Saturday, April 1, 2006

Florida vs. George Mason Preview

Don't forget to check out Parts One, Two, and Three of the Final Four Preview, as well as the UCLA vs. LSU Preview.

Will George Mason's unforgettable Cinderella run continue to the National Championship game? Or will Florida reach their second Title Game of the decade? While LSU and UCLA are playing in what is sort of the "forgotton Final Four game" of the two, George Mason and Florida have been constantly talked about and discussed throughout the past week. The Patriots had not won an NCAA Tournament game before this season, while the Gators have made it to the Final Four without a senior in the starting lineup. There are storylines abound in this contest.

Florida has been arguably the most impressive team in the entire NCAA Tournament so far. They blew out their first two opponents, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In the first round, the Gators shook off a poorly-played first half to outscore the Jaguars by twenty in the second half for an easy win. Annual upset pick Wisconsin-Milwaukee did not get the chance to play in the Sweet Sixteen after playing the Gators. Florida jumped out to an early lead and controlled the game throughout for their second dominant victory in a row. It surely was not the same against Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. The slow-down style of the Hoyas gave the Gators some problems through the game, but their ability to play at any tempo helped them out down the stretch. Down one, Corey Brewer hit an acrobatic, falling-down three-point play with under thirty seconds left. Two free throws in the final seconds gave Florida a four-point win and a berth in the Elite Eight. The Final Four win over Villanova might have been the best win of the season for them, though. The Gators sent a message from the opening tap that they were going to control the paint, and they did. Taurean Green provided just enough from the perimeter in order for Florida to advance in what was never a competitive game in the second half.

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. The Elite Eight victory over Connecticut is what everyone will remember, though. Many are calling it the greatest NCAA Tournament upset of all-time. While I think that is a little extreme, it was extremely impressive, nonetheless. They actually dominated the vaunted UConn frontcourt and hit plenty of key shots down the stretch to advance with an overtime win.

Florida might be the most balanced team in the country, as they have five guys that average double-figures and are capable of having big games. The Gators have depth and talent in the post that few teams in the country can match. Joakim Noah is a terrific athlete who can score, rebound, and block shots with the best of them. Fellow future pro Al Horford is a very good rebounder and defender who uses his athleticism to get putbacks. Off the bench is Chris Richard, who could start for most teams in the nation. Corey Brewer rounds out one of the best frontcourts in the country. He is very athletic and can do nearly everything on the court. Taurean Green is one of the most improved players in the country at the point guard position. He is a good scorer and a very solid distributor. Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter.

George Mason has been the most surprising team of the Tournament. They came in not playing their best basketball of the season, but have obviously 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.

On paper, this may look like a mismatch. Florida has outstanding balance, and might have the edge in both the backcourt and the frontcourt. However, one could have said that for all but one of George Mason's NCAA Tournament games so far--Wichita State the lone game in which GMU could have been considered the favorite to win. In other words, expect this game to be another close contest that should come down to the final few minutes. The key to the game will be who wins the inside battle. Joakim Noah and Al Horford are much more athletic than Jai Lewis and Will Thomas, but Lewis and Thomas are extremely difficult to defend with their backs to the basket. They constantly got excellent position against UConn and hit a variety of turnaround shots and jump-hooks. However, Horford is going to be able to drag Lewis away from the basket with his ability to hit the mid-range shot while Noah might be too quick for Thomas. I think that the Gators' athleticism gives them the edge up front. On the perimeter, it will be interesting to see if Lee Humphrey can play defense against GMU's Lamar Butler. Humphrey is not known for his guarding ability, but he is going to have to play solid against Butler. On the other side, Butler can't allow Humphrey to get hot from deep. At the point guard spot, Taurean Green has been inconsistent for Florida shooting the ball. If he starts to get his shot back, Tony Skinn could be in trouble. On the wing, Corey Brewer has played outstanding throughout the year, while Folarin Campbell is having a superb Tournament. Campbell played well against Rudy Gay and is going to have to do the same against Brewer. When it comes down to it, Florida has too much balance on the perimeter and in the post for George Mason. Moreoever, their depth could wear the Patriots down. The Gators' athleticism and overall balance is going to get them the win. However, George Mason has constantly proven the experts wrong. Could they do it again?

Prediction: Florida 73, George Mason 68


  1. George Mason all the way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Florida will walk away when the dust is blown off this battlefield!They are just to balanced for Geo. Mason, but what a run the boys in green put together!!!!