Florida-George Mason showcases innovative offenses
George Mason strengths: This team has five players who can score. The Patriots run a three-around-two offense, with two big guys who can go one-on-one when isolated in the post. Jai Lewis and lefty Will Thomas are capable scorers and passers who command double-teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, and they can deftly find teammates out of them. Both can score over bigger defenders with a variety of post moves, and both have great body control. Lamar Butler is a terrific shooter from the perimeter, and Tony Skinn can shoot it or go off the bounce. The key player is Folarin Campbell, who is a dynamite performer and has a real chance to be a great player. Campbell can post a guard, take you off the dribble, and shoot it off the catch or dribble. This is a team of confident offensive players, and scoring is not a problem. Defensively, George Mason is very disruptive. Lewis and Thomas are very good post defenders who body you up and do not allow you to establish post position. The Patriots put good pressure on the ball and can get out in passing lanes to look for steals. They are fundamentally sound and understand help-side defense.
Florida strengths: This team is deep, big and athletic, with shooters and very capable interior scorers. The Gators are solid in transition and run a lot of multiple-option set plays that are very hard to guard or prepare for. Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey are good guards, and Corey Brewer is a very athletic swingman who can run the floor and get to the rim. The keys are the inside guys, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Horford has been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, averaging a double-double and shooting better than 60 percent from the field. Noah has been even better. Noah changes shots on the defensive end and plays with great energy. He gets most of his points off athletic hustle and playing off others and has been a major boost to this Florida run to the Final Four. Florida plays mostly man-to-man and can pressure in the full court, but can also play some zone and play good half-court defense. One thing is for certain: Florida will not play behind inside and allow the ball to be passed in to Lewis and Thomas.
Key stat: Fast-break points and points in the paint. George Mason is very good in transition, and you have to get out and find shooters. Butler, Skinn and Campbell all fan out to the 3-point line, and all can hit or attack a closeout and get into the lane. Florida will pound the ball inside and try to get touches to Horford and Noah. The team that controls the paint likely will control the game.
Key player: Green and Campbell. Green is the most important player for Florida. When he plays well and is dynamic off pick-and-roll situations and aggressive offensively, Florida usually wins. Campbell has the makings of a great player. He is hitting 50 percent of his 3s in the NCAA Tournament after struggling from the field earlier.
What to watch for: Watch how George Mason spreads the floor with its three-around-two action, and how tough it is to guard. The Patriots' schemes make you make decisions and put you in help and recover situations. Will Florida double? Is the double coming on the catch or the bounce? Is it coming from the opposite big or digging down from the passer? All those options come with risk. Watch how Noah runs the floor, too. He is a model for every big guy on how hard to run and the good that comes from that effort.
Bottom line: Florida wins, but George Mason is still the best college basketball story of my lifetime. We'll be talking about this for decades to come.
Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.
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