UMass to host George Mason in return to Atlantic 10 play

GMU holds 9-4 all-time record vs Minutemen

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

In a game where the Massachusetts men’s basketball team found themselves struggling to keep up with Bryant’s shifty guards — who would consistently blow past Minutemen defenders – UMass (2-2, 1-0 Atlantic 10) looked unprepared and overmatched for the majority of its Dec. 21 loss to the Bulldogs.

Minutemen head coach Matt McCall was obviously aware of this and acknowledged the lack of energy and awareness of his players during that game.

“I just thought that our approach going into that game was almost like we were on Christmas break,” McCall said. “Our guys were looking forward to [Christmas break].”

Coming out of the desired holiday break, UMass will go up against George Mason, who has no previous conference opponents this season. The Patriot’s (4-2) losses come to Belmont and Norfolk State, while holding wins over Towson, Virginia Military Institute, Howard and a Division II school.

George Mason defeated Division II Queens University of Charlotte 66-65.

With the exception of Belmont — who defeated the Patriots by 10 points – George Mason has not gone against any teams of the Minutemen’s caliber. They have also not seen a player such as Tre Mitchell.

Mitchell is currently averaging 22.5 points per game, even though he has yet to finish a game between 20 and 29 points. In two wins for UMass, Mitchell is averaging 34 points per contest while averaging 11 in its two losses.

A common theme in the Minutemen’s two losses has been their opponents’ ability to successfully defended Mitchell to the point where he would be forced to pass the ball out for a teammate to make the play.

Mitchell has shot a combined 19 times in the two losses and 35 in the two wins.

Opposing guards have also been a problem for the Minutemen up to this point. Northeastern’s Tyson Walker (29 points) and Bryant’s Michael Green III (33 points) have had huge games at the expense of UMass’ defense.

“We’ve put a tremendous amount of focus on defense here in the last three to four days,” McCall said. “We’ve changed our approach in practice, we’ve tweaked some things and are doing some different things defensively now.”

“Our numbers defensively have got to drastically improve.”

UMass has allowed 79 points on average through its first four games of the season. They are allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field and just under 40 percent on three-pointers.

The Patriots are averaging just around 70 points a contest. Leading the way for George Mason is junior guard Jordan Miller. Miller is averaging 16.5 points while also bringing in nearly six rebounds per game.

Miller has also shown to be a perimeter threat, shooting 8-for-10 from three against Howard.

Senior guard Javon Greene is the Patriots second highest scorer, averaging just under 12 points on 41 percent shooting from the field and 18 percent from beyond the arc. Greene averaged 20.5 points last year against the Minutemen.

The man most likely to be assigned to Tre Mitchell will be senior forward AJ Wilson. Wilson is only averaging 6.8 points and 5.6 boards but is the primary rim-protector for George Mason with 2.6 blocks a game on average.

Patriots coach Dave Paulsen has the advantage over McCall and UMass, as the Minutemen have gone 1-6 in their three years under McCall against Paulsen and George Mason.

“They’ve got really talented players,” McCall said. “…Coach Paulsen has coached a lot of games in his career. He’s going to have his team ready to play when it comes to conference games.”

Things do look to be slightly different this year. The level that UMass has shown they are capable to play at coupled with George Mason’s lackluster wins indicates that the tides could be potentially turning in the McCall-Paulsen series.

The Minutemen have shown flashes of being a very talented team that can play at a high level but have also had times where Tre Mitchell can’t get going and they are unable of staying in front of talented guards. Consistency game-to-game will prove whether UMass will be able to sink or swim.

“We’re one of the youngest teams in the country based on our classes,” McCall said. “So it’s going to continue to take reps. We have talent, we got to continue to get better.”

The Minutemen have been odds-on favorites to win every single game they’ve played in this year and that holds true with their matchup against the Patriots. This game will be indicative of how each team responds after a bad loss, as George Mason fell to Norfolk State in its most recent game.

The game will be played in Amherst at the Mullins Center at 6 p.m. on Dec. 30. It will be streamed on NESN and ESPN+.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1