Proficiency of perimeter defense will be critical for VCU in Saturday trip to George Mason | College Sports

When VCU coach Mike Rhoades looks at the George Mason team the Rams will travel to play on Saturday, he sees first-year Patriots coach Kim English putting his stamp on the program.

“He’s done that,” Rhoades said Friday, “and they’re playing well.”

That stamp is perhaps no more notably apparent than in how the roster English assembled has executed on the offensive end.

The Patriots have fired from long range at a rate that’s among the highest in the nation. George Mason has derived 40.2% of its scoring off of 3-pointers, which is the 20th-highest chunk in the nation, per And the Patriots are connecting on those treys at a 38% clip, which is 22nd nationally.

And they just hit 14 of them (14 of 34) in an 87-84 overtime win over Richmond on Wednesday, their second-highest total in a game this season.

It’ll be one of the most formidable shooting challenges VCU and its stout 3-point defense will face in league play, as it eyes what would be a fifth win in its last six outings.

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The Rams (15-7, 8-3 Atlantic 10) and Patriots (12-10, 5-4) tip off at 4 pm Saturday at EagleBank Arena, in a game that will be broadcast on MASN2.

“They really spread you out and really attack you,” Rhoades said of George Mason. “And you can tell they want layups and they want 3s, that’s it. And they put some guys in isolations, which puts a lot of pressure on the defense. But those guys also pass the ball well, too.”

George Mason has played 22 games so far this season, the same number it played in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign. And the Patriots have attempted 79 more 3-pointers than they did last year, coach Dave Paulsen’s final season at the helm.

After the school parted ways with Paulsen, the program lost four of its top five 2020-21 scorers to transfer: Jordan Miller (Miami), guard Javon Greene (USF), guard Tyler Kolek (Marquette) and forward AJ Wilson (South Carolina) .

But transfer pieces English brought in have helped buoy George Mason’s potency beyond the arc. Guard DeVon Cooper (Morehead State) is 43% (61 of 142) on 3-point attempts, guard Davonte Gaines (Tennessee) is 42.3% (30 of 71) and guard D’Shawn Schwartz (Colorado) is 39.7% (60 of 151).

Paired with the increase in 3-point attempts this season, the Patriots are making 9.8 3-pointers per game right now, up from 7.3 per game last year at a 32.9% clip.

“I think they get each other shots,” Rhoades said. “And then they have some talented shot makers like Schwartz and Gaines and Cooper.”

But VCU has continued to remain among the best in the country at defending the 3. The Rams’ last three opponents — Dayton, Duquesne and Rhode Island — have shot a combined 40% from deep (18 of 45), with Vince Williams Jr. (calf strain) out for the first two of those matchups, and yet they still rank fifth nationally in holding opponents to 27.3% overall beyond the arc this season.

Rhoades said VCU has to do a better job of not letting opponents get open. But what he considers the most important factor in the Rams’ effectiveness defending the 3 throughout this season is limiting attempts to begin with.

“The other night [George Mason] had 34 attempts,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got to limit attempts. If you limit attempts you can’t get in a flow of shooting 3s.”

The Patriots have attempted less than 20 3-pointers in a game just twice this season, both losses. VCU opponents have attempted more than 20 3s in just eight of the Rams’ 22 matchups this season.

And while VCU is occupied with defending the 3 on Saturday, it will also have to try to do its best to limit 6-9, 235-pound forward Josh Oduro inside. Oduro, now a junior, has made another substantial leap after a breakout sophomore season, averaging 17.9 points (second in the A-10) and 6.4 rebounds.

Rhoades said the Rams will have to guard Oduro by committee on Saturday.

“Make him catch it in places he doesn’t want to catch it, have extra bodies on him and just make it hard,” Rhoades said.

VCU on Saturday will be out for a sixth straight win at EagleBank Arena, but looking to avenge a loss to George Mason in the teams’ last meeting, 79-76 in overtime at the Siegel Center last February. Oduro scored 27 points in that game.

And this time, more than any matchup against George Mason in recent history, the proficiency of the Rams’ perimeter defense will be critical.

“They don’t get a layup, they want to kick it to a 3,” Rhoades said. “And we got to be able to run all that stuff down.”

Note: Rhoades said that guards Jayden Nunn and Ace Baldwin Jr., who tweaked ankles at the end of VCU’s game against Rhode Island on Tuesday, are doing fine. And Williams, who returned Tuesday but is continuing to recover from his calf sprain, is feeling a lot better, Rhoades said.

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