The George Mason Patriots, currently in conference alignment purgatory, have recovered from their deflating exit from the CAA Tournament and put together an impressive streak in the CBI Tournament.
They're currently staring down a best-of-three championship series with the WCC's Santa Clara, a 24-win team with an impressively efficient offense (45th in the country, according to kenpom.com).
If the Patriots plan on finding a way to win this series, they'll have to match the Broncos' scorers. Here are the three players that will have the biggest impact on their ability to do so:
- One of the three, Jonathan Arledge, has come on strong in the second half of the season. After only hitting double digits twice through the end of January, he has hit the 10 point mark nine times since. He's a tad inconsistent when it comes to getting those double-digit games to show night in and night out, but his 15 point per game average in the first three rounds of the CBI shows increased consistency from the junior forward. If he can top his 23-point performance from the semis, the Patriots will have a much better shot against the Broncos. However, he'll be tasked with Santa Clara's Marc Trasolini, a prolific senior forward averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game since the beginning of the season. It'll be a challenge, but Arledge's recent play suggests he's up for the task.
- Bryon Allen is a curious case because of his CAA Tournament performance. He scored 16 against Drexel, a staunch defensive team, and 20 against Northeastern, shooting 70 percent from the field in those two games. But that efficient play hasn't carried over to the CBI, where he's averaging 8.0 PPG on 34.6 percent shooting. In this series, Allen could be a linchpin for the Patriots. Santa Clara's defense is just middling, allowing 73 points per game in the CBI so far.
- Allen's role will be alleviated somewhat, however, if Sherrod Wright can get back to the scoring form he had earlier in the season. Wright was playing at a level that had me calling him the best player in the CAA until late February, and while he had two great offensive games in the first two rounds of the CBI, his performance against Western Michigan was worrisome. Scoring .27 points per minute in a semifinal game is unacceptable, and if George Mason wants any shot at the title, he can't just show up for two of the three (possible) games. He'll have to be hitting his 16.5 PPG average night in and night out to lead his team the way he used to.
If these players, the Patriots' veritable, unpredictable "Big 3," can perform to the best of their abilities in the three games against Santa Clara, they can match the Broncos shot for shot.
However, if George Mason allows 71 points per night, as they have through the first three rounds, containing their opponents could be an impossible task. Expect high scoring games all series due to both teams' apparent lack of interest in defense.
Should they be exciting games? Most certainly. Does George Mason have a chance? Of course. But, in typical Mason fashion this year, I expect the Patriots to come up just short in the third game as we watch their Big 3 stutter with the stakes at their highest.
But I'm the CAA guy, and George Mason is all of a sudden in the A-10. So, really, who knows? That's why they play the games.