One week after its thrilling comeback and buzzer-beating win over Richmond, George Mason (7-4) heads further south for a Saturday night (7 p.m.) matchup with South Florida. The game against the Bulls (7-3) represents not only the Patriots final game of 2012, but their final non-conference game of the regular season. Considering to date the Colonial Athletic Association is not rocking and rolling collectively on the RPI front, taking down a Big East program - even one a pundit deems the worst team in that conference - would certainly help the green and gold's NCAA Tournament at-large resume. Oh, and provide momentum entering CAA play, which for the Patriots starts Jan. 3 against Northeastern.
Actually, George Mason's RPI is rather healthy already and win or lose will enter the conference schedule well ahead of any other CAA team. With all but one game against teams inside the the RPI top-200 including wins over Richmond and Virginia, the Patriots rank 45th nationally. Delaware (169) is the only other conference team inside the top-200.
That fact emphasizes why a win over a South Florida team that made the NCAA Tournament last season is vital: As it stands and by the numbers, the Bulls (120) are be the best team the Patriots face the rest of the way.
Enough with the long-term impact. After suffering through a pair of late game losses against New Mexico and Northern Iowa, the Patriots turned the tables against the Spiders by closing the game with an 18-3 run, capped by Sherrod Wright's lengthy game-winning 3-pointer. The reigning CAA Co-Player of the Week, Wright scored 22 against Richmond and the 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 21.7 over his last three games.
Wright drained 4 of 5 3-pointers in the win while his backcourt mate Corey Edwards made two of three from beyond the arc. During the lengthy exam break, George Mason coach Paul Hewitt focused on generating offensive consistency. Having his starting point guard finding his own offense on regular basis would be a start in the direction. Against Richmond, Edwards finished with a season-high 13 points with three assists and one turnover. Though the sophomore is only averaging 3.5 points on the season, he's at 10.5 over the last two games.
South Florida has won two straight and five of six, but needed triple-overtime for a 87-84 win over a 5-6 Bowling Green squad. Maybe that victorious, but head-scratching result (plus home losses to Central Florida and Western Michigan) has some looking sideways the Bulls, but USF also has wins over Bradley and Georgia.
Offensively and on the boards the Bulls are led by beefy forwards Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (12.7, 6.2) and Victor Rudd (11.6, 8.1) while sophomore guard Anthony Collins averages 10 points and 7.8 assists.