. I'm no college coach, but I think its easy to see that three point shooting is not going to be one of Mason's strengths this season. The Wichita State Shockers were on the verge of cracking the Top 25 rankings even before this game and should definitely be ranked when the new polls are released. They looked like a better team then last year, a little more polished and better defensively. The loss will not be a huge one for Mason because the Shockers will have a strong RPI throughout the season, and possibly win the Missouri Valley Conference.

Back to the actual game. I am upset at the fact that the Patriots were not able to profit more off the double teams that Thomas was getting. He would pass the ball out to the perimeter but the shots were just not falling. Monroe was not able to gain anything off it either mostly because of early foul trouble. But there was times were I think maybe the huge crowd and stage could have gotten in his head a little bit. I mean how crowds of that size to see playing in community college? That is also the reason I think Dre Smith didn't play at all, like Monroe, they still have a lot to learn about Division I basketball. It hard to be patient but it is a reality that Patriot fans will have to deal with this season. Another aspect of the game that upset me was the free throw shooting, Mason didn't get many chances but shooting 50% is unacceptable. How do you shoot better from the field than from the free throw line?

So far John Vaughn seems to be the only consistent threat this team will have. He hit baskets at clutch moments but could really have used some help late in the game. Campbell performed much better than the first game but he needs to drive the lane more and get to the line. Thomas was able to still get 14 points and 10 rebounds even with all the attention he got. But hes got to get used to that because the Shockers didn't even have a great post defender and they still had him in check the second half. On a side note, when he hobbled toward the bench in the 2nd half my heart sank, but luckily hes fine, just some cramps. Birdsong did not dress for the game due to an ankle sprain but he will be ready for the next game against Hampton.

I really thought Jesus Urbina and Sammy Hernandez would come off the bench and contribute more. Jesus took some interesting shot attempts and Sammy only got four minutes of playing time. Surprising considering the role he had last March where he got minutes late in important games. Urbina was put in the game too long and didn't play great defense, I would have preferred to see Sammy in there more. We need to get more from our bench or else we will see a lot more games like this lost in the 2nd half.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mid-Major Showdown in Fairfax

Do I smell a rivalry brewing here? You bet. The George Mason Patriots have got to love the Wichita State Shockers though. Not only did they beat the Shockers on the road, giving them a solid out of conference win on their resume, but then beat them in the third round of the NCAA tournament to advance to UConn in the Elite Eight. Oh how sweet it was. Wichita State would like nothing more than to come into the Patriot Center, watch our fans cheer at the revealing of the Final Four banner, then beat us and move up in the poll rankings. Sweet revenge right? I don't think so. The Patriots are going to beat the Shockers this Saturday and heres why:

1. Will Thomas. Thomas was a monster down in the low post last season and had a coming out party in the tournament last season. This past weekend he dominated Cleveland State scoring a career high 25 points. The Schockers will not have an answer for him. Wichita will most likely be playing three guards because they don't really have any other forward worthy of starting. Kyle Wilson has the size (6'8" 235 lbs) to contend with Thomas but hes an outside shooter and doesn't play down low and do the dirty work like Thomas does. Plus Thomas won't even be playing the 5, he will be playing the 4 along side Monroe at center. Monroe (6'7" 260 lbs) will also create match up problems and could thrive off Thomas being double teamed.

2. Atmosphere at the Patriot Center. For the first time in my four years of watching George Mason basketball I can actually predict a sell out crowd that will be loud. With the Final Four buzz still flowing through campus there will not an empty seat in the house on Saturday. I know, Wichita State plays in front of a loud packed stadium nightly; but this will give a huge morale boost to our players. A boost that the older players are not used to seeing and will be pleasantly surprised. An arena with 10,000 screaming fans who think their team is unbeatable after watching them last March is not an environment any team wants to play in.

3. We have their number. The Patriots were able to take care of business against the Schockers on the road, and then in an NCAA tournament game. It doesn't get more serious than that. And now we play them in our house. The Patriots don't have Skinn, Lewis, or Butler anymore but they still have Coach Larranaga. Larranaga was able to pull off a win against a Wichita State team that was playing better than the Patriots all game long in that bracketbuster last season. I believe this experience will be a huge factor in this Saturday's game.

4. John Vaughn. He will most likely be the x-factor in this game and like Thomas I think he will create match up problems. The Schockers have a great backcourt tandem but if one of them is not guarding Vaughn he will run loose while hes being guarded by someone much slower. Look for the Patriots at certain points to use a three guard line up of Carter, Campbell, and Vaughn, which would give them a chance to get Vaughn more involved. Campbell can play the 1, 2, or 3 spot, which allows Carter to come in and shake up things up for the opposing team. The Schockers will go from having to play a bigger line up to a smaller one the whole game; something they are not built for.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Patriots get a scare in Cleveland

The Patriots opened the season with a come from behind victory against the Cleveland State Vikings. It hurts me to say that. Cleveland State is the worse team in the Horizon League. Why did the Patriots have trouble against these guys? Easy; Patriots had bull eyes on their backs and the didn't really think it was necessary to defend the three point shot until the second half. From the start of the game the Vikings came out firing with high energy and successfully converting Mason turnovers to points. The Patriots come out flat; a Final Four hang over perhaps; and turned the ball over five times in the games first three minutes. Folarin Campbell turned the ball over eight times in the game, and looked out of place during certain moments. The first half was dreadful at certain points and the Patriots were down by as many as 16 points. The only bright spot was Will Thomas and Darryl Monroe dominating down low. Thomas ended the game with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds.

The Patriots came out strong in the second half, Will Thomas and John Vaughn continued to keep the game close. The Vikings would not back down easy. J'Nathan Bullock and Joe Davis made the game interesting by hitting some clutch shots. J'Nathan? Is that really a name? Anyway the Patriots used a zone defense and their size in the posts to chip away at the Viking lead. They ended up shooting over 70% from the field in the second half, largely due to Vaughn and Thomas. At one point Campbell redeemed himself for his poor play in the first half by knocking down back to back three pointers which gave the Patriots all the momentum it needed to finish off the Vikings.

Although I'm not really that happy that the Patriots struggled against a weaker team, I think this will really help in preparation for the Wichita State Shockers. They needed to be brought back to Earth and get past all the media hype. A come from behind victory gives a team an identity and this team needs to develop its own. Every team they play this year will be gunning for them straight from the tip off. If the Patriots come out flat and turn the ball over that much against the Shockers it could get real ugly real fast and I don't think a come from behind victory would be likely.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Buzz in Fairfax Continues.....

After the annual beat down of a local DII or DIII team in the Patriots pre-season exhibition game, it is was evident how the buzz from last March is still flowing through Fairfax. More people attended that exhibition game then half of the regular season games last year at the Patriot Center. For the first time in my four years at Mason the bookstore is actually carrying worthwhile basketball apparell, including jerseys, commemorative basketballs, banners, and even a gameday shirt for the Wichita St. vs. GMU home opener. Simply amazing. I always thought that a way to build a stronger fan base at Mason was to promote from the selling of Mason athletic apparell. But thats for another post. The school has also made a huge marketing effort to sell more tickets for this year including buying ad space in the Washington Post and local radio stations. Even the pep band has been revamped with a new director, have you seen this guy? He reminds me of Cheech Marin with worse facial hair. As long as the band plays "Livin' on a Prayer" the guy is ok in my book, or blog I guess.

Aside from the schools increased marketing, the Patriots are still being recognized on a national level. They are ranked #7 in the Mid-Major Top 25 poll which is voted on by head coaches of top mid-major schools, including our very own Coach L. Also the Patriots did receive 1 vote in the national AP pre-season poll and 6 votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Andy Katz, a college basketball writer/analyst for ESPN, was at this past weeks exhibition game. Let me just put this in perspective for you; Andy Katz being in attendance for the GMU vs. Marymount game is amazing because in past years Katz at a mid-major school before the season begins was something that rarely happened. Sure he visits Gonzaga but any team that has a player taken in top 5 of the NBA draft is no longer a mid-major in my eyes. Previously Andy Katz or someone like Dick Vitale coming to Fairfax would have been the equivalent of Jessica Simpson performing a strip tease at your 16th birthday party. It just didn't happen. Has Mason's run last March actually changed the way these analysts view all the teams in NCAA basketball? Yes, and this is just the beginning. You can already see a decline in news about the beloved ACC and Big East "power" conferences that annually receive about two or three bids too many just because of what conference they play in. Mid-majors have been becoming more major and less mid each March, the Patriots just highlighted it.

And what is the deal with this whole "Gold Rush" campaign that is coming on. Don't get me wrong I love the schools effort for the constant promoting but the Patriots became American's sweethearts last March wearing green jerseys not gold ones. Maybe I'm just a superstitious person, well actually I'm very superstitious. If it were up to me I'd have the team wear green jerseys for every home game. The crowd should be wearing green as well, especially against Wichita State. Remember the bracketbuster game last year; every single fan in that Kansas stadium was wearing gold. I don't want these Shockers feeling at home when they come to Fairfax. They will already be coming to the Patriot Center with enough rage from losing to us twice last year. But if they couldn't beat us with Paul Miller last season, no way they beat us without him this year. The Shockers will make it game because of Kyle Wilson, but the buzzing Patriots will be eager to show that last season was no fluke and that spells diaster for the Shockers.

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