Sunday, March 26, 2006

Connecticut vs. George Mason Preview

David vs. Goliath. Cinderella vs. Favorite. Those are just two of the myriad storylines that have been discussed leading up to the George Mason-Connecticut regional final. However, lost in the hype is the fact that this is going to be a terrific game. Both teams have balance, coaching, and Final Four talent. Forget the storylines, just watch the game--you could be witnessing history.

Connecticut, a team that most would agree is the most talented team in the country, has not played that well in the NCAA Tournament thus far. They opened with Albany in the first round, and were down by 12 with under 12 minutes left, on the verge of becoming the first #1 seed ever to lose to a #16 seed. However, they outscored the Great Danes 34-9 down the stretch to get the win. In the second round, they jumped out to an early lead on Kentucky but needed timely free throws from Marcus Williams to escape with a four-point victory. Another tight contest awaited them in the Sweet Sixteen. Washington looked like they were going to upset UConn, but foul trouble and missed free throws allowed Rashad Anderson to hit an improbable three-pointer to send the game into overtime. The Huskies of Connecticut once again jumped on the back of Marcus Williams in overtime and moved on to the Elite Eight.

George Mason was not supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament. Or at least that's what the popular opinion was heading into the Big Dance. I'm pretty sure the Patriots have proven themselves with their performance so far. They opened the Tournament against a popular sleeper pick in Michigan State. GMU seemed to be in control for the majority of the game and pulled the upset over the Spartans--a sign of things to come. In the next round, against North Carolina, the Patriots were down big early, but they chipped away at the lead and hit clutch shots down the stretch to pull a second upset in a row to head to the Sweet Sixteen. A Bracket Buster rematch with fellow Cinderella team Wichita State turned out differently than the first meeting. As opposed to needing a clutch three-pointer in February to win, the Patriots jumped out to a lead early and were never really tested as they rolled to an easy win.

Connecticut came into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite because of their talent and their performance throughout the season. Their only losses came on the road to Marquette and Villanova and in the Big East Tournament to Syracuse. Moreover, the Huskies have the most Top-50 wins in the country. However, at times, the Huskies look uninterested and don't focus unless they are playing very good teams. When they are on, though, they are unbeatable. Rudy Gay is the most talented player in the country and has great potential, while Marcus Williams might be the best point guard in the nation. Rashad Anderson is an outstanding shooter and the best sixth man around, and Denham Brown has played very well lately. Up front, Hilton Armstrong is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, while Josh Boone is capable of a double-double every night. Jeff Adrien is a beast off the bench. Ed Nelson and Craig Austrie also play major roles contributing coming off the pine.

George Mason has been the most surprising team of the Tournament. They came in not playing their best basketball of the season, but have looked very impressive thus far. The Patriots have a balanced offense with five guys in double-figures, and they are efficient from the field. Additionally, they play very good defense and have the ability to knock off quality teams. The backcourt of Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler is athletic and capable of matching up with some of the best guards out there. Butler is a good all-around player, while Skinn is a solid shooter and scorer. Folarin Campbell can do a variety of things well, and has stepped his game up tremendously in the NCAA Tournament. Up front, Will Thomas and Jai Lewis form one of the more underrated inside duos in the country. Both can get a double-double every night out, and they are physical and difficult to stop with their backs to the basket. The one downfall for the Patriots is their lack of depth. Only Gabe Norwood sees extensive minutes off the bench.

It would be easy to say that George Mason is going to be outclassed against Connecticut because of the talent and size differential. However, one could have also said that going into the Michigan State or North Carolina games. In other words, this game is going to be much closer than it looks on paper. The Patriots actually match-up surprisingly well with the Huskies. In the paint, Will Thomas and Jai Lewis are wide bodies that are not afraid to trade elbows and play physical in the three-second area. Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong are also going to have to play solid defense and not just try to block shots as the Patriots' post men are smart and crafty. On the other side, Thomas and Lewis are going to have to be sure to block Armstrong and Boone out because UConn will have an edge in athleticism. Folarin Campbell is also going to have to play a tremendous defensive game on Rudy Gay. Gay has a height advantage and could be in line for a big game. In the backcourt, Lamar Butler of George Mason could take advantage of the lazy defense played by Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson at times. Both are more offensive-minded players, but they are going to need to keep an eye on Butler on the other end. The point guard match-up should be interesting. Marcus Williams is playing as well as anyone in college basketball, and Tony Skinn can't allow Williams to dominate the game as he has done the entire Tournament. In the end, George Mason's lack of interior depth and someone to guard Gay and Williams is going to be the difference. Expect the Patriots to keep it close with their inside play and overall balance. History, however, will not be made.

Prediction: Connecticut 73, George Mason 67



  2. Oh, you predicted George Mason?

  3. To win this game yes. For a guy who watches NCAA basketball all season maybe you should pay attention to it. Ashlee Simpson predicted more game right than you Jeff.

  4. You're right. From what I've seen all season, George Mason should have been the clear-cut choice to win this game.

  5. UConn was lucky to make it that far, they clearly were due for a loss and playing in George Mason's backyard made the pick all the easier. In fact if you look back to the Big East tournament the wheels were already coming off the UConn wagon. Gay and company were no where near as hungry as Skinn's squad.

    Will you take Mason over Florida or do you need my help with that pick also?

  6. Still going to go with Florida.

    George Mason doesn't have the home calls and 20-minutes-from-campus advantage anymore, although everyone and their cousin will rooting for the Patriots.

    However, it would be awesome to see George Mason win it for both college basketball as a whole, and my favorite conference-the CAA.