Team Profile: 2008 BracketBuster Preview: George Mason vs Ohio
George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga isn’t one to shy away from big games. After all, this is the same head coach that willed his team to the Final Four in 2006 with a hope, a prayer and a Jai Lewis. For George Mason, the game against Ohio on Saturday (1pm ET, ESPN2) is the point in the season where the Patriots finally find their rhythm and go on another incredible wining streak, or fall once again on the road and see their season come crashing to a halt.
At 18-8 (10-5 in the CAA), the Patriots are starting to see their slim chances of making the Tournament disappear. After falling at the buzzer on Saturday to UNC Wilmington (a game that could have serious Tournament repercussions), the team looks to be hitting a rough patch in the season at the wrong time. With Virginia Commonwealth and UNC Wilmington both boasting better conference records, the best option for George Mason is to make winning their game on Saturday at Ohio and the conference tournament a priority.
Ohio, like George Mason, can ill-afford a loss at this point in the season. At 17-9 overall (8-5 in conference), the Bobcats are sitting in fourth in the Mid-American Conference standings and are in dire need of a big win against an opponent like George Mason. After failing to prove they can win on the road in conference, head coach Tim O’Shea needs to find a way to rally his team.
A BracketBuster matchup at home against the Patriots could be just the remedy Ohio needs to make a final push for a Tournament slot; either that or the Bobcats could be looking at their first home loss of the season and a possible tournament invite to the NIT. The choice is up to them.
Key Matchup: George Mason’s Will Thomas vs. Ohio’s Leon Williams
Its’ not hard to understand that as Will Thomas goes, so does the entire George Mason squad. Thomas, who was a staple on the 2005-06 GMU team that went to the Final Four, is once again the main down low for the Patriots. Thomas is currently averaging a team-best 16.2 points per game and 10 rebounds this season. Over the last eight games, Thomas has averaged a double-double in six.
Leon Williams should give Thomas all he can handle in the post. The Bobcat forward is shooting a stellar 60 percent from the field this season, while also posting a near double-double in points and rebounds with 15.6 points and 9.9 rebounds. Some have him tabbed as a potential MAC Player of the Year candidate this season. Like Thomas, Williams is a spectacular back-to-the-basket player that seems to thrive when he has a man on his hip.
Expect the two forwards to go toe-to-toe on Saturday afternoon.
Also the point guard battle between Folarin Campbell (George Mason) and Michael Allen (Ohio) should be another matchup to watch.
Key Stat: Field-Goal Percentage
The adage might sound old and outdated, but in a game where winning is everything, the term, “every shot counts,” brings on a whole new meaning. For both George Mason and Ohio that hasn’t been a problem this season. Each school finds itself in the top three in their respective conference in field-goal percentage (Ohio 45.4 percent/ George Mason 46.7 percent) and can attribute a lot of the success to having starting fives that are led by juniors and seniors that have been there before.
Don’t expect either team to give the ball away easily in the critical moments of the game. With go-to guards like Folarin Campbell and Michael Allen at the point position, you can to see a lot of high percentage shots being taken the entire game.
For Ohio, the chance of playing in the Convocation Center (“The Convo” for short) for their BracketBuster matchup couldn’t come at a better time. The Bobcats know that anything short of perfection won’t do this late in the season, and getting the chance to play George Mason on the Convocation Center floor should be something every player on the team should relish. Boasting a 10-0 record at home this season, the Bobcat’s are a formidable team on their home court. Add in the rowdy student section aptly called the, “O Zone”, and you make George Mason’s task of winning on the road that much more difficult.
GMU is a run-and-gun team that seems to thrive when they score. This season the Patriots have posted a 7-1 record when they score over 80 points in a game, and judging by the way Ohio likes to slow the game down to setup their offense, Mason had better be prepared to maintain a frenetic pace if they want to have a chance of knocking down the Bobcats at home.
Both teams know that winning is the only option, and judging by the fact that George Mason is only 5-5 on the road this season, playing at “The Convo” isn’t the best place to cure their road woes.
Ohio 72, George Mason 69