George Mason (21-6, 13-2 CAA) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (22-5, 13-2)
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m., Patriot Center; CSN
The situation: Much at stake in the first meeting since the Rams matched the Patriots Final Four with their own epic ride last season.Both teams are part of a three-way tie with Drexel for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association and have clinched first-round byes in the upcoming CAA Tournament.
However, with only three conference regular season games remaining in what could be a one-bid league come NCAA Tournament time, the Patriots and Rams must slog it out twice-in 11 days. Meanwhile the Dragons have an easier closing schedule with two games coming against teams near the conference basement in addition to Old Dominion. Drexel also owns the tiebreaker with home wins over Mason and VCU.
Duh, winning: Three straight wins, nine in 10 games for the Patriots, the CAAs top scoring team (70.4 ppg). Impressive, and yet Paul Hewitts squad is not the hottest team entering the Valentines Day showdown. After losing consecutive games early in conference play, Shaka Smarts thieving Rams have ripped off 11 straight wins, six by double digits.
Star Power: CAA Player of the Year candidate Ryan Pearson keeps on keeping on. The Patriots only double figure scorer is the also the player in the conference to rank among the top five in scoring (17.6) and rebounding (8.5). In two games against the Rams last season, the burly 6-foot-8 senior forward averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 55 percent (11-20) from the field.
Center Mike Morrison (9.4 ppg, 6.4 rbg) ranks second on the Patriots in scoring and rebounding and his defensive presence will have the Rams thinking twice before entering the lane. Wing guard Sherrod Wright (9.4 ppg)leads the CAA in free throw percentage (86.2).
Pearson might pick up some end of the season hardware, but VCUs Bradford Burgess is the reigning CAA Player of the Week. The senior swingman and the Rams leading scorer (13.0 ppg) broke out of a lengthy shooting slump in wins over Towson and ODU, sinking 11-of-20 shots from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-6 Burgess netted consecutive 20-point efforts for the first time this season, including a season-high 24 in the road over the Monarchs.
Guard Darius Theus leads the CAA with 4.7 assists and his fellow junior guard Troy Danielsranks second in the conference with72 3-point field goals.
Valuing Possession: Turnovers remain an issue for the Patriots, averaging 17 over their last three games. Such mishaps often come with a youthful backcourt and the point guard duo of sophomore Bryon Allen and freshman Corey Edwards combine for 4.6 turnovers per game. The kids better grow up quick now that they are in the crosshairs of a ball-hawking Rams defense that ranks second in the country with 10.2 steals per game.Freshman guard Briante Weber leads the pick pocketing brigade and the CAA with 2.3 steals per game though the pilfering comes from many sources as six players average at least one per game.