Nov 9, 2012
—by Thomas Block @tomcblock
Around the country tonight, the NCAA Men’s basketball season will be tipping off and in Fairfax, VA the George Mason Patriots play host to the University of Virginia Cavalier’s at 7pm in the Patriot Center.
The Patriots open up their season with second year head coach Paul Hewitt after finishing last season a very respectable 24-9 (14-4 CAA) but missing the ability to play in the postseason which is a rarity these days for Mason fans to see. Last season, Mason went up against the Hoos at John Paul Jones Arena where they lost 68-48 which was the most lopsided defeat they experienced. UVA went on to finish the season 22-10 (9-7 ACC) and earned their first tournament berth since 2007. This will be only the seventh meeting between the two schools and the second to take place on Mason’s home court. UVA has won all seven of those contests.
Already to start the season off are the suspensions of Erik Copes and Vaughn Gray for the first three games. With Seniors Mike Morrison (9.8ppg) and leading scorer Ryan Pearson (17ppg) graduating, Copes was expected to fill in that space at the 5 spot coming into the season which now is looking to be filled tonight by Jonathan Arledge. Arledge a 6’9 Junior played in 31 games last season scoring 4.3ppg and grabbing 3.1rpg. He will be matched up against freshman Mike Tobey a 6’11 from New York who has been seen as a player with good moves around the basket and a nice mid-range shot.
The other four expected starters for tonight’s contest will be Johnny Williams, Anali Okoloji , Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen. Williams is a 6’8 240-pound redshirt junior who missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury. In the exhibition game against Bowie State, he turned the ball over 5 times, an issue that plagued the team as a whole last season. He’ll be matched up against 6’8 Junior Forward Akil Mitchell, who played in 32 games last season with 4.1ppg and 4.4rpg. Mitchell wasn’t really factor last season with his 21 minutes, 4 points, and 5 rebounds. With him and guard Joe Harris as the lone upperclassmen in the starting five for UVA, expect more action in the backcourt in this game as the team relies on Akil’s experience.
Okoloji makes his expected season debut as a Patriot after sitting out last season due to his transfer from Seton Hall. The 6’8 redshirt sophomore only averaged 2 points and 3 minutes per game in his freshman season so it’s anyone’s guess what to expect with this first season under Head Coach Paul Hewitt. In his exhibition debut, he had 11 points from 24 minutes of play. He’ll be matched up against Freshman Justin Anderson the 6’6 Forward from Northern Virginia that was ranked 47th best prospect for the 2012 class.
There should be a high expectation that the names Bryon Allen and Sherrod Wright get their names called a lot during this game. The front court duo juniors scored an average of 7.5 and 9.6 respectively last season and will heavily dictate the pace of this game. That pace is much faster than Hewitt’s low post based attack from last season. Allen brings not necessarily a 3 point threat (hitting 16.7%) but the way he distributes the ball (3.7 assists) and those second chance opportunities with rebounds (3.1 rpg). Wright is returning for the first time this season in front of Mason fans after he was not allowed to take part in Mason Madness and the Bowie State exhibition game due to an undisclosed offseason incident. His ball handling skills, ability to turn his game up and be clutch in the final minutes, and a threat behind the arc (35.6% 3pfg) will make him the most heavily relied on member of this squad.
Virginia’s backcourt has already seen a number of changes mainly at the point guard spot. They were supposed to have senior Jontel Evans but he has a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery in the offseason. He was going to be replaced by Malcom Brogdon and then he had foot surgery so then it became a committee of Taylor Barnette and Tevan Jones. Hold the phone there because Jones was suspended for this game because of a team rules violation. So Barnette will be tonight’s starting point guard starting in his first game for UVA , who will be leaning heavily on Junior Joe Harris. Harris is their version of Sherrod Wright. He started 31 games last season averaging 11.3ppg and 38% behind the arc so their game plan is going to be much like Mason’s – get the ball to the top returning starter.
This game has that “flip of the coin” feel to it. UVA is starting three freshmen while Mason is essentially starting two new players in Williams and Okoloji. But with injuries and suspensions on UVA’s side, one could argue Mason had a sure victory until what happened with Copes and Gray. Defending the three will be key for Mason, which last season they allowed UVA to hit 50% and allowed Bowie State to hit 10 in the exhibition game. The Patriots won’t have to worry about seeing Sammy Zeglinski who dropped 4 3-pointers in the previous meeting. The other issue will be turnovers as Mason averaged 15 a game last season. Will a second season under Hewitt’s system and coaching be different in this more up-tempo approach? The first few games will tell the story so we come back to tonight’s prediction. This Junior-Sophomore heavy team with another year under Paul Hewitt seems better equipped on paper than UVA that has 7 freshmen. This will be a much closer game than last season for sure but it will be a tight one down to the final minutes. I’m going to put a UVA victory by 2 however a Mason win would not surprise me. Expect a high 60’s/low 70’s final score.