GW-Mason preview: Battle on the boards

GW-Mason preview: Battle on the boards
January 25, 2014, 12:15 am

George Mason Patriots forward Jalen Jenkins (20) dribbles the ball in front of Massachusetts Minutemen guard Chaz Williams (3) at Patriot Center.

(Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports)

Matchup: George Washington (15-3; 3-1 Atlantic 10) vs. George Mason (7-13, 0-5)

When: Saturday, 12:00 p.m.

Where: Fairfax, Patriot Center

Broadcast: TV - NBC Sports Network; Radio - 1500 AM.

Last time out: Maurice Creek scored 21 points as the Colonials won their third straight with a 79-71 victory at St. Bonaventure last Saturday...The Patriots are still seeking their first-ever Atlantic 10 win after falling 76-70 at Fordham on Wednesday. George Mason has lost six straight, the last four by a total of 13 points.

History: GW holds a 10-2 series lead, though Saturday's matchup will be the first as conference rivals. Both of the Patriots wins over the Colonials have come at the Patriot Center, including a 60-46 victory on Dec. 1, 2010, the last meeting between the two sides.

KenPom: George Washington 37, George Mason 152

RPI: George Washington 27, George Mason 183

Coaches: George Washington - Mike Lonergan; George Mason - Paul Hewitt

Leaders: GW - Scoring (Maurice Creek, 14.5), Rebounding (Isaiah Armwood, 8.2, Assists (Joe McDonald, 4.2); George Mason - Scoring (Bryon Allen, 14.5), Rebounding (Jalen Jenkins, 6.2), Assists (Bryon Allen, 3.4)

Links:

*GW looks to thrive while shorthanded once again

*GW's second-leading scorer Kethan Savage out 6-8 weeks

*Mike Lonergan warms up to George Mason rivalry

Keys to victory: The loss of second-leading scorer Kethan Savage to a foot injury isn't just about the Colonials losing a point-producer. The wing guard attacks the rim with lethal drives better than anyone else does on the team. Despite his 6-foot-3 size, Savage attempted 99 free throws, second most on the team and just one behind power forward Isaiah Armwood. With the rim-running element out of action, Lonergan knows he needs to feed big men Armwood and Kevin Larsen early and often going forward. 

"I think we have to establish the inside game for us more than ever now," Lonergan said at Thursday's practice. "Without Kethan we probably don't have the guy who can get to the rim as much, so it changes us a little bit. It's more important than ever that we go inside first and hopefully that will open up some outside shooting for Maurice [Creek] and Nemanja [Mikic] and our other guards." 

For the Patriots, simply finishing with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio would do wonders. George Mason ranks last in the conference with 9.8 assists and 14.6 turnovers. 

Jumping Jenkins: The Patriots took a patient path with Jalen Jenkins, redshirting the freshman last season. Therefore consider this a tale about good things coming to those who wait. Thanks to his rebounding prowess, the Atlantic 10 named the 6-foot-7 forward its Rookie of the Week in consecutive weeks. Over his last five games, Jenkins is averaging 9.6 rebounds and 12.4 points.

"The best thing that probably happened to him was he redshirted last year," Patriots coach Paul Hewitt said during the league's conference call this week. "He got a chance to get in here and get bigger, stronger. He was about 195, 200 pounds when he came on campus. At one point last year he got himself to about 235, 240. He's bigger, stronger and was practicing against our guys every day. He's confident now. He played well throughout, earned his way into the starting lineup."

George Mason ranks 12th among Atlantic 10 in rebounding while the Colonials are fourth. Jenkins' recent surge could the gap.

In consecutive games against St. Joseph's and Massachusetts earlier this month, Jenkins averaged 18 points and eight rebounds while making 15 of 23 attempts from the floor. Over his last three games, he has seven blocks and seven assists.

"He's a very intelligent player, has a knack for rebounding, has long arms so he can block shots," Hewitt said of Jenkins. "Has a knack for finishing around the rim. He's probably one of our two or three best passers."