Mark Wise's Key To UF Vs. George Mason

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana --- Everybody's feel good story at this year's Final Four is the George Mason Patriots, the first number 11 seed to make it this far in the tournament since 1980. The Patriots have been called the Cinderella of this year's Big Dance but watch their feet and you might want to Florida's Saturday evening (6 p.m. CBS) opponent this year's Fred Astaire.

"There is quick and then there is George Mason," said Mark Wise, the color analyst of the Gator Radio Network. "I think they're lightning quick. They are quicker than Villanova."

How Florida handles George Mason's quickness is one of Wise's keys to this semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament. You can call this a battle of Florida's superior size against Mason's superior quickness.

As he did for the Villanova game, Wise, a former Purdue assistant coach under Lee Rose, offered a scouting report complete with the keys for a Gator victory.

The Patriots are the smallest team in the Final Four. Their center, Jai Lewis, is a burly 6-7 that uses his 275 pounds to push people around and their power forward, Will Thomas, is a quick off the floor 6-7 leaper. On the perimeter, they start 6-4 Folarin Campbell, 6-1 Tony Skinn and 6-2 Lamar Butler. Since they don't have much height, they have to use their quickness to compensate.

"They're quick enough to help their bigs when the ball goes inside and recover to get to the guys on the perimeter if it's kicked back out," said Wise. "They've used that double team to be very disruptive."

Against North Carolina, the double down on Tyler Hansbrough was the difference in the game. Every time the Tar Heels passed the ball into the low blocks, the Patriots doubled down and they were quick enough to get back to the perimeter to cover Carolina's three-point shooters.

Wise thinks Florida can counter the double down because of the way 6-11 Joakim Noah and 6-9 Al Horford look for each other.

"The closest thing that George Mason has seen to Florida is Hansborough in terms of a team that will throw it in there on the low blocks repeatedly," he said. "Carolina only had one of those … Florida has two of them. If they insist on doubling down, the difference should be that Noah and Horford are such better passers than anybody else Mason has played."

Florida likes to play Noah at the high post where he can use his quickness and ball handling ability to get to the rack or dump the ball down to Horford for an easy dunk. Horford likes to operate on the baseline where he will try to back his man down or sweep across the lane to get his shot off. Where Horford has proven quite effective is beating double teams by getting the ball to Noah coming straight down the lane for an easy dunk.

"I just don't think they'll be able to guard Florida in the low block area," he said.

It will also be critical for Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green to stay on the move on the perimeter. Double downs by Mason's perimeter defenders should be open invitations for kick out passes on the perimeter so Humphrey and Green can launch the three-ball. Brewer matches Campbell in terms of quickness and he has a four to five inch height advantage so he should be able to take the Mason defender inside and win that battle.

Wise says that Florida runs a complicated offensive system that has enough built-in adjustments that Coach Billy Donovan should be able to find something that works against whatever the Patriots try to do.

"I think the key for Florida offensively is to be Florida," said Wise. "You can't help out George Mason with quick shots early in the shot clock. You might get a wide open look in the first eight seconds of the shot clock and they might have to be more patient than that but Florida needs to be Florida offensively --- run your sets, make sure you get inside touches, get your threes off inside looks. Mason is not going to be like Villanova. They're not the kind of team that's going to try to beat you by taking certain things away from you."

When they are on offense, the Patriots try to capitalize on their quickness advantage by beating opponents off the dribble and by finding open space on the perimeter to get off shots whenever the ball is kicked outside from one of the big guys.

"They have three guys on the perimeter that are capable of scoring and shooting as well as beating you off the bounce," said Wise. "They have very balanced scoring in terms of inside and out because they have guys they can throw it in to down low in Lewis and Thomas and yet their three guys on the perimeter can shoot the three and put the ball on the deck."

All five of Mason's starters average in double figures with Lewis leading the way at 13.7 per game. Campbell averages 11 per game but he is the one player that Wise thinks can give the Gators fits.

"The guy I really like is Campbell, number 42," said Wise. "Even though he is the three man, he leads them in assists. He's having a fabulous NCAA Tournament, scoring almost 17 points in tournament games and he's shooting fantastic. So I think the key matchup of the game is (Corey) Brewer on Campbell. Brewer will have to stay out of foul trouble and he's taller (6-8) so he'll have to make Campbell score over him."

The Gators (31-6) come into the game on a nine-game winning streak. During the streak Florida has held opponents to 26.7 percent shooting from the three-point line. Wise thinks Florida's most important task defensively is to take the three-ball out of play. That would necessitate a game-plan similar to the one the Gators used against Villanova --- take away the three and make them earn tough twos.

"If there are five things that you have to do to stop them defensively, the first three have everything to do with defending the arc," said Wise. "They don't shoot a ton of threes but when you hit 50 percent which is what they are doing in the tournament, you're efficiency rate goes way up and your ability to do things inside becomes magnified because you can't afford to help your big guys for fear of getting burned by the three. I think what Florida will do is when they throw it in the bigs is they'll wait for one of the bigs to put it on the deck and they'll double big on big but when they do that they'll leave open the weak side rotation. That's something that everybody does when you have to cover down … the weakside guard has to slide down. The question is will the bigs for George Mason be able to find or see that guy on the weak side because of Noah's and Horford's size on the double but it all starts with defending the arc."

Wise says the ultimate key for a Florida victory is Donovan's ability to adjust as the game goes along.

"I think Florida is going to have to first see what George Mason is going to do in defending Noah and Horford down on the block, and Chris Richard, too, for that matters," said Wise. "Are they doubling with a big? Where is the weak side? Where is the open look out of the double team? Those are big adjustments you make once the game gets going. If Florida can make the adjustments I think Florida wins the game. If you come out intending to play them just one way, then you won't beat them. Florida needs to take advantage of its size down low because other than Hansbrough, Mason hasn't seen a team that can gets the ball down low so consistently."

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