Crunch time: Tough games with GMU, VCU await

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February 27, 2008

6:20 PM

p. Sitting one game out of second place with two games to play, the College faces two tough opponents this week in George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University. At this point in the season, the Tribe still has a shot at a top-four seed in the conference tournament and a first-round bye.

p. However, with the league’s top two teams awaiting the College, the final week of conference play will offer a supreme challenge for the Tribe.

p. “We have a chance to go head-to-head with the best people in this league and see what we can do,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “We’re a game out of second place right now, so these are big games for us.”

p. Heading to Fairfax tomorrow, the College will meet the Patriots forthe first time this season. There the Tribe will find a Mason squad that sits just one game ahead of them in the CAA standings.

p. The Patriots enter the game losers of three of their past five contests. During that stretch, Mason lost its first home game of the year, falling to the University of North Carolina — Wilmington 75-73. Most recently, the Patriots lost at Ohio University, as Mason saw a 13-point halftime lead turn into a 12-point loss.

p. Nevertheless, Mason has impressive wins against the University of Dayton, the University of South Carolina, and Kansas State University, and boasts a talented trio in seniors Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell and junior John Vaughan. All three average double-figures and provide a wealth of experience for the Patriots.

p. Moreover, these three have tended to play their best in Mason’s big wins.

p. When the Tribe entertains VCU for Senior Night Saturday, the game will see two teams who have played at a higher level since their Dec. 5 matchup. Entering its sixth game of the season, the College was 1-4, while the Rams were just 4-3 coming off their most impressive victory of the season over Maryland.

p. Since then the Tribe has won 13 of 21 games, and VCU has gone 14-3. Both teams have enjoyed long winning streaks in conference play as well, as the College won six straight and the Rams seven.

p. Junior guard Eric Maynor and senior guard Jamal Shuler spearhead the Rams attack, providing nearly half of VCU’s points.

p. This ratio leaves VCU vulnerable when one member of the duo has a bad game. But when the two are hot, they can torch an opponent, as was the case when Maynor and Shuler combined for 55 points in the win over Maryland.

p. With Maynor and Shuler leading the way, through 12 CAA games VCU was 10-2 and the Tribe 9-3. Four games later, however, VCU remains atop the league at 13-3 with the Tribe three games back at 10-6.

p. Both teams have much to play for in their last two games. If VCU defeats UNCW tomorrow, the Rams will clinch the regular-season crown and a no. 1 seed in the tournament, but can ill afford a loss to the Tribe on its at-large resume for the NCAA tournament. The College will be looking for a first-round bye and its first winning record since the 1997-1998 season. Depending on how the team finishes these last two games, the Tribe could find itself anywhere from the third through seventh seeds in the conference tournament.

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