In what figures to be one of the most competitive games of the NCAA Tournament's second round, the eighth-seeded George Mason Patriots will battle the ninth-seeded Villanova Wildcats this afternoon.
Up next for the winner of this East Regional tilt is a third-round matchup with either top-seeded Ohio State or 16th-seeded Texas-San Antonio on Sunday.
The Wildcats are making their 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance, and they won the national title back in 1985. They are 49-31 all-time in this event and are playing the NCAA Tournament for a school-record tying seventh consecutive season. Some feel that Jay Wright's squad is fortunate to have earned an at- large bid. Sure, the 'Cats are 21-11 overall, but they closed the season with five consecutive losses, including a setback to lowly South Florida in the Big East Conference Tournament.
George Mason is appearing in just its sixth NCAA Tournament and is 4-5 all- time in the event. All four of those victories came during the 2006 run to the Final Four, as the program knocked off Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to capture the attention of the college basketball world. This year's team is 26-6 overall and won the Colonial Athletic Association title before falling to VCU in the league tournament.
Villanova has won all four of its previous meetings with George Mason, including a thrilling 69-68 victory over the Patriots in the most recent meeting in 2009.
The Wildcats shot 4-of-18 from the field in the second half of the one-point loss to South Florida last time out, and it is hard to imagine that they enter this NCAA Tournament with much confidence. Villanova depends heavily on the talents of three guards to carry the load offensively, and the team struggles mightily when jumpers aren't falling. Corey Fisher continues to lead the team with 15.4 ppg, and he has handed out 153 assists against 72 turnovers. Fisher also paces the club with 49 steals and brings a wealth of experience to the court. The same can be said for Corey Stokes, a 43.4 percent shooter from three-point range who provides 15.0 ppg. Rounding out the backcourt trio is Maalik Wayns, who adds 14.0 ppg and 145 assists. The Wildcats get 9.8 ppg and 7.2 rpg from Antonio Pena, but the frontcourt is rather sub par. Villanova is generating 72.7 ppg this season while allowing 65.6 ppg to opponents.
George Mason placed three players on the All-CAA team, while head coach Jim Larranaga was selected the league's coach of the year. Senior Cam Long was chosen to the All-CAA First Team, junior Ryan Pearson picked up Second-Team honors, and sophomore Luke Hancock was selected to the Third Team. Long, a 6-4 guard, averages 15.3 ppg on the strength of his 42.6 percent shooting from three-point range. Pearson is close behind with 14.4 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting from the field, and he is ripping down 6.8 rpg. As for Hancock, a 10.7 ppg scorer, he tops the roster with 4.3 apg. Andre Cornelius has started all 32 games for George Mason and is netting 9.9 ppg, so he is one good game away from making the group of double-digit scorers a foursome. The Patriots are netting 73.3 ppg while holding foes to 61.5 ppg on 40.7 percent shooting.
Expect a solid performance from both teams today in a game that figures to be close from beginning to end. Villanova is a far better team than it has shown lately, so expect a narrow victory for the Wildcats.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Villanova 79, George Mason 76