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George Mason Basketball

George Mason Basketball: March 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why are you player hatin' Bill Simmons?

Bill Simmons, one of my favorite writer/personality at, wrote an article on Monday basically bashing the quality of the game in the 2005-2006 college basketball season. Its funny how quickly the tides have changed from one year to another. Most would have called last year one of the most thrilling NCAA tournaments in history because of all the upsets; but others want to see it as a watered down product because their beloved Dukes, UConns, UNCs, and other big conference favorites choked big time. The casual basketball fan had to love the fact that for once we didn't see the same teams advancing far in the tournament. Why is it exciting to watch the same teams advance in the tournament every year? I got tired of the last couple of Superbowls because I was sick to my stomach of watching Tom Brady play in it again and again. Sure its great for fans of teams like Duke and UNC but what about the majority of us that hate those guys? Did you see how many "J.J. Redick is gay" websites there were last season? Bill Simmons wrote this on Monday:
When I was growing up, college teams stayed together for three-four years (like Georgetown and St. John's in the mid-'80s, or Duke and UNLV in the early '90s). Once that continuity was removed, the quality of the product declined and bottomed out with a disaster of a 2005-06 season that featured two astounding realities:

1. Two white guys (Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick) were indisputably the two best college basketball players alive.

2. George Mason made the Final Four.

One year later? Everything's OK. The quality of play has been remarkable, culminating in Sunday's Georgetown-UNC classic, an electric game that also happened to be exceptionally well played (at least until UNC fell apart near the end). If you love basketball, you were legitimately thrilled like me. Which raises the question ... what's happening here? Is the 2006-07 season an aberration or something more?

I'll admit that I loved watching the Georgetown-UNC game too, it was a great game and brought memories from previous tournament history. But why can't George Mason and other mid-major schools that haven't been around as long have their fun too? Mason beat a UConn team that was the odds on heavy favorite win the tournament. Every ESPN analysts picked them and with good reason, 4 of their players went in the first round of the following NBA draft. Mason didn't beat these teams on a miracle buzzer beating shot they simply went right at the opposing teams and never doubted themselves. Simmons blames the lack of continuity from some of the major conference teams as the reason for a lower quality college game. Thats a good one Bill, why can't you just admit that these coaches like Roy Williams are overrated, how many McDonalds High School All-American players do you need to win a championship? If you Williams and Jim Calhoun are such legendary coaches they should be able to win with far less talent, yet they can't even make a Final Four with the best high school recruits in the country year after year. When was the last time either of those coaches took a low level player and made them into college basketball stars? Larranaga took guys like Tony Skinn (too small) and Jai Lewis (too fat) and mold them into tournament heroes. Even Wichita State head coach Mark Turgeon was able to take Paul Miller (a player recruited by the school to play baseball) and turn him into the Missouri Valley player of the year.

Simmons received a lot of emails from fans like me and here was his response yesterday:

Wanted to clarify something from yesterday's blog: Some readers wondered why I'd praise this year's NCAA Tournament (which has featured few upsets and a Final Four with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds) and dismiss last year's tournament (which featured a ton of upsets and a Cinderella making the Final Four).

The answer is simple: I like watching good basketball.

That was the underlying theme of yesterday's blog -- for the first time in years, the quality of play has matched the excitement of the tournament itself. Because the elite teams were so weak over the past few years, college basketball had degenerated into a 3-point shooting contest -- really, anyone could beat anyone else if they made 3s, so the style of play transformed into a slash-and-kick game with guys launching 23-footers (and there never seemed to be a Plan B). As a basketball fan, I just didn't think it was an interesting evolution and had trouble watching that crap. (And that's what it was: crap. Maybe it was exciting, but it was still crap.) The reason I loved Sunday's Georgetown-UNC game was because it was an up-and-down game that featured low-post offense, ball movement, coaching strategy, fast breaks, guys killing themselves to protect the rim and everything else you'd ever want from a college basketball game. That 2005-06 George Mason team would have gotten blown out of the building by either of those teams. I'm telling you.

So last years George Mason would have gotten blown out by either this years Georgetown or UNC team. News flash Bill, UConn had more talent and experience in their pinky last season than those two squads have this year. Niether of those teams dominated every aspect of every game their played in the tournament so far and they were a #1 and #2 seed having the easiest paths to the Final Four. Everybody and their mother said Mason would get destroyed against UConn last year; did he forget they were double digit underdogs? Was that game not up-and-down like this years Georgetown-UNC? Why was that game so much better? Because Patrick Ewing's and Doc River's sons were playing on Georgetown? Because of Roy Williams coaching history? No its because its a Big East school against an ACC school that has played against each other in the tournament before. Just enjoy the games Bill, why the hate?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

And the Nightmare Continues...

A year after George Mason upset UConn in the NCAA tournament you would think some of their former players, now in the NBA, would have a lot more on their minds this March. But the reality is that the nightmare they faced in last years tournament still dwells within them. Maybe its the reason that Marcus Williams and Josh Boone have had less than stellar rookie seasons to date. Both were first round draft picks by the New Jersey Nets and have 2 combined starts this season. Granted Williams is playing behind one of the best point guards in the game, he still has struggled and even been publicly called out by Jason Kidd. Boone has barely made it off the bench this season despite the Nets being thin in the front court due to injuries. Here's a quote from an article in Hartford:
Just because Marcus Williams and Josh Boone are off living the life of an NBA rookie doesn't mean they have forgotten about their last college game. Hardly. And you know the game.

"I don't think I'll ever get over it ..." Williams said. "I think about it all the time. All the time."

The usual greetings from Williams entering the Nets locker room is "what-up?" or "what's good?" But on Thursday before the Nets-Heat game at Continental Airlines Arena, he was moving his head side-to-side when the first words out of his mouth were "George Mason."
I guarantee no one in Connecticut feels sorry for them considering they now have lucrative NBA contracts. I'm not trying to bash these guys or UConn basketball but I think it really shows a the difference between mid-major players and glamored up BCS school players. Mason saw this game as an opportunity to play on college basketballs biggest stage and could not be turned away from the competition no matter how much they were written off. The UConn squad last year was a team full of super stars who all wanted the spotlight and most likely saw the game as just another showcase to the world before they signed NBA deals. Looking back they now realize that maybe if they burried their egos for a few weeks and forgot about the NBA sweet life for a second they might not have this unsettling feeling in their stomachs about their last college game.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Future Patriots

Two of Mason's 2007 recruits have been named to a local all-star team and will compete in the 34th annual Capital Classic basketball game next month at Comcast Center. Vlad Moldoveanu (St. Johns HS) and Cameron Long (pictured, Freedom-Woodbridge HS) will join some of the best players in the area on a roster that includes recruits from Maryland, UVA, Virginia Tech, and WVU. Vlad and Cameron have both had sensational seasons while they both led their teams in the state playoffs but fell to power house area teams. Vlad was able to average over 15 points a game while playing with a ball hogging McDonald's All-Star guard. Meanwhile 6'4" guard Cameron Long has been described by local newspapers as a men amongst boys and averaged over 18 points a game.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday Bracket

My bracket took a couple of blows this weekend but I still have 7 of Elite Eight teams and all my Final Four teams in place. Southern Illinois is my dark horse for the Final Four which I am betting most people don't have in their brackets. And of course the media can't help but mention George Mason when they are describing this team; which should almost be an insult to them considering they were ranked almost the entire season and are a #4 seed. I should have bet against Texas and Kevin Durant, who is probably too distracted by the NBA dollar signs. I knew I was really taking a gamble having Michigan State beating UNC but Hansbrough is not the same player we saw last year at this time and was truly the difference. Butler is a team that I regret not having going farther in my bracket, this just gives me another reason to hate ODU. I can't see them beating Florida in the next round even if they get another stellar game from A.J. Graves.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Duke Who?

Yesterday wasn't the greatest of days for me and my bracket. I thought I would be able to watch live streams from march madness on demand on my computer at work but unlike last year the site had some problems. The video would freeze up every 5 seconds! And on top of that there was only one upset the whole day; VCU handing Duke a first round loss that hasn't happened to them since 1996. UNC fans had to have celebrated this VCU victory last night in some fashion. UNC fans will especially appreciate this youtube of Paulus flopping during a VCU fast break. I did say yesterday that the only way Duke would win was if McRoberts had a big game; he did and the Dukies still went down. The difference was simply Eric Maynor, who showed that his clutch performance against Mason in the CAA finals was just the beginning. What is not to be forgotten is the Rams trapping defense that they used all season to frustrate CAA teams, it was certainly a treat to see it in action causing turnovers against the Blue Devils.

It will be interesting to see if this tactic will work against a team like Pitt, who they will face next on Saturday. Pitt runs its offense through a 7-foot 270-pound monster in the middle named Aaron Gray. The guy probably could have been a lottery pick in last years NBA draft but decided to stay in school. Gray will give the Rams trouble considering they don't have a true center and a usual rotation of four guards and Will Fameni (6'7" and often in foul trouble). Michael Anderson used some hard fouls to frustrate McRoberts last night and he will definitely use all five of them tomorrow against Gray. VCU will have to play rough again to come out victorious this time.

Now for some George Mason news. It seems Gunston is still getting some press these days as he was ranked 13th worst mascot in NCAA division I. By my calculation I think that makes him the 315th best mascot in the nation. Mason doesn't seem like they are making any efforts to replace Gunston with something remotely resembling a mascot. The Mason Gazette boasts about how much last years success has changed the school for the better, yet a cheap sesame street wannabe character mascot still is not in need of an upgrade.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eve of Madness

Tomorrow the games begin, and if you are like me you probably won't get anything done at work because you will be watching the games online via's March Madness on demand (it's free by the way). My bracket is filled out and once again I have confidence that I will dominate the 234598 pools I am in. Including my office pool where I hoping victory will land me a promotion or large pay increase; but most likely just bragging rights. Here are some games to pay close attention too:

6 Duke
11 VCU

Having seen VCU play a lot this season I really like them to "upset" Duke in this game. Duke really doesn't deserve a seed this high, but I guess anything less from the committee would have been an insult to Coach K. Duke doesn't have a lot of quality depth or a legit go to guy, they are young and have been turning over the ball a lot towards the end of the season. VCU thrives off creating turnovers and playing an up tempo game, not exactly the Blue Devils style. Duke has had trouble with teams with athletic guards and we all know first hand how athletic Maynor and B.A. Walker are. If Duke wins this game its because Josh McRoberts dominates inside.

5 Butler
12 Old Dominon

A mid-major match-up that ODU can win against a Butler team that really fell off after winning the pre-season NIT tournament. I am not sold on Butler because it seems that as the season went on good teams found out how to beat them: contain A.J. Graves. Southern Illinois and Wright State did it and ODU plays better defense then both those teams. ODU is a hungry team and came close to winning the NIT last March; their experience will make the difference. ODU plays excellent defense but often has trouble scoring late in games. It will take a lot from Vasylius and Dahi but they have come through in big games before for the Monarchs this season.

3 Washington State
14 Oral Roberts

Call me crazy but I like Oral Roberts here. Oral Roberts starts five upperclassmen and has two big time scorers. Caleb Green is a 6'8" 255-pound scoring machine, you don't see guys like him very often on 14-seed teams. They return most of their players from last years NCAA tournament team and now they now they have more confidence and a better seed. Keep in mind this team beat #1 seed Kansas on the road already this season, and every year it seems like theres 13 or 14 seed that makes some noise. Washington State on the other hand is the worst 3 seed in the field and hasn't been to the big dance in quite some time. The Cougars give up a lot of three point attempts and Oral Roberts has the shooters to make them pay for it; should be interesting.

6 Notre Dame
11 Wintrop

Wintrop is another mid-major team returning to the big dance this year with something to prove. This years team has three big scoring threats and efficient team rebounding. They are 22-1 when they out rebound their opponents this season and Notre Dame is no juggernaut in that category. This team hung around with UNC til the closing minutes and lost to Wisconsin by only three earlier in the year. Winthrop is more athletic than the Irish, which matters a lot this time of season. Notre Dame is very one dimension team and without Carter and Falls shooting good the team will fall.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Left Out

The 2006-2007 season is over for George Mason and for some it could not have come soon enough. As much as I would love to see the Patriots continue playing they just did not have a case for an NIT bid, especially since they reduced the field from 40 to 32 teams. The team was wildly inconsistent and didn't really play together well until this March. But if anything, this season showed how the CAA is getting stronger and getting more exposure. ODU was able to get an at-large bid to the dance and Drexel got snubbed. Its really not fair for a Drexel team that did what all mid-majors have to do to get respect: go on the road and win. Drexel did that, winning 14 (NCAA-best) on the road including Syracuse, Villanova, St. Joseph's, and Creighton. The committee has always stated that you need to go out on the road and beat somebody, yet they pass over Drexel for Illinois, Arkansas, and an 18-12 Stanford team for a bid. ODU and VCU were in so I guess that was all the CAA teams the committee could stand. And the say that conference affiliation doesn't matter; stack up Drexel's computer numbers and stats against Illinois, Arkansas, Purdue, and Stanford and theres really no argument you can make to put all those teams in ahead of Drexel. This is what makes mid-major fans different from major conference fans; we root for our whole conference. We have to root for our whole conference because overall conference success is the only way to get respect. Sure Mason didn't make it this year, but because the CAA was able to get another at-large birth this year that always gives more opportunities and hope for next year. The fact that we don't have to worry about winning our conference tournament anymore as the only way to get to the dance is a huge step for the conference and all its members. Although I still hate rooting for ODU and VCU, I know their success will continue what Mason started last year. Plus I also have both of them winning first round games in my bracket.

For the next couple of days be ready to hear every commentator during the first round games of the tournament try to predict who will be "this years George Mason". I already have an answer: they won't be one. Its amazing how one minute every analyst and expert is talking about how Mason's run last year was so amazing and one of the best college basketball stories of all time; then the next minute they cheapen it and act like its going to happen every year.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

And the Madness Begins...

After taking some time to cool down from the CAA finals I can now start talking post-season for the league. VCU may have the automatic bid being the tournament champions but they won't be the only CAA in the big dance. ODU and Drexel are two interesting cases that the selection committee will be talking about before this Sunday. Resident "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi gives tournament projections all season long and has had the CAA with two bids for most of the season. Right now he has ODU as the at-large bid going with VCU. But its an interesting case in the CAA because of Drexel's out of conference success early in the year and ending up with the most road/neutral wins in the country. ODU beat the Big East regular season champ Georgetown on the road, but really don't have any other wins to speak of outside the conference. They are being considered over Drexel because they have beaten them twice this year. Keep in mind that Drexel has wins over Villanova, Syracuse, and Creighton; all of which figure to be NCAA teams. Those wins prove that the Dragons can beat the big boys and definitely have the most potential within the CAA to get some wins in the tournament. The CAA getting three bids to the big dance is not totally out of the question as some analysts have projected. Three bids for the CAA would be huge and really help the conference build off last seasons success. The problem is mid-majors often get snubbed for teams in major conferences, even ones that have losing conference records. The selection committee can't make everyone happy but last year certainly proved that RPI numbers and conference affiliation don't mean everything.

Mason and Hofstra are not to be left out of the CAA post-season mix. Hofstra is a lock for the NIT tournament where they and ODU had great success a year ago. Mason is most likely on the outside looking in but I think might get a bid just because of brand name recognition and a chance for the NIT to grab some much needed TV ratings. NIT-ology, a website that attempts to predict the NIT field, does not currently have Mason on its radar, but a lot can change in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


The Patriots Cinderella Story Volume 2 was cut short last night. Late steals and nine straight points from Eric Maynor stole the game away from Mason who was leading most of the game. Dre Smith and Gabe Norwood went from heroes to goats in about 5 seconds. Smith who had been the teams leading scorer during the tourney coughed up the ball at mid court to Maynor who took it for a layup and was fouled. A three point play. On the very next play he stole the ball from Gabe Norwood and scored again with 1 minute 44 seconds remaining. Patriot fans including myself were sitting there with blank stares. How could this be happening? Mason took the ball down the court, Campbell had his shot blocked and Maynor took the ball down the court for another layup. Its one thing to lose to a better team but its another when you just let it slip away because of little mental errors. Sure Mason was more fatigued having played an extra game over the weekend and VCU was practically playing a home game but Mason had this in the bag with less than 2 minutes to go and flat gave the game away. Maynor is a hell of player and hes going to get steals hes done it all season, but after the first time he did it, wake up! Norwood had been handling the ball well after Jordan Carter went out with a hurt knee. Norwood, the only senior getting significant playing time this season, had been in clutch situations like this before and I can't believe he let this happen. VCU, who killed us during the season with three-pointers, made only one during this contest. Mason played the perimeter extremely well compared to earlier in the season. They kept VCU from taking the long range shots they wanted to. If they could have played like this against some of their non-conference opponents we might be thinking about an at-large berth instead of an NIT one. After the way this season has gone a bid to the NIT (which to most fans stands for the Not In the Tournment, tournament) would be more of a rewarding experience than disappointment. With the way this time has improved over this past tournament weekend, I want to see them keep playing no matter where it is.

I think John Feinstein put it best in today's Washington Post:

"If the NCAA men's basketball committee took gallantry into account, George Mason would be a lock for a bid this coming Monday.

Sadly for the Patriots, gallantry counts far less than the Ratings Percentage Index."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Richmond Revenge

They may have been more Old Dominion fans chanting against the Patriots but it sure didn't seem to bother them much. The Patriots are one win away from getting back to the big NCAA dance. Since March 2nd we have seen a different George Mason squad; one that has been on fire and playing with confidence. Mason took a strong hold over the Monarchs and never let go on their way to a 79-63 victory. The score is almost misleading in the sense that Mason was up by at least twenty points for a large part of the game. Dre Smith again was outstanding scoring 14 of his 19 points in the first half fueling Mason's early rally that lasted into the 2nd half. Folarin Campbell added 18 and really took control of the game late, at one point he made 7 shots in a row. Will Thomas scored his 1,000th point as a Patriot and wasn't needed much as the Patriots guards stole the show. It would seem that Coach L has given the team the green light to just shoot the ball and it has been working out great. There doesn't seem to be any hesitation amongst the players; something that we have seen earlier in the season. Keep in mind that ODU came into this game riding a 12-game winning streak, yet Mason seemed like the heavy favorite right from the tip-off. The Patriots defense was really the difference as they forced the Monarchs to make some poor shot selections and only shot 38%.

The Patriots face VCU in the finals, a re-match of the 2004 finals which I attended as a sophomore and almost lost it when Jai Lewis missed that last second shot that would have won it. Of course the Rams have their annual home court advantage as they play their home games a couple blocks away from the Richmond Coliseum. Good for the Mason, they seem to have this "underdog" role working for them a second year in a row. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Livin' on a Prayer

I don't have time to write much today as I am about to head to Richmond for the semifinals. This upset is exactly the kind of play fans expected from Mason all year but rarely got to see. Its almost as if a fire has been lit under them, as they led by 15 at the half; who saw this coming? Monroe bought his A game and Dre Smith continued to show his poise to use a 21-4 run at the end of the first half to build that lead. The game controlled by Mason's surges with 10-0 and 8-0 runs. They will need to keep up this tempo to beat ODU who hasn't lost since January 20th. Expect Monroe and Thomas to be the main focus of the offense but guys like Campbell and Smith are gonna need to continue knocking down three-pointers. ODU most likely already has an at-large berth set for the NCAA tournament where as Mason needs win out to make it. Its going to be a battle of who wants it more, should be a great game. Im out.

Thank you Courtney Erland for all the great pictures you have provided this season.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Dre Smith Show

Friday night it was Dre Smith's world and James Madison was just livin' in it. Dre made his first 7 three-pointers on his way to a career night with 26 points. The only three-pointer he missed came in the last 10 seconds as he shot a 30-footer while the Patriots were running the clock out not realizing the shot clock was about to expire before the game clock. No matter, Dre still was able to almost set a CAA tournament record for three-point shooting percentage. This is the Dre Smith we got a glimpse of earlier in the season against Florida International and at ODU. Smith was expected to step right in out of JUCO and be a contributer; for the most part he was but these were high expectations for someone who never previously played DI ball. I still think the best is yet to come from this kid, stay tuned.

Mason as a team shot 10 for 19 from the three-point line, a consistent perimeter shooting night that we have not seen from the Patriots much this season. Without the solid guard play the Patriots could have been in trouble late in this game as Will Thomas and Darryl Monroe got off to slow starts. Birdsong was able to pick up the slack in the low post during the second half and was pretty much able to do whatever he wanted when he got the ball during the second half scoring 11 and pulling down 7 rebounds. Folarin Campbell and Jordan Carter had off nights in term of point production but showed off their play making skills having a combined 13 out of the Patriots 22 assists.

Speaking of assists, the Patriots had 22 assists on their 25 field goals, that is very rare and very impressive. Most division I teams don't get assists on half of their made field goals; this stat shows how well the team was sharing the ball and making unselfish plays. Folarin Campbell was an example of this last night as he had almost 5 more assists than his season average. Throughout the season Campbell had been notorious for making some bad 2nd half decisions when the team was down as he tried to do everything by himself often alienating other teammates. In this game when the game was close after halftime he distributed the ball well and got his other teammates involved instead of forcing up a three-pointer off a double team.

Next up the Patriots face #3 seed Hofstra tonight at 8:30pm, a team they haven't beaten in awhile. Last years CAA tournament game against Hofsta was marred by Tony Skinn's antics but this year the Patriots should be looking for some redemption against a team that has had their way with them recently. The Patriots will need strong defensive play from their guards tonight in order to keep up with Hofstra. Hofstra does not have a strong inside presence and during there last meeting the Patriots were not able to take advantage of that as Will Thomas was shut down for the most of that game. Larranaga is gonna have to find a way to get him involved early to prevent Hofstra's guards from controlling the game. After a season of ups and downs this a chance for the Patriots to seek revenge on the top CAA teams and we shall see if they are up to the challenge.

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