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A little writin

Discussion in 'George Mason Basketball' started by tblack33, Feb 17, 2021.

  1. tblack33

    tblack33 All-Conference

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    I jotted down some thoughts a few weeks ago on where I felt like we were at the mid point this season and wanted to get some feedback from y'all. The target audience is who I imagine the average Mason fan is at this moment (unsurprised with results, indifferent, think things are going "okay"). I wanted to approach it using statistics in a manner that isn't overwhelming for your casual fan.

    I've got thick skin so tell me what you like, don't like, think completely sucks, was written by an illiterate 3rd grader, etc. All feedback is good feedback.

    Note that the stats used are all out of date at this point but at some point were accurate.

    Thanks!

    Green and Fools Gold

    A Slightly Too Early Mid Way Point Look at Mason Hoops


    TRIGGER WARNING: If you are the type of person who doesn’t like to hear some honest truths about what’s going on in Eagle Bank Arena this season, this article probably isn’t for you. If you find yourself questioning other fans commitment to supporting the program for publicly highlighting areas that need improvement, I implore you to stop reading, this will hurt your feelings.

    With COVID cancellations and rescheduled games up in the air and unlikely to happen, we are probably past the midpoint mark of the 2020-2021 basketball season. To the casual observer, Mason hoops this season has probably looked about average, in line with expectations, and at the very worst “meh”. I wholeheartedly believe that this season has been a complete and total dumpster fire, and here is why:

    Record

    Why it looks good
    : At the time of writing this, we are 8-6 overall, and .500 in the conference, putting us smack dab in the middle of a giant log jam of 3 and 4 loss teams, good for 8th overall. A couple of things go the other way in that Dayton game, and we are sitting in 6th with a few more winnable games coming up on the schedule (UMASS, who we have terrorized the last 6 years, and GW who is terrible but seems to have our number) to put us in the neighborhood of top 4. Going into the dog days of A10 play on paper it looks like we will end up just outside of getting that double bye in the A10 tournament.

    Why it’s a dumpster fire: As is tradition with under Paulsen, our strength of schedule is abysmal. Lets recap how we got here: squeaked out a 1 point win against D2 Queens in our season opener. Let that sink in. I don’t care if Queens is the best D2 basketball team in the history of D2. There is absolutely no excuse for why an A-10 team, one of the best non P-5 basketball conferences in the country, should be hanging onto 1 point victories against a team that is quite literally in a division below us. This isn’t basketball elitism, it’s just facts. This should have been the fire alarm to let everyone know that this year wasn’t going to go the way we all thought it would.

    We then went on to destroy a terrible Howard without their star player, and drop a winnable game against Belmont, a team that has turned out to be pretty solid.

    Then we all watched in slow motion as the figurative wheels came off during nonconference play. Following a COVID pause, we squeaked out a 2 point win against VMI and a 5 point win against Towson. These teams are perennial bottom feeders in their respective conferences. Since then, VMI has gone 3-4 in a wildly unimpressive SOCON this year, while Towson is sitting at 2-3 in a nearly unimpressive CAA(remember that lesser basketball conference that we left for greener pastures in the A-10?), good for bottom 4 in that league.

    The implosion took its full majestic final form against Norfolk State, a game that we lost on our own floor by 3 against a MEAC school that has amassed just a 3-3 record in their conference. There is absolutely no reason we should EVER lose to a MEAC school in Eagle Bank. That should nearly be a fireable offense on it’s own. In a game that we scheduled as a final tune-up, we looked lost and uninterested, and got taken to task in the second half by a team that had no business being in the gym with us.

    Looking at conference play we won a double OT game in a dog fight against a UMASS team that’s record is much better than their play on the floor, dropped a game against a very beatable team (that even Fordham managed to get a W against) at Dayton, and lost by 6 at home against VCU in a game that the final score line was not indicative of how much they (should I even say they? It was really just Bones Hyland having his way with us) dominated us in that game. We got dogged twice on national television in 20 point losses against Richmond and URI in which there appeared to be no game plan at all, or we couldn’t follow it for a full 40 minutes (more on that later).

    Most recently, during a home and home with St. Joes we required double OT to steal a game that we should have probably lost in regulation, and won fairly comfortably by 9 at Hawk Hill. Let me just remind you, St. Joes sole win of the season came during a last minute buy game against Albany, a bottom feeder America East school. St. Joes is terrible, and we almost split with them.

    All in all, outside of the UMASS game, we have only been able to beat the dregs of the A-10, and have looked largely uncompetitive against teams with similar skill levels or better. Looking at the schedule, it’s hard to point out four more games that we will win in conference play, and we will likely be fighting to stay out of the dreaded Wednesday night pillow fight come tournament time.

    Offense

    Why it looks good:
    Scoring is up over 3ppg from 67 to 70 from last season, we have recruited a legit 3 point shooter in Tyler Kolek, our roster is the most experienced it has been in 6 years under Paulsen and at our level, senior experience translates into wins.

    There isn’t a single person out there who can convince me that Tyler Kolek isn’t the real deal. He is having one of the best freshman seasons in the conference, is a shoe in for all freshman honors, and gives us something that fans have been clamoring for for the last six season – reliable outside shooting.

    Unfortunately, even with what Kolek has brought to the table, and our senior laden roster, things aren’t going swimmingly on that end of the court.

    Why it’s a dumpster fire: Game in and game out, I always find myself asking the exact same question:

    What was the plan tonight?

    We completely lack an offensive identity. We aren’t an uptempo team, our possessions per game will tell you that. We aren’t a lights out perimeter shooting team, the 3pt% will tell you that. We aren’t a get to the rim and win it dirty through layups and free throws, our shot chart and horrendous FT% (bottom of the conference and among the worst in D1 at the time of writing this article) will tell you that.

    So offensively, what are we? What are we trying to do?

    Our assist numbers tell you that we try to run a pro style, 1v1 offense that is entirely predicated on our guards being able to beat their man and open up the floor from there. Watching our games tells you that we run a lot of high ball screens and handoffs to try to create penetration, but end up dribbling and passing the ball around the perimeter aimlessly for 20 seconds before either throwing our head down and driving to the hoop, or heaving a desperation 3 with less than 6 on the shot clock. What we are seeing is our coaching staff try to smash the metaphorical square peg through the round hole. Our roster is absolutely not built for the offense we are trying to force them to run.

    Looking at our shot chart, we lead the conference in long two point attempts per game. What that means, is we are overly reliant on mid range jumpers, vs getting to the rim or shooting threes. This is still a bit divisive at the college level, but generally speaking, teams want to limit their contested mid range jump shots and instead get to the rim and try to draw contact, or shoot an open three and try to grab a long rebound for an extra possession. All of this adds up to Mason being in the bottom four in the A-10 in offensive efficiency, making it incredibly difficult to win conference games.

    You have to watch our games and wonder, why is the coaching staff not taking an honest look at our players skillsets, and putting them in the best position to score every time down? Why are we not forcing Jordan Miller to take more shots, as he has far and away been our most efficient scorer? Why are we forcing Josh Oduro, the big with some of the best offensive footwork in the league, to catch the ball on the high post and have to face up rather than staying back to the basket on the low block? Why aren’t we running Kolek off a million off ball screens a game to get him more open looks rather than relying on him to bail us out with a desperation 3? If we are going to rely on PG penetration, why isn’t Javon Greene running point and getting things going (even though it’s not his natural position, but more on that later)? And for the love of basketball God, CAN SOMEONE THROW AJ WILSON A PROPER LOB PASS AT THE RIM SO WE CAN HAVE SOMETHING TO YELL ABOUT???????

    I won’t even get started on our lack on inbounds plays, because that is an article of it’s own.
    InterVarsity, GMU1983 and sleeperpick like this.
  2. tblack33

    tblack33 All-Conference

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    Defense

    Why it looks good:
    On paper, we have some of the best individual defensive stat lines in the conference. AJ Wilson is the Zeno (Dragon Ball Z reference, Google it boomers) of shot blocking in college basketball. Javon Greene is up there as well for steals in the A-10 (averaging 2 steals a game at the time of writing this, that is absolutely nothing to shake a stick at). Most of our players rebound the ball fairly well. We are generating more turnovers per game than last season. We run a full court press off of made baskets. Add all that up, and you will generally get a sound defensive team, dare I say a team with an identity.

    Why it’s a dumpster fire: The individual stat lines don’t tell the whole story.

    Let’s start with our full court press. This has to be one of the nicest, softest, most token full court presses in all of college basketball. There is no teeth to this press. We rarely generate turnovers off the press, and at best take 6-7 seconds off the shot clock before the other team gets in their half court sets. There’s just no edge to it. The traps come late and soft. Players start to sag and retreat after the second pass and just let the other team through. In the end, it’s a press without a purpose.

    When we fall back into the half court defense, it’s when the wheels start to really fall off. Our entire defense is predicated on our guards funneling ball handlers towards the basket and hoping that AJ Wilson bails us out with a big block. That has worked a lot, but it also leads AJ to getting into early foul trouble, or easy open looks at the basket for the other team. Time and time again, we watch our guards do their best matador impressions and “ole” the other team to the basket for an uncontested layup.

    This leads to us yet again being towards the bottom of the conference in defensive efficiency, in a conference with some BAD defensive teams (I’m looking at you, GW).

    Lineups

    Why it looks good:
    Top to bottom, this is the most talented team we have had under Dave Pauslen. Athletically, 1-5 all of our players look like they belong on the court in the A-10 (which isn’t something we’ve always been able to say). This is the most experienced team we’ve had at Mason in the Paulsen era, with a good chunk of our minutes coming from Seniors and Juniors. Paulsen himself has said this is the best roster he’s had at George Mason. So why isn’t it translating to more wins?

    Why it’s a dumpster fire: Let’s talk about our rotations. How many times have we gotten to the 8 min mark in the first half, and you take a look at who is on the floor and realize that we have one starter out there, and four role players, none of which are scorers? And we watch a 7 point lead get erased and go into the half even, or down?

    There is no reason that outside of foul trouble, this roster needs to go 10-11 deep. This isn’t Upward basketball, not everyone gets a run. At the pace we play, there is no reason why all our starters aren’t averaging 30+ MPG. At most, we should run 9 deep. There is something to be said about giving your starters and first guys off the bench a chance to get in a rhythm. It has to be tough for guys knowing that no matter what you do, you are coming out at the U16 or U12, and will sit for 8+ minutes and get cold, or even worse, never get a chance to acclimate to the game. This revolving door of players coming in and out killing our momentum leads me to the next problem with our lineups – playing guys out of their natural positions.

    Let me stop about half of you before you push your glasses up your nose and hit me with the “AKCHUALLY, HAVE YOU HEARD OF POSITIONLESS BASKETBALL??” and then smugly snort and choke on your 6th Gold Room Chuy’s taco, throwing around a term that you heard on ESPN AM radio one time on your bus ride home to the nursing home after a 19 point loss on a Wednesday night.

    I understand positionless basketball. I get the premise of it, I understand it’s the future of the game, and I know that it works. I also know that what our staff is doing is NOT positionless basketball.

    Positionless basketball is not sticking a wing at the center slot and magically stretching the floor. Positionless basketball is recruiting athletes who have the size to play one position, and also have the requisite skill set to be able to play another. Think of it more so having a wing with the ball handling and passing abilities to bring the ball up the court and initiate your offense, or a center who can step out and consistently hit 3s to force the defense to come out and open up the floor for cutters.

    What we do, is take guys out of their best position, and force them to play a position that does not compliment their skill set. My prime example is Tyler Kolek.

    I love Tyler Kolek’s game. He is putting on one of the best freshman performances since Otis Livingston. He is absolutely a baller and going to break records in the green and gold over the next four seasons. But, TYLER KOLEK IS NOT A PG. Hard stop. Tyler Kolek is a SG, and a pure shooter at that. He plays his best game coming off screens and shooting the deep ball. He is an adequate passer, but our offense is absolutely not best served by having him initiate it and having no off ball threat to shoot.

    Positionless basketball is not having Jordan Miller be our biggest guy on the court and having to protect the rim. Positionless basketball is not having XJ, Hartwell, and Kolek on the floor all at the same time.

    We do have some players who can play “positionless” basketball. I’d love to see Javon run the point as our starting PG. I’d love to see AJ catch the ball outside a little more and try to take it to the rim and go straight up rather than fading from the elbow. I’m convinced that Dady could guard the 1-5 as well as the opposing coach if we let him. But what we do is not positionless basketball, it just takes our better players and puts them in a worse position to succeed to allow other guys to get a run when we don’t need it.

    At some point, we need to hold our coaching staff accountable for not putting the team in the best position to win ball games, because like it or not at the end of the day that is their primary job.
    InterVarsity and sleeperpick like this.
  3. Patriotsince81

    Patriotsince81 All-American

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    A LOT to try to respond to. I'll take additional time to reflect. One thing came to mind immediately. "Dumpster fire" is a pretty accurate description of the program as a whole.

    I expect us to finish at 6 - 10 in the A10 this year. Combine that with last year and you have a program that is 11-23 over the past two years in league play. That's not acceptable, it's a sh&t show. We are not the worst team in the league but we are in the conversation for being one of the worst.

    To all the people that think things are "okay" and that we're not that far off............
    Our current national rankings.

    Scoring offense - #199
    Scoring defense - #176
    Assist/TO ratio - #181
    FG% - #235
    3 pt FG% - #206
    FT% - #333

    We are underwhelming in every facet/phase of the game. We all know who is responsible.
    jessej, GMU1983 and sleeperpick like this.
  4. mkaufman1

    mkaufman1 Moderator Staff Member

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    Great analysis. A lot to unpack but spot on in just about every area possible.

    The team just does not perform well in any category and it shows.
  5. KAOriginal

    KAOriginal All-American

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    And yet....we're pretty sure this sh*t show will remain for another season.

    What a waste of a decade.
    mkaufman1 likes this.
  6. GMUgemini

    GMUgemini Hall of Famer

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    It’s like the small ball lineups of the past while playing a traditional offense. Paulsen talks about going positionless without being able to design or implement a positionless offense. Paulsen says the right stuff in the offseason about what the goals for the program should be, but I have yet to see him succeed at a single thing he’s trying to do.
    Patriotsince81 and sleeperpick like this.
  7. mkaufman1

    mkaufman1 Moderator Staff Member

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    Yeah, with or without Paulsen it will be probably another rough 2-3 years.
  8. Patriotsince81

    Patriotsince81 All-American

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    The one that made me laugh this year was when DP said that Covid had given him the time to be more creative and innovative. No evidence of that yet.
  9. GMUgemini

    GMUgemini Hall of Famer

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    I’d be fine with that so long as we stop seeing all our local recruiting targets go to other A10 schools.
  10. gmutom

    gmutom Hall of Famer

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    Great thread, tblack33. I appreciate the time it went into putting that together and, most importantly, how you backed up your comments both positive and negative with stats and analysis. We need a lot more of that around here to counter the incessant "Dave sucks!" posts and threads.

    My main issue with our program right now is the roster and talent level. To offer an analogy, as a longtime Orioles fan, I remember in down years whenever I would brag about how good we were getting, a buddy would rain on my parade by saying, "That's great, but how many of your players would start for the Yankees or Red Sox?" It was always a buzzkill, because I realized he was right — they were both better than us at every f-cking position.

    That's how I feel about our current roster. If there was a Rule 5 draft at the end of the A10 season, and we were were allowed to protect three players from being poached by another team — assuming Wilson and Green are leaving, for purposes of this conversation — who would we protect? Other than Miller, Kolek and Oduro, not one player comes to mind that another A10 team would steal (Fordham might take Frazier). That's not intended as a dig to the other players, but I think it kind of paints a picture of Dave's failures on the recruiting front.

    And if Dave does stay, what will get better with this roster? If Wilson and Greene leave, what is our starting 5? Yep, not very encouraging, is it?
    sleeperpick likes this.
  11. GMUgemini

    GMUgemini Hall of Famer

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    Yes. And what seems frustrating also is we’ve had a lot of promising freshmen just flame out or leave too. Calixte showed promise, Mar showed promise, Newman showed promise, XJ showed promise (obviously there is still time for him), and now Kolek shows promise.

    Not to mention the senior season regressions we got out of Otis, Grayer, and now AJ.

    How different are we as a team if those guys actually developed here and got better every season instead of showing promise and just nose diving into obscurity.
    GSII and sleeperpick like this.

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