1.) After two games (and losses) in less than 48 hours last week, the Flying Dutchmen got a little time to catch their breath. It’s fair to presume Mo Cassara spent a lot of his so-called down time figuring out a way to get Charles Jenkins open more often in the second half after VCU and Drexel each limited Jenkins to five shots apiece in the second half the last two games. Jenkins is so adept at getting his teammates involved that the Dutchmen don’t need him to fire away in order to win—including the loss to Drexel, the Dutchmen are 4-2 this year in games in which Jenkins takes 11 or fewer shots—but the second half is his time and they absolutely need him to be in Wolf mode in the final 20 minutes, especially on nights such as Thursday and Saturday in which there is no third option.
2.) Given how fast-paced this game is likely to be—Mason put up 74 points even when the Dutchmen gloriously routed the Patriots four weeks ago tonight—there has to be a third option behind Jenkins and Mike Moore for the Dutchmen to have a shot. The Dutchmen had five players in double figures in the win in Hempstead, where Shemiye McLendon and Brad Kelleher shot 5-of-10 from 3-point land. As we noted in today’s Q&A with Mason fan Shawn Brann, the Dutchmen are 6-0 when McLendon hits two or more 3-pointers. Today would be a real good time for him to regain the form he’s rarely shown since New Year’s.
3.) Greg Washington and David Imes would provide a boost if they could make big contributions offensively—Washington went scoreless against Drexel, ending a three-game streak of double-figure outings, while Imes has scored just 19 points in his last four games combined—but it’s more important for them to assert themselves on defense against Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison. Washington and Imes were never themselves Saturday after early foul trouble and Drexel had a field day in almost doubling up the Dutchmen on the boards. Staying out of foul trouble will be a challenge against the physical Patriots and with referees who are on Tom O’Connor’s payroll (kidding—or am I?) but Washington and Imes will likely have to be on the court for 30-plus minutes for the Dutchmen to eke out the win.
4.) Don’t let Mason get the momentum. The Patriots are red-hot with seven straight wins, including six by at least 15 points, and are almost impossible to beat once they get rolling at home, where they are 10-0 this season, 48-6 overall dating back to 2007-08 and 29-3 in CAA play over that span. Mason is also 6-1 all-time at home against Hofstra with an average margin of victory of 10.6 points (that’s why the spread is so high). The Dutchmen dodged danger in Hempstead when they fell behind by 10 points in the first 10 minutes before storming back to rout the Patriots, but they probably won’t get so lucky this time if Mason can get confident and comfortable and begin playing from ahead.
5.) This is a game with huge long-term ramifications. A win for Mason will begin to remove any doubt that its winning streak was more about schedule than (combined CAA record of Mason’s last seven opponents: 27-50) than the Patriots finally finding the chemistry to go along with their talent while also going a long way towards creating a three-way race for first: With a loss, the Dutchmen will almost surely be alone in fourth place (Old Dominion plays Delaware tonight) and will fall two games behind George Mason and to 1-3 against the top three schools. But a Dutchmen win, in addition to opening plenty of eyes, will give them the tiebreaker over Mason and a good shot at a top three finish with their final six games against teams in the bottom half of the CAA. Cassara will scold me for looking ahead, but the road to the CAA title will be less treacherous as the two or three seed than the four seed, the latter of which will likely have to beat two Virginia schools just to get to a Monday night game against, you guessed it, a Virginia school. Cassara has relished the role of underdog and the idea that it’s the Dutchmen against the world this year. Tonight would be a great time to rile up the troops and send them out there revved up and ready to remind the CAA the hot start was no fluke.
5b.) Just because I’m playing nice with Mason fans doesn’t mean I’m any less belligerent about rooting against their team. Go Dutchmen, make sure I have to squint at the laptop to see if losing coach Monty Burns—err, Jim Larranaga—says anything to Cassara in the post-game handshake—before I crank some Billy Joel.