George Mason’s basketball program is not where it wants to be by any means. The Patriots are off to their third straight losing season, and they’ll be lucky to get more than 1 win in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Despite the struggles, this George Mason team has been somewhat surprising this season. Though they’ve bounced along the bottom of the conference all year, they’ve pulled out some wins that no one expected them to get. They’ve beaten VCU, Davidson, and most recently, Richmond for the second time. Even so, George Mason was unable to beat the easier teams in the league. This team lost to UMass, Fordham, Duquesne, Saint Louis, and La Salle. So let’s take a look at some of the underlying reasons as to why George Mason was able to pull off some of these bigger upsets this year. And, most importantly, can they replicate that Cinderella mindset in the A-10 Tournament?
Offensive rebounding has been a huge key for this Mason team this season. Though the Patriots don’t shoot the ball well at all, they get a lot of extra attempts and are able to beat teams that way. In the 4 solid wins mentioned in the previous paragraph, George Mason averaged 13.5 offensive boards per game. Most notably, the Patriots had 19 on the offensive glass against Richmond in the season finale. Shevon Thompson alone had 17 total rebounds. When this team cleans the glass, it’s able to beat teams even when it does not shoot well. Mason lost the turnover battle to Richmond pretty baldy; the Spiders committed 5 compared to 13 from the Patriots. But thanks to Mason’s work on the offensive glass, they were able to get almost the same number of shot attempts as the Spiders. A similar thing happened against Davidson. Despite turning the ball over an extra 5 times, George Mason had 3 more shot attempts thanks to 6 more offensive boards than the Wildcats.
But it’s not just offensive rebounding that’s helping this team along, it’s defensive rebounding as well. The Patriots rank 2nd in the nation in limiting offensive rebounds by the opponent. The Patriots rank 28th in the nation with a +6.7 rebounding margin. Crashing the boards, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, has been a major key for this struggling Mason team. According to Kenpom, Shevon Thompson of George Mason ranks 2nd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. He also ranks 11th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. He and the rest of the Patriots need to keep playing to this strength. If they control the glass, they can win a couple of games in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
While rebounding seems to be the main reason George Mason has found some success this season, defensive three point percentage has been huge as well. In those 4 good conference wins, the Patriots have allowed their opponents to shoot just 25-101 (24.8%) from downtown. That’s really good considering the teams Mason played. Richmond and Davidson are both really solid from downtown; VCU is 75th in the nation in 3 point field goal percentage. Saint Louis has been bad (307th nationally) in shooting percentage from beyond the arc. If Mason can keep the Billikens from knocking down shots from the perimeter, there’s a decent chance it’ll make it to Thursday in Brooklyn.
George Mason could be a sleeper team for this A-10 Tournament. They have the weapons, especially on the interior, to make some noise in Brooklyn. It’s all going to come down to how well this team plays to its strengths. Defend the perimeter and crash the boards, and anything can happen. Start taking nothing but three pointers and allow the other team to outrebound you, and George Mason may be doomed for a first round exit.