Saturday, George Mason takes the road to visit St. Bonaventure in Olean, NY at 5pm. The game will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network. Fresh off a win over UMass on Wednesday night that equaled their win total from a season ago, the Patriots (11-4, 1-1 A10) will look to remain undefeated (3-0) in true road contests. Standing in their way, the Bonnies (9-5, 1-1 A10) are lead by Jaylen Adams, who ranks third nationally at over 23 points per game and leads the A10 with over 6 assists per game.
Mason has faced St. Bonaventure three times since joining the Atlantic 10, losing both times — an 85-73 home loss on Homecoming 2014, a semi-neutral site 75-55 defeat in Rochester, NY, in 2015, and last season’s A10 home opener loss, 77-58. All time, the Patriots are 2-4 against the Bonnies, and this will be their first trip to the Reilly Center since joining the A10.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, I asked Ian Nolan of The Bona Blog to answer some questions about the opposition.
masonhoops.com: Junior guard Jaylen Adams is the name everyone knows for St. Bonaventure, and rightfully so. What’s his case for Player of the Year in the A10?
Ian: His case for player of the year could start with the fact that as of last week he was the most efficient offensive player in America according to KenPom, in addition to being the leads leading scorer and assist man while playing the second most minutes in the league. He’s a dynamic scorer who Bonaventure relies on every single night and without him they’d be simply lost.
masonhoops.com: What is Mark Schmidt’s player rotation like? It seems like he’s only been going 6 or 7 players deep. Is that by design or is there a lack of depth on the roster?
Ian: It seems like he only goes seven deep because he does. This has become a Schmidt staple; playing the minimum number of players and running his starts as long and hard as he can. We thought when Nelson Kaputo came back he would really give the back court a rest … not at all. He’s essentially a scrub who Schmidt doesn’t seem to trust anymore. David Andoh is a stretch/pick and pop four man and you’ll sometimes see LaDarien Griffin (a long, lanky wing who isn’t much of an offensive player) and Amadi Ikpeze (a big freshman center whose ultra raw). Schmidt has said he doesn’t value depth and he’s proving it again this year.
masonhoops.com: Who’s a name Mason fans might not know who could have a big impact on Saturday afternoon?
Ian: I’d say Matt Mobley but a true A10 hops fans knows about the league’s 4th ranked scorer at this point. I’ll say freshman forward Josh Ayeni. He’s from Nigeria and has started nearly every game this season and has come on of late. He’s very physical, really tough, and has a deadly mid-range jumper. He scored 12 points against Dayton and was 4-4 from the field (all mid-rangers) against UMass before getting ejected due to a shove. Schmidt has been high on him from day and one an he’s got a very nice ceiling (went to high school in Baltimore).
masonhoops.com: What are the keys to victory for St. Bonaventure? Are there specific stats, trends, or players to watch that indicate if the game is going their way?
Ian: The three point defense has been horrendous this season as the Bonnies give up 40% shooting from there. Conversely, SBU really depends on the three point shot and their guards to drive their offense. Making guys other than Adams or Mobley beat you is key. Further, SBU’s offensive rebounding is very good yet their defensive board work is terrible … hard to figure.
masonhoops.com: The Bonnies don’t do well with defensive rebounding, they commit a ton of fouls (aside from Matt Mobley), and they are among the worst in the country at defending the three point arc (where opponents are shooting 40% for the season). It’s strange for a team with such a high level of talent and athleticism at guard to struggle that much on the perimeter. Why is that? Is it scheme or effort or something else entirely?
Ian: This has been the topic of conversation on the message boards and our Twitter account all season and we actually just did a post on this topic on Wednesday. To me, the issue is that our guards are poor defenders, or are not wanting to play good enough defense right now. Jay Adams is as gifted an offensive player as you’ll see, but he’s a really poor defender. As a team, they allow penetration far too often and the help defense and rotations are poor. Having two freshman centers doesn’t help, and David Andoh is purely an offensive sub, having trouble defending as well. This team sorely misses Dion Wright who played great help defense and could guard many positions. Leadership has also been lacking this season — something Wright and Marcus Posley brought every single night a year ago.
masonhoops.com: Last season, the Bonnies tied Dayton and VCU for the regular season A10 crown before getting bounced early from the A10 tournament and left out of the NCAA tournament despite a final RPI around 28. Has there been a lasting impact on the team from that disappointment, either positive or negative?
Ian: I refuse to believe that the team’s poor(ish) play is a result of the “Snub.” This team lacks leadership, defense and toughness. Losing Wright and Posley was a huge blow and Schmidt said in the summer he wasn’t worried about scoring but was worried about defense and leadership. So far, he’s been spot on. The fans and community will never forget being left out after that magical season and know how rare something like that comes along in Olean. I think coach Schmidt is still a bit burned by it as well because he fully recognized how hard that season is to repeat and what it would have done for the school but I don’t think it has anything to do with their record.
masonhoops.com: After a strong but unremarkable out of conference schedule (8-4), what is Bona’s outlook this season? They haven’t gotten any signature wins yet, but they’ve also avoided any bad losses.
Ian: If you asked me before the UNCW game I would have told you I thought this team could finish in the top four of the league…and maybe they still can. But after dropping that game, giving up 106 to Canisius in a loss and allowing Dayton to roll us at home I’ve come to my senses a bit. SBU’s defense has to improve, and fast, for this team to compete for a bye in Pittsburgh. They have as much offense as anyone but someone has to emerge as a leader and they’ve got to defend and rebound it better. I said going into the year this was an NIT team, winning 20 games. I think that’s probably a stretch right now. Updated guess: top 7 finish, 19 wins. That said, if they’re playing fairly well in March no one, no one will want to see them in the A10 Tournament because of Adams and Mobley.
masonhoops.com: Why does it have to be so ******* cold in Olean?
Ian: It snowed the first five days in May my freshman year. I cannot recall a single basketball game at home when I could see the grass going to the arena that day…it’s really something else. Probably part of the reason I now live in Texas.
Thanks, Ian. Good luck on Saturday.