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George Mason Basketball

George Mason Basketball: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Mulling it Over

Reports are still swirling around spectulating whether or not Coach Larranaga will be heading back to his alma mater to coach the Friars. Michael Litos of the CAA hoops blog shares a different opinion than what I have recently posted thinking the move to the Big East isn't such a crazy idea for the old ball coach. The lure of ending his successful career back at Providence in about 5 years or so might be too great to turn down. But does Coach L really want to take on the challenge of restoring the Friars to the level they were at when he graced the court in the early 70's? Definitely something that would take time to build up. Kind of like the time it has taken for him to build up the Patriots to become the CAA power that they are today. Providence may be a Big East school but you can't tell me going there at this point for a potential recruit has really all the much more appeal than coming to George Mason. The Patriots have been in the spotlight more and more each season and TV appearances on ESPN are expected now. But that's just me.


4/1/08 Update: This is no April fools day joke but Providence has indeed officially offered the position to Coach L.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reloading for '08-'09

I have spent a lot of time talking about this upcoming recruiting class Larranaga has coming in and I am getting more excited about it everyday. has an article today mentioning our recruiting class of 2008 as ammunition for another NCAA tournament run in the future. The article speaks highly of Andre Cornelius:
"Cornelius should thrive in the CAA because of his big game ability, afterburner speed and scoring touch from the point guard spot. He has shined in the underdog role his whole career because of his 5-foot-9 size. Cornelius was flirted with by the high-majors but no one could ever really pull the trigger. With that in mind, he should be firing away come tournament time."
Music to my ears. The PG position at Mason should not be an issue for quite some time with Cam Long and Cornelius bringing the ball up. What's great about this class is the fact it extends beyond the DC metro area and showing that we are now bringing in prospects for all over. Definitely a good sign for things to come here in Fairfax.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Providence is knocking

After weeks of speculation on Coach Larranaga and the recent head coaching job opening at his alma mater Providence I think it's time to share some perspective on the subject. After the Final Four run of 2006 many schools were pursuing the old ball coach, even NC State. I wasn't worried then about Coach L leaving and not really that worried now either. Today in Andy Katz blog he confirms that Providence has indeed been in contact with Mason:
"Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll asked for permission to talk to George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, GMU athletic director Tom O'Connor confirmed to Larranaga is a Providence College graduate. It's unclear whether or not Larranaga will meet with Driscoll."
O'Connor seems confident that Larranaga will stay in Fairfax considering his investment in the community with organizations such as the Washington Speakers Bureau. I agree but I think he will stay for other reasons, such as potential job security. Definitely not as much pressure in the CAA as there would be in the Big East. The top half of the Big East is stacked with talented teams and I don't think Coach L cares about a pay increase that much to have the face those kind of teams on a weekly basis. He would have his work cut out for him at Providence just trying to stay in the middle of the pack in the standings. Larranaga is starting to get more respect in the DC Metro area and has even started to pull recruits away from local powers Georgetown and Maryland. Larranaga might have pulled in his most highly rated prospect ever to come to Mason when point guard Andre Cornelius verballed back in September. Cornelius is also the highest rated player coming into the CAA next season, why leave with that on your plate?

Mason has been in contention for the CAA title on a regular basis lately and frankly Larranaga is a Godsend to fans compared to some of past coaches here in Fairfax. Speaking of past Mason head coaches, did you know Roy Williams almost wore green and gold? If Coach L was younger I would be worried about him bolting for a chance like this at bigger conference but for now I think we are safe.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Hangover

Well it didn't go as planned, to say the least. The game against Notre Dame resembled many road losses that the Patriots had this season, only this time they have never had the lead. The Irish used a ridiculously hot shooting streak to pull away from Mason early. Personally I feel that the Irish broke the spirits of the Mason players early and they were just never able to recover. Will Thomas attempted to put the team on his back but it was not enough. Folarin Campbell, what the hell happened? Starting off o for 10? I hate to say that will be the last time I get to watch him play. I really felt like the 2006 Folarin would come out in this game and I am sure I am not the only one who felt that way.

Granted Notre Dame seemed like they could not miss from three point land this was still not the real George Mason team that we saw in Richmond the previous weekend. What I really could not understand is why Chris Fleming and Isiah Tate got so many minutes in the first half. Ok, Fleming had a good CAA tournament but for God's sake we aren't playing William and Mary any more. As for Tate, I love the guy loads of potential, great long range shooting, but he's an untested freshman who barely saw time this season. I just don't understand Coach L's personnel decision sometimes. I mean yes Campbell and Vaughan were missing open looks but let them work it out on their own, they have before.

Thanks to for the video find.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Notre Dame Q & A

With Thursday night getting closer the anticipation is growing each day. Last night the tournament officially began, sort of. At least we know that the extra media attention is not going to faze guys like Folarin, Will, and JV. If you are going crazy with anxiety like me, read these funny posts from Deadspin and the DC Sports Bog to calm yourself down. The team is in Denver along with our real Mascot, Doc Nix and the Green Machine. I really hope I see more of Doc Nix and his kryptonite cane than I do of Gunston's ugly mug. Also, when planning your viewing parties for the game be sure add a drinking game which involves taking a shot every time the commentators mention "the experience of George Mason". You will be wasted drunk at half-time.

Alright now let's get serious. The Richmond Times says speed is the key to a Mason victory and I could not agree more, remember the beginning of the Kansas State and Villanova games? What else will be keys to a victory Thursday night, check out my Q &A session with Rakes of Mallow blogger Christopher Wilson for further analysis. To see my responses to his questions about the Patriots read here.

1) What kind of coaching style does Mike Brey have for those of us who have not seen the Irish in action much? Defensive or Offensive minded?

Rakes of Mallow: A short anecdote ought to answer this question about as well as you could hope for:

Mike Brey goes around to a lot of the dorms before the season starts doing Q & A's with the residents about the team. When asked about his defensive strategy, and what sort of recruits he looks for in that area, his reply was rather simple. "I figure we'll let the other guy score 80, and we'll score 81."

To his credit, the defense has been better than in previous years this season, with Brey deploying a 2-2-1 press and a 3-2 zone that work due to some length on the wings, but the hallmark of this Irish team is their offense. They're good in transition, with a bunch of guys who can hit the three surrounding Luke Harangody, who takes care of the inside game basically on his own, although the penetration of Zach Hillesland and Tory Jackson complement the inside-outside game with some fresh angles.

2) Who are the other guys to watch besides Luke Harangody?

Rakes of Mallow: Kyle McAlarney is capable of heating up and scoring in a wide variety of ways. While more of a scoring point guard in high school that could get into the lane or pull up from deep, K-Mac's morphed into the resident long range specialist on this Irish team, although he still finds his way into the paint for a floater from time to time. He's popped off for thirty point games a few times this season, and if the Patriots wanted to keep one player under wraps on the perimeter, they should look at McAlarney first.

His backcourt mate, Tory Jackson, is a joy to watch, but he's wildly inconsistent. Irish fans thought he had cured his turnover woes earlier in the season, but they've popped up again, perhaps facilitated by Rick Pitino's cursed press a few Thursdays ago. He's probably the best athlete on the team, capable of burning past even the most capable perimeter defenders and skying for rebounds and blocks no sub-six foot player should be able to achieve.

3) What is the team's area of strength? Also, what are areas the Patriots might be able to exploit?

Rakes of Mallow: The Irish have a really balanced offense, with a bunch of guys who can shoot (McAlarney, Ayers, Kurz, Zeller, Jackson) surrounding the Big East Player of the Year in the middle. The scramble defense that Coach L throws out seems like it's the perfect counter to the gameplan of the Irish, but if they can work in some easy buckets in transition, they should be able to score on George Mason.

The biggest weakness the Irish have is their perimeter defense. Whether it's coming off dribble-drive penetration or a pick and roll, opposing guards get into the lane and force bad rotations, meaning someone is probably getting an open three. There's just a lack of athleticism on this team, and while there's enough offensive talent to make up for that in scoring the ball, it's more of a struggle in stopping the opposition. I imagine there will be a lot of open shots available for Patriot perimeter players, whether it comes from penetration or the defense collapsing on Will Thomas, who I'm glad to hear from multiple sources is a mini-Kevin McHale.

4) Our team's definitely seem to have short benches, who might be an x-factor for the Irish?

Rakes of Mallow: A lot of Irish fans reading this will cringe, but I think Luke Zeller could have himself a nice game against the Patriots. He was a very highly recruited seven footer who has never really found his place in the Irish rotation, choosing to hang out around the perimeter when he's shown flashes of a strong interior game on both ends of the floor. With the limited height of George Mason, I feel like Zeller could get some nice looks from the arc shooting over taller defenders and give Thomas trouble with his length on double teams.

5) ND performed very poorly in their early season tournament while Mason played very well. In addition, ND was ousted in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Furthermore, they suffered a 1st round loss in last year's NCAA tournament. Do think this might attributed to lack of experience and senior leadership, and might it be a factor in this year's tournament?

Rakes of Mallow: I'll address these one at a time. First, last season's early NCAA exit had a lot to do with the experience of Winthrop, who had the same starting five in their third straight tournament appearance, going against an Irish team that was relying on a freshman point guard and big man. The Irish were down big, managed to come back and take the lead but lost a close one late due to some uncharacteristic misses from the free throw line.

The early season tournament you mention was the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, where the Irish lost two games to Baylor and Georgia Tech by five points, giving up late leads in both of them. The quarterfinal loss to Marquette was depressing but not exactly unexpected, as Harangody got into early foul trouble, the Irish just seemed a little flat while the Golden Eagles shot the lights out in the second half.

George Mason is certainly capable of winning this game, but I would surely hope it's not due to a lack of leadership and experience on the part of the Irish, a team whose most prominent players have at least two full seasons of experience under their belt at this point.

6) Getting back to big Luke, how important is he in the team's success? Also what kind of defender is he, will he be guarding Will Thomas?

Rakes of Mallow: Harangody's interior success is a pretty big factor for the Irish. Not only does he provide nice balance to Brey's love of outside shooting, but he also pounds the opposition for a lot of fouls, which help get the Irish into the bonus early. Other than Jackson, most of the Irish players are great free throw shooters, so Harangody's ability to get himself, and eventually others, to the line is really helpful. He's added in a pretty nice outside shot, meaning that larger, slower defenders now have to chase him around the outside as well as protect the block (something UConn's Hasheem Thabeet failed to do in the second meeting between the Huskies and Irish). You'll probably be annoyed going up against Harangody, as he does seem to get at least one ridiculous call per game and will crash into anyone – teammates, opponents, media – throughout the course of a game.

Defensively, Harangody is solid, but Rob Kurz usually takes the role of guarding the opponent's best interior player. The Irish had no answer for David Padgett a few weeks ago, and while Thomas doesn't have his size, it seems he has the same polished post game. Look for Harangody, Kurz and perhaps even Zeller to spend some time on Thomas, although I imagine the Irish will go zone more often than not if the man defense isn't containing him.

7) On offense, do the Irish like to push the ball at all or are they a half court type of team?

Rakes of Mallow: The Irish are considerably better in transition, with Tory Jackson pushing the tempo and finding open shooters on the arc or quick post-ups for Harangody. The Irish half-court offense can look very stagnant if shots aren't falling or the big guy isn't passing out of double teams wisely, but if the shooters get into a rhythm, they can be pretty explosive. I will happily admit my bias towards fast-paced, transition offenses, but I think the Irish are much better when running than when trying to find clean looks after the defense is set.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Notre Dame at a glance

With Mason's first round game only 3 days away let's not waste anymore time and get right to it, who are these Fighting Irish they will be facing in Denver? It's nice to know that some people are predicting us to upset these Irish. No doubt they are more battle tested coming out of the Big East but much like the Patriots they don't play their best basketball away from their home court. They are led by burly sophomore center Luke Harangody who is 6'8" and 250 lbs, where is Jai Lewis when you need him? Luke was Big East player of the year, the youngest to do so since Caron Butler back in 2002. Make no mistake that Coach Larranaga's defensive game plan is going to centered around big Luke as Notre Dame's will be similar in trying to slow down Will Thomas. It should be a classic big man battle between Thomas and Harangody. Offensive rebounding and defense will be the keys to Mason's success, Birdsong you gotta box out! Notre Dame has a tremendous size advantage over Mason overall but Folarin Campbell does pose as a possible mis-match for the Irish starting back court. The difference in the game could be John Vaughan and Folarin Campbell getting to the free throw line like they have been lately. One problem for the Patriots will be defending the three point shot as these Irish are 4th in the nation in that area. Scary statistic when you think of how poorly Mason has defended the three point shot at certain points in the season. Lately the Patriots have been improved in this area, especially during their last game in the CAA championship playing against a team that lives off the three pointers.

More analysis to the come as I will be conversing with the Rakes of Mallow Notre Dame blogger in a Q&A session. Please post any questions you have for the Notre Dame blogger regarding their team and what to expect for Thursday.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Patriots earn 12 seed

Just announced, Mason will be playing Notre Dame in the first round in Denver, Colorado this Thursday. I like this match up and personally I think we could have drawn a lot more dangerous teams. Also a potential game against Washington State in the second round is also winnable, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Update: Game time is going to be around 9:50 - 10 pm as it is slated for 30 minutes after the 7:20 pm Washington State - Winthrop game.


Let the Madness Begin

The day has come and in only a few hours we will know the Patriots first round opponent. There is a ton of speculation out there but the consensus seems to be that Mason will end up a 13 seed. Currently ESPN bracketology has the Patriots facing off against Notre Dame as a 12 seed and is predicting a first round rematch of the 2006 tourney with us facing Michigan St. and CBS Sports both predict a 13 seed. Frankly I don't think an 11 or 12 seed is out of the question when you factor in Mason's significant wins. The other factor that can hurt our seeding is the lack of success on the road which will probably be the reason we are a 13 seed. The anticipation is killing me.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Only hours left til Selection Sunday

So Mason pulled it off, they really did it. Despite most of the fans feeling a CAA tournmanet championship was all but impossible I had a feeling we would see the team's best basketball in Richmond. And even though the Mason bookstore is already screwing up new t-shirt designs, you have to feel confident about this team if your a fan. Enough of this "who will be this year's George Mason" talk, this guys can make noise again just like they did two years ago. Speaking of two years ago, current bracketology has us matched up with UConn in the first round, wouldn't that be interesting. But I would not put too much stock into that because it will most likely change 5 more times before tomorrow afternoon.

The Patriots will most likely be 12 or 13 seed and with that in mind I see some potential 4 or 5 seed teams they would be able to handle in the first round. Teams like Butler and Drake come to mind as they are fellow mid-majors but I also would say Notre Dame and Michigan State also come to mind. Also teams led by stellar freshman also don't have the best track record in the tournament so that would factor in teams like Indiana. Predicting the seeding is always impossible because the selection committee always has a few surprises and we were one of them in 2006.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Time for Champions

Panama city is awesome but it is holding back the ol blog. Last night Mason looked fantastic on defense, which is a good sign. Blog will be back to normal friday, sorry guys. Look to the comments for reactions and views.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Championship Time

This post comes from my blackberry, look to the comments for caa tournament analysis, have it my fellow readers.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Countdown to Richmond

So it's all come down to this: win it all in Richmond for a chance at NCAA tournament glory or go home and pray for an NIT or CBI invite. It's difficult to say at this point if an NIT bid is even realistic, especially if Mason gets bounced before Sunday's games. But I am trying to stay positive and you should to, I am for God's sake this team never fails to surprise us am I right? Instead of drowning your sorrows at a bar in anticipation of a CAA tourney loss read this article to restore your hope. After reading this article, it reminds me of how insanely confident Coach Larranaga was back in 2006 despite the odds piled against his squad. His confidence will hopefully rain down to his guys this year, because one of the keys to success that he mentions in this article that they have not demonstrated much this season is having "a loose attitude". They definitely have not have the right attitude on the road this season which in my opinion gives them motivation to right that ship this weekend, because it's not too late. And I wouldn't be this confident if Folarin Campbell wasn't averaging 20.3 ppg over the past 14 games. Our friends over at seem to think we have a chance to take down VCU in the finals. also has a preview of this weekend's action.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Different year same result

The Patriots ended their season exactly like they did last year, with a loss in Boston to the Northeastern Huskies. Almost fitting that this regular season ends with another loss on the road with the way things have gone this year. The loss along with UNCW's win yesterday gets the Patriots a #3 seed in the CAA tournament next weekend where they will face the winner of the Northeastern/JMU game. Theoretically it looks like the Patriots might have to play a team they just lost to and then UNCW, a team that not only beat them twice but also the one to do so at home. Not the most ideal match-up but the Patriots will have to play at a higher level than they have of late if they want to have any success next weekend. Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas have remained the strong even during Mason's recent struggles but it's the supporting cast that has had it's ups and down. John Vaughan's consistent play deteriorated some and Dre Smith has gone scoreless in the last two games. Louis Birdsong got a little banged up yesterday and missed a lot of the 2nd half and Jordan Carter played 1 minute. What has happened to this team's depth? It was good to see Cam Long log 20+ minutes again but his freshman miscues at the point are far from over it seems. Fellow freshman Isaiah Tate saw his most significant playing time yesterday and got a chance to show off his athleticism scoring back to back baskets to cut the Huskie lead to 50-46. That was as close as the Patriots would come and with this lack of support from the bench I don't see how Mason will deal with these 2nd half runs by their opponents.

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