It's been five years since George Mason made it's magical run to the Final Four, shocking the world in the process. This is a different Patriots team and this is a different year.
Number-one overall seed Ohio State enters todays meeting with the 8th-seeded Patriots well aware of the danger that they present, having steamrolled through the CAA, earning a national ranking at one point, and showing the grit necessary to rally late in their opening round game against Villanova. The Buckeyes know this is a good team, make no mistake about it.
Is there potential for another bracket busting upset on the part of George Mason? Of course, it'd be foolish to think otherwise, but the Buckeyes are a team loaded with talent that operates at deadly efficiency and is smart enough to know they've lost before and they can lose again. Follow along after the jump for a breakdown of what these two programs need to do to move on to the Sweet 16.
George Mason Wins If:
Not to say that the Patriots are completely outmatched in this contest, but a lot will need to go right in order for them to pull off the upset.
Offensively Mason has to get out and run. Their pace isn't all that fast typically but the Patriots have one of the best transition offenses in the country and the Buckeye's aren't nearly as good stopping the fast break as they are defending in the half court. Despite being more of a half court team, it would be in the Patriots interest to run a little more than usual.
They also need to attack the basket and get to the line. Ohio State is a below average defense against short jumpers (inside of 17 feet) according to Synergy Sports Technology, but lead the nation in free throws attempted per field goals attempted against. This means they simply don't send opposing teams to the line all that often. If Mason wants a chance today they need to get to the rim and potentially pick up some early fouls on Jared Sullinger which obviously alters the course of the game if he is out early. Furthermore, scoring inside early opens up things from the perimeter, where George Mason has proven to be one of the best shooting teams in the country against an Ohio State defense that is only average at defending the outside shot.
Ohio State Wins If:
The Buckeyes have a devastatingly efficient offense, ranking 2nd in overall efficiency, as well as in the top ten nationally in effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, turnover rate and points per possession scored. Attempting to guard this team can be a daunting task. Establishing the post inside early will certainly open up the rest of the floor, but it's worth noting the Patriots have one of the better low post defenses in the country - they just haven't faced a force like Sullinger yet.
If there's one particular area where Ohio State can do a great deal of damage is running isolation sets for the trio of David Lighty, William Buford and Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes can lay claim to being the best iso offense in the country from an efficiency standpoint with these three doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. For George Mason, this is undoubtedly the weak point in their otherwise stout defense, allowing 43% shooting which puts them in the bottom one-fourth nationally.
Defensively, as previously mentioned, Ohio State needs to be cognizant of shooters on the outside. We all know that the three-pointer is the great equalizer in college basketball and in their two losses this season, the Buckeyes were burned by a perimeter player heating up from the outside and wreaking havoc. George Mason may not have one individual capable of doing this, but collectively they are more than capable of doing some serious damage from beyond the arc.
Key Factor To Watch
Ohio State does an excellent job of putting pressure on opposing defenses with player placement. Big Ten three-point king Jon Diebler comes down the floor and spots up on the same side of the floor that Sullinger posts. This creates a situation where Sullinger knows what direction any sort of double team is going to be coming from - the middle. If the defense opts to double down from the wing, that leaves Diebler open from the outside and the freshman big is smart enough to recognize when it comes and deliver the ball to the open shooter. There's no question the Patriots will have to throw multiple bodies at Sullinger from time to time, but with the freshman knowing the direction of the help defense, they'll have to be creative and aggressive.