Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Preview: George Mason at Wichita State

by David Mihm | February 11th, 2006

When the Bracketbuster matchups were announced last month, it was immediately clear that Bucknell-Northern Iowa was the marquee showdown of the event. Both teams led (and still lead) their respective conferences, both made last year’s NCAA Tournament, and both have strong profiles for at-large bids into this year’s NCAA field.

Little did we know that one month later, when the games were actually contested, an equally important battle with respect to at-large seeding would occur between the George Mason Patriots and the Wichita State Shockers. Neither the Patriots nor the Shockers have a marquee nonconference victim to present as tribute to the Selection Committee, and herein lies the intrigue.

Sporting a gaudy 13-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association (19-5 overall), the Patriots have crept their way into the at-large discussion, and their RPI now sits at an unprecedented 25. Their lone conference losses are a one-pointer at Old Dominion and a six-pointer at UNC-Wilmington, both of which were avenged with home victories later in the season. How many Patriots fans (or analysts, for that matter) would have guessed before the season began that a five-point defeat at Wake Forest would be considered their worst loss of the year!

The Patriots lead the CAA in shooting percentage (.492), and their defense has been equally solid, holding their opponents to an average of just 58 ppg. The only team to score even 70 points on GMU was the aforementioned Wake Forest, which put up 83 at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum.

Mason relies heavily on their home-grown starting five of Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn, Lamar Butler, Folarin Campbell, and Will Thomas. All Maryland products average 30 minutes per game and double figures in scoring. With a win against Wichita on Saturday, the three seniors in the bunch (Lewis, Skinn, and Butler) would go a long way towards ensuring their season would not end even with a loss in the CAA Tournament.

While Wichita State lacks the sure-fire star that many of their MVC brethren are blessed with (UNI’s Ben Jacobson, SIU’s Jamaal Tatum, and Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant, to name a few), coach Mark Turgeon’s team features a balanced attack, just like Mason. A quartet of players averages double figures for the Shockers. The most recognizable name on WSU’s roster may be that of G/F Kyle Wilson, a transfer from Illinois.

The Shockers’ best non-conference win is a two-point home W over fellow Bracketbuster Northwestern State. In all honesty, the Shockers’ claim to fame might be coming within a point of knocking off Kyle Wilson’s former team at the South Padre Island tournament early in the year. In conference play, Wichita’s most noteworthy accomplishment prior to last week was a sweep of Missouri State. But then came a thrilling double-overtime home victory over the Salukis, and a resurgence of talk about an at-large bid to the NCAA’s.

The Shockers will not be looking ahead to George Mason, as they face Creighton at home on Valentine’s Day, in a game which will feature no love lost between the MVC rivals. With a win over the Blue Jays, the Bracketbuster game against George Mason will mean about the same to both teams, but with a V-Day loss, it becomes a must-have for the Shockers.

Only one team has come into the sparkling new Koch Arena and emerged with a victory this year: Northern Iowa. The 10,500 seat building will be rocking for this nationally televised game, and it will take tremendous composure by George Mason’s three senior leaders for the Patriots to escape with a W.

Prediction: Wichita State 67, George Mason 65

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