GMU, Nova streaking in opposite directions

GMU, Nova streaking in opposite directions
March 17, 2011, 3:52 pm
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Thursday, March 17, 2011,11:07 a.m.By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comThis season, 16-1 stretches were common to both Villanova and George Mason. The Wildcats version came with a No. 7 ranking and sincere Final Four talk. The Patriots edition included the nations longest winning streak and the Colonial Athletic Association regular season title.It also came over the closingweeks of the season. Coach Jim Larranagas team does not have to look longingly to find their best work, even though the Patriots lost their final game heading into this week's NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats on the other hand are simply lost.Coach Jay Wrights squaddropped their final five games, seven of nine and 10 of 15. There are injuries to blame for the recent stink and playing in the Big East conference was clearly no picnic, but a fall of this proportion is hard to fathom. Now seeded ninth in the East Regional, the elite levelprogram is set to take on the eighth-seeded and so-called Mid-Major Patriots (26-6) Friday in Cleveland. "It's good for us and it's good for the CAA to play a big, top team like that from a power conference," said Patriots forward Luke Hancock prior to Tuesday's practice. "It gets the CAA's name out and it gives us a chance to show what we got."The Wildcats (21-11) picked up enough RPI cool points along the way wins over nine tournament teams including Louisville, West Virginia and UCLA to reach the NCAAs for the seventh consecutive season. They were upset by St. Marys, another lower profile school, in the second round last season.Im impressed with their experience, with the competition that they faced, they are a tournament tested team, said Larranaga, who is taking the Patriots to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time.The game is a rematch from early last season, won by the then No. 5 Wildcats in the closing seconds, so both sides will have a level of familiarity going in. George Mason has not played since March 6 when they lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA Tournament semifinals. The Patriotsdominatedthe bulk of the lengthy winning stretch, with double digits wins nearly every time out, especially when their running game was at full volume. However, recent opponents have been aware of this desire and turned down the sound of the green and gold's attack by slowing the pace. To varying degrees it has worked. Averaging 73 points per game on the season, the Patriots have scored eight fewer points over their last four contests, but still won three of four.The good news is that there is little danger of the running Wildcats trying that tack. The bad news is that Villanova has great success when the score rises; they are 17-2 when totaling 70 or more points and undefeated in nine games when they reached 80. We like to be up-tempo, while not allowing the other team to be up-tempo, said Larranaga about the matchup. We dont want to get into a just a race horse, run and shoot game with a team that when they score, they win.Thats a good plan, considering the Wildcats are just 4-9 when scoring 69 or fewer. The Patriots defense has been formidable throughout the season, holding teams to 61 point per game whilegenerating their own scoring chances.What we have to do is create some offensive opportunities from our defense, from rebounding, "Larranaga said. "That will allow us to score some open court baskets while trying to prevent them from getting as many as we get."Villanovas pace comes from guards Corey Fisher (15.4 ppg), Corey Stokes (15.0) and Maalik Wayns (14.0), who account for 61 percent of the Wildcats offense. Therefore it probably should not have come as complete surprise the Wildcats turned into a group of lost boys down the stretch as the two Coreys labored with injuries. When all three are healthy, they provide a dynamic scoring punch; Fisher is the slash and dasher, Stokes the long-rang shooter and Wayns the slack picker-upper as the sophomore led the offense with the other two limited. Villanovas frontcourt, led by senior forward Antonio Pena,consists largely of rebounding and defending types, so the Patriots lack of interior size should not be a hindrance when they are doing the guarding.Other keys to Fridays game, scheduled to tipoff at 2:10 p.m.3pt shootingThis CSNPhilly.com article talks about how Villanovas struggles defending the 3-point line over the last 10 games correspond with its recent losing ways. For the first 22 games they were one of tops teams nationally stopping the 3-pointer, holding foes to 29 percent. Since then, opponents are knocking down 39 percent.The Patriots aremore quality then quanity team when it comes toshooting from distance.They are among the best (13th in the country) when they chose to fire away beyond the arc, making 39.7 percent of their attempts. Cam Long (42.6), Isaiah Tate (42.2) and Vertrail Vaughns (51.6) all shoot well over 40 percent. Vaughns, the redshirt freshman has been particularly scorching, hitting 16-of-23 (69.5 percent) over his last seven games.The Wildcats accuracy from 3-point range is middle of the pack among Division I teams, though Corey Stokes 43 percent clip was fifth in the Big East and the senior makes three per game.InjuriesLets not overreact quite yet, but it was reported that Andre Cornelius limped off and Hancock was wheeled off the court during practice on Tuesday. Larranaga didn't reveal the severity of either injury or if the players were in danger of being kept on the sideline for Fridays game, but indications are they are minor.Villanova has been hampered with various ailments over the final month, most notably to guard Stokes. The Wildcats second-leading scorer missed four games and parts of another with turf toe and hamstring injuries, but played 34 minutes in the Big East Tournament loss to South Florida. Stokes, Fisher and center Mouphtaou Yarou, who played only seven minutes in the Wildcats last game after a hard fall, are all expected to play on Friday.Ryan Pearson... The Patriots are loaded with perimeter scorers, led by All-CAA first team selection Cam Long (15.3 ppg), but they are at their diverse best when the burly 6-foot-6 Pearson is racking up the stats from all corners. Without his interior scoring, the Patriots simply do not get points in the paint and that was an issue heading into the NCAAs.The junior forward averaged 14.4 points and 6.8 points on the season, while shooting 52 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. Pearson snagged a season-high 15 rebounds in consecutive late-February games while averaging 19.5 points, but in the subsequent three contests averaged 10 points, six rebounds and shot 39 percent from the field. Recent historyEarly last season in Puerto Rico, Villanovas Isaiah Armwood sank a 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 69-68 win. Pearson was 6-for-12 from the field and led the Patriots with 14 point and eight rebounds. Long needed 10 shots and six free throws to score 13 points, but also left early with cramps. Fisher was an abysmal 1-for-12 from the field, but made it to the free throw line 18 times, connecting on 14. Then senior Scottie Reynolds led the Wildcats in scoring, but he has moved on to the professional ranks.CAA vs. Big East...In addition to this matchup between teams from theEast Coast based conferences, Virginia Commonwealth will take on Georgetown in the second round.If Old Dominion and Pittsburgh advance, they would square off in the third round.With a win...Not to look ahead, but No. 1 overall seed Ohio State looms large in the next round, assuming the Buckeyes are not the first top seed ever to lose to a No. 16. The potential third round game would take place on Sunday.