No. 5 ‘Nova opens Puerto Rico Tip-Off with matchup against George Mason

Andrew Gordon

The men’s basketball team heads to the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, located in the cosmopolitan Hato Rey district of San Juan to participate in the third annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Games begin today and continue through Sunday.

The field for the tournament includes Boston University, Dayton, George Mason, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kansas State, Ole Miss and Villanova. Including the Wildcats, four of the eight participating teams managed to reach the NCAA tournament in 2008-’09.

An interesting potential matchup could pin ‘Nova against Boston University in the championship; Terriers’ Head Coach Patrick Chambers spent the past five years on the Villanova coaching staff under Jay Wright, serving as associate head coach during the Wildcats’ Final Four run last year.

The tournament will include 12 games, with each team competing in one game each day, advancing through a bracket-tournament format. The two teams that remain undefeated throughout will face off in a championship match Sunday, Nov. 22. Villanova’s first matchup will be today against George Mason. In the event of a win, they will continue tournament play tomorrow against either Dayton or Georgia Tech.

The Wildcats (2-0) will face the George Mason Patriots (2-0) in their opening contest. Villanova has faced George Mason three times in the school’s history, tasting victory on each occasion. The Patriots have seen success recently, gaining 90 victories over the past four seasons, the most victories in a four-year stretch in the school’s history. Mason’s success peaked with a shocking 2006 Final Four appearance. This season, they look to build off last season’s first round exit in the NIT tournament. George Mason, coming off of a second place finish in the Colonial Athletic Conference, returns a core of seven upperclassmen, including last year’s leaders in points, assists, steals, rebounds and blocks. With only one senior to provide valuable leadership for a squad of seven freshmen reserves, the Patriots enter the season wih their youngest team since ’04-’05, when they had no seniors.

The Patriots are similar to ‘Nova in their style of play. The Patriots take pride in a traditionally stingy defense and strong guard play. Like the Wildcats, the Patriots have brought in much talent in this year’s recruiting class, but will continue to rely on their defense and guard play to take them to their third straight postseason appearance. Last year’s defensive play was historic for the Patriots, with the 2008-’09 team setting multiple all-time defensive bests. Opponents were held to 40 percent field goal percentage on the season last year for Mason. The defense accounted for 106 blocked shots and held opponents to an average of just over 65 points per game.

The backcourt returns two key members of last season’s team. Junior Cam Long and sophomore Andre Cornelius will start as the two guards for George Mason. Cornelius is a strong passer who has the ability to drive through the lane and find the open shooter on the outside. Long is primed for a breakout season after being named to the CAA preseason first-team. He is on pace to finish his career among Mason’s all-time leaders in points, rebounds, assists and 3-pointers.

In losing three of their most productive members of last season’s team, the Patriots’ most looming problems are their lack of experience and depth. Besides their five starting upperclassmen, they will rely on seven freshmen reserves who are still adjusting to the collegiate style of play. While George Mason does not lack potential talent on their bench, they do lack physicality and game experience.

With their tallest man standing at 6-feet-9-inches, GMU is void of a true center. In losing their leading rebounder last season, Mason may find it difficult to control the boards against Wildcat big men redshirt junior Antonio Peña and freshman Mouphtaou Yarou. The Patriots will look to sophomore Mike Morrison to step up in the paint after averaging just 2.5 rebounds per game last year.

An intriguing matchup in this contest will be Villanova’s 3-point shooting against the backcourt defense of George Mason. Mason set a school record by holding opponents to .309 3-point percentage last season. The Wildcats have proven that they can shoot lights out and go on long scoring runs with the outside shooting of their experienced guards. If the Patriots hope to contend with the Wildcats, they are going to need to stop the many Villanova deep threats.