Puerto Rico Tip-Off Preview

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Thursday, November 20th, 2014 With 0 Comments

West Virginia
7:30 pm, ESPNU
New Mexico
7:30 pm, ESPN3
11:30 am, ESPN3
Full Bracket (PDF)

Tonight at 7:30 pm, George Mason opens play in the 2014 Puerto Rico Tip-Off against West Virginia on ESPNU. This year’s early season tournament is being played at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan. The remaining two teams in the Patriots’ half of the eight-team bracket are New Mexico and Boston College, who meet at 5:00 pm, while Texas A&M, Connecticut, Dayton, and College of Charleston fill out the other half. The games begin at 10:30 am on ESPNU, with all eight teams in action throughout the day today, again tomorrow, and on Sunday.

This week marks a return trip to Puerto Rico for the Patriots, who also appears in the 2009 Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Five years ago the Patriots held their own, losing a last-second heartbreaker to then-#6 Villanova, taking an eight-point loss to Paul Hewitt’s then-#19 Georgia Tech squad, and defeating Indiana 69-66 as Cam Long banked in a trey with 6 seconds to play. None of the current Mason players were members of that team, so this squad will get to make its own memories, but there is a surprising amount of recent familiarity within the bracket. New Mexico and Connecticut joined Mason in the Paradise Jam tournament two years ago, while Mason last faced Charleston in the 2013 CBI, and lost at home to Dayton back on February 1.

West Virginia (2-0) arrives in Puerto Rico undefeated, with a shaky 64-54 home win over Monmouth (Monmouth led by ten with under eight minutes to play) to open the season and a much more convincing blowout of Lafayette on Sunday. The Mountaineers have been lead early by sophomore forward Devin Williams (15.0 ppg, 13.0 rpg) and senior guard Juwan Staten (15.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) while Jonathan Holton adds 11 rebounds per game. Head coach Bob Huggins has a reasonably deep roster this season, with nine players averaging at least 11.5 minutes.

George Mason and Paul Hewitt will look to build on Sunday’s win over Princeton as they adjust to their new offense and the many new faces on the roster. To be successful, the Patriots will need to get production offensively and on the glass from their stable of big men, even if senior Erik Copes (left shoulder injury) misses his second straight game. They cannot allow Williams and Holton to control the boards or it will be a long night of one-and-dones. Likewise, if they can’t establish a paint scoring presence, there may not be many open shots for the Patriots’ leading scorer, Patrick Holloway (20.5 ppg). The Mountaineers come to Puerto Rico allowing less than 28% shooting from behind the arc.

The Patriots also can’t afford to look ahead to Friday’s games, but Mason already knows that they will face one of two opponents in the second round of the Tip-Off.

New Mexico (2-0) is undefeated, after an easy 79-55 home win over Idaho State and a more challenging 67-59 defeat of Cal State — Fullerton. The Lobos have been paced by sophomore guard Cullen Neal’s 24.5 points and a balanced team rebounding effort. The Lodos are coached by Cullen’s father, Craig Neal, who was promoted to the position from associate head coach after Steve Alford moved on to UCLA following the 2012-13 season.

Boston College (1-1) has had a rough start to the season, escaping New Hampshire 58-50 and taking a loss at home to UMass, 71-62. Of the teams in George Mason’s half of the bracket, early performance indicates that the Eagles would be the best candidate for a Patriots victory. Boston College is led by Olivier Hanlan’s 17.5 points and Aaron Brown’s 16.5 points, and have shot only 15% on three-point attempts so far this season.

On the other side of the bracket, from which will come Mason’s Sunday opponent, Texas A&M (1-0) opened with a 109-68 win over Northwestern State, Dayton (1-0) started the season with a 76-52 win over Alabama A&M, and College of Charleston (1-1) experienced a confusing pair of results, winning 75-40 at Furman before losing 80-67 at home to Gardner-Webb.

Finally, here’s a look back at that win over Indiana in Puerto Rico five years ago: