You might not have to look farther than Hofstra's two victories over George Mason to figure out the keys to put down the Patriots this Friday.
George Mason has been a formidable opponent for all comers so far in building a 23-7 overall record with stifling defense.
However, one surprising team has handled the Patriots not once, but twice this season, and did so impressively.
Hofstra was able to beat George Mason in the regular season by the score of 77-66, and in the conference tournament by the score of 58-49.
How did Hofstra do it? First, by attacking the glass on both ends of the floor. In the first game, Hofstra handled the boards and had twelve offensive rebounds in the victory.
Hofstra also shot the ball well from the perimeter in the first game, hitting on 17 of 31 shots in the first half, with 5 of 6 from 3-point land, and with their aggressive play, were able to get to the free throw line eight more times in the contest.
In the rematch, Hofstra went on a 22-9 run over the last ten minutes of the game to put the game away.
George Mason led in the first half due to Will Thomas inside, and some timely outside three point shooting. However, once again, Hofstra was more aggressive, and was able to get to the free throw line 25 times, compared to just fourteen times for the Patriots.
Another important aspect of the game for the Spartans will be taking care of the ball. When the Patriots are able to force turnovers and get steals, as Wake Forest and many others found out, they are a dangerous team.
Hofstra took care of the ball, and only had nine turnovers in each of the two games versus George Mason this year. As Bobby Knight often says, those who make the fewest mistakes win these games.
In looking back at MSU's 66-60 consolation victory over George Mason in the BB&T Classic last season, Izzo and the Spartans focused on rebounding, and Alan Anderson had some key offensive tip-ins to lead the Spartans. Once again, attacking the glass hurt George Mason.
In that game, MSU got up by 15 points before the Patriots went on a run to close the gap to two points at one time. The same thing happened this year with Wake Forest, as George Mason got behind by 19 points before sending Wake to overtime. This is a team that will fight all the way to the end to be sure.
In the MSU game, Jamar Butler scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, and is the kind of 3-pointer shooter that has given the Spartans trouble all season.
Even with the loss of Skinn, George Mason has the horses to make a run at the Spartans.
With Skinn and center Jai Lewis getting a lot of publicity, Will Thomas could be the key to success for the Patriots this game.
Thomas was named to the CAA All-Defensive team, and is put on the opposing teams top post player. Which means that Paul Davis will have his hands full when he goes down low.
Thomas is also a load on the offensive end and statistically, averaging 11.6 points per game, grabbing seven rebounds per contest, and shooting 58.7 percent from the field.
George Mason is a balanced team and had five players average in double figures this year. So expect others to pick up their game with the absence of Skinn.
Of course Jai Lewis is a load and averages 14 points, and almost eight rebounds a game, but MSU will also have to watch Folarin Campbell, a swing guard who is a playmaker, ands who leads the team with 107 assists.
So, the keys for MSU in this game are as follows:
1. Hit the boards, especially the offensive glass.
2. Take care of the basketball and limit turnovers. (If you see a lot of sloppy play and run outs by George Mason, that is not a good sign).
3. Be aggressive and get to the free throw line.
4. Don't let Jamar Butler burn the nets from the outside.
5. Neutralize Will Thomas and Jai Lewis offensively, and on the boards.
6. Don't let Folarin Campbell get in the up and down flow and allow him to get a lot of assists in a playmaking role.
7. Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown will have to step up to offset the pressure Paul Davis will have on him with Jai Lewis and Will Thomas down low. George Mason is holding opponents to a low shooting percentage of .386 per game. MSU must step up.
8. Keep Paul Davis out of foul trouble. This may not be easy when both Lewis and Thomas are capable low post scorers, and which does not allow for Davis to switch off to someone else.
Profiling George Mason's Will Thomas:
A key player for the Patriots will be Will Thomas, who has been a dominate player down the stretch for George Mason.
Thomas was an impressive recruit at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, being named both the City and County Player Of The Year by the Baltimore Sun by averaging 18 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks per game in High School.
Although Tony Skinn and Jai Lewis have gotten a lot of "pub", Thomas is a force to be reckoned with. Time afer time when Lewis has been slowed by opponents, Thomas has stepped up his game to help the Patriots.
Last year Thomas was named on the CAA All-Rookie Team in a year he which he led or tied the Patriots in scoring and rebounding eight times, and led the team in field goal percentage at 61 percent.
This year Thomas is averaging 11.6 points per game on a .596 shooting percentage. He is also hauling down seven boards a game, and has blocked twenty-two shots.
Luckily for MSU, he is not much of a free throw shooter. Yet, he is a force to be reckoned with on Friday.
OTHER NUMBERS:George Mason has a +10.6 scoring margin over opponents this year, a +2.7 rebounding margin, and a +4.2 assist advantage.
George Mason is also shooting .484 for the year, and holding opponents to a mere .386 percentage as previously mentioned. This must change in MSU's favor.