Mason needs effort to topple Ohio State

Mason needs effort to topple Ohio State
March 19, 2011, 11:40 pm
Share This Post

Saturday, March 19, 2011, 7:05 p.m.By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comTaking a quick look at Ohio State,their powerful freshman Jared Sullinger and how George Mason stacks up against the top-ranked Buckeyes. The winner of Sunday's contest moves to the East Regional in Newark next week.Luke Hancock: The sophomore forward's performance against Villanova was noteworthy beyond him coolly stepping back and drainingwhat proved tobe the game-winning 3-pointer with 21 seconds left in the Patriots 61-57 win.The 6-5 Hancock, the Patriots leader in assists on the season, has been George Mason's most versatile weapon throughout the 2010-11 campaign and that was on display against the Wildcats.

His team-high 18 points came on a series of creative drives while also knocking down two 3-pointers (in his previous nine games, Hancock had made a total of two three's, both coming in the same game). The offense ran through the heady Hancock in the clutch and he led the team with five assists.Without Hancock's stepped up scoring effort, combined with higher than normal production from Mike Morrison and Isaiah Tate, no way the Patriots overcome a 4 for 22 day from Cam Long, Ryan Pearson and Andre Cornelius. Now Hancock's Swiss armytype game is sure to have the Buckeyes full attention and he'll likely see a heavy dose ofDavid Lighty,Ohio State's top wing defender.

Inside: Cliche as it may be, it's a pick your poison situation when it comes to stopping the Buckeyes offensive attack, which ranks first nationally in scoring margin (a whopping 17.6 per game), second in both field goal (49.5) and 3pt (41.6) percentage.But it all starts inside withheralded freshman wide body Jared Sullinger.

The 6 foot 9, 280pounderis a force on the low block and is not afraid to use every aspect of hisframe to muscle home baskets, put opponents into foul troubleand get to the free throw line with regularity (over seven attempts per game). Sullinger leads the Buckeyes in points (17.0) and rebounds (10.1), while shooting 54 percent from the field, using his long arms to offset is relative lack of size and below-the-rim game.

In the Patriotsfinal three regular season games against effective CAA interior scorers with similarbody types- ODU's Frank Hassell, JMU's Denzel Bowles and VCU's Jamie Skeen - their defense was up to the task.The Patriots held the power trio to a collective line of 9.3 ppg on 35.2 percent shooting (12 for 34) with only a combined 10 trips to the free throw line. (Skeen scored 21 points in the Rams CAA Tournament win over the Patriots, but he made an uncharacteristically four 3-point shots. Sullinger has three makes from beyond the arc on the season.)

Another power player, 6 foot 8, 255 pounder Dallas Lauderdale, lines up along side Sullinger . Lauderdaleis strictly a lunch bucket type that won't look to do much more than board and defend, but he also knows his role and performs the dirty work admirably.

The agileMorrison, who racked up his first double-double on the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats, will be first line of defense againstSullinger's assertive post moves. Despite his long but not robust frame, the Patriots 6-10 center has hung tough with meaty opposition this season and he will face his biggest test in Sullinger.Freshman power forward Johnny Williams was a surprise difference maker against the Wildcats, scoringa season-high eight points and played his most minutes since before Thanksgiving.The Patriots pairedMorrison and Williams for a long stretchlate in the second half and that combo couldline up again versus the Buckeyes size.

Pearson scored a key three-point field goal late against the Wildcats, but his offensive slump continued, shooting only 2 for 9 against the Wildcats. Now the burly 6-6 forward will have to muscle through the Buckeyes trees to get points. Despite making 39 percent of his 3-point attempts, Pearson has not made a shot from beyond the arc in his last six games.

Perimeter: Coach Thad Matta has tree double-figure scorers surround Sullinger. 6 foot 5 William Buford possesses the best all-court skills and the Buckeyes second-leading scorer (14.5 ppg) has deep range and is always a threat to get to the rim off the dribble. Lighty, another 6-5 wing, isfar more than just a defender. The fifth-year senior, who played on the BuckeyesFinal Four team with Greg Oden and Mike Conley, averages 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. His range as adefender will have locking horns with Hancock, Long and even Pearson at times. The real difference maker offensively is the nation's top 3-point shooter Jon Diebler, who rains in a staggering 50 percent from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes frequently stick Diebler on the same side of the court with Sullinger, making it difficult to double-team the big man without leaving the senior shooter open. Stopping the long bombs has been a specialty of the Patriots defense this season holding opponents to 39 percent, 13th in the nation, and Deibler's threat diminishes when he's forced to create his own shot.Freshman Aaron Craft, the Big 10 sixth-man of the year,leads the Buckeyes in assists (4.7) and his 2.1 steals per contestwas tops in the conference.The Patriots are more quality then quantity team when it comes to shooting from distance, but with the Buckeyes size in the paint, they will need a more substantial scoring effort from the perimeter. The Patriotsrank are among the best (13th in the country) when they chose to fire away beyond the arc, making 39.7 percent of their attempts. Long, Tate and Vertrail Vaughns all shoot well over 40 percent.

Long was held to seven points in the Patriots opening game, but still contributed like the first-team All-CAA player that he is with six rebounds and four assists. Coach Jim Larranga used his own super sub Tate more liberally than normal against Villanova - the senior guard scored 10 points in aseason-high 29 minutes.Tate's run came at the expenseofCornelius, who missed all four of his shots in 20 minutes, and redshirt freshman Vertrail Vaughns. Both Cornelius and Vaughns can shoot from anywhere in the gym and the Patriots have had different players step up throughout the season so don't count these two out.