A prelude to madness

Deanna Stevens

With the madness of March basketball two weeks away, the Kent State men’s basketball team is about to get an advanced sampling of that tournament feel.

Kent State will travel to Fairfax, Va., to take on George Mason Saturday at 4 p.m. as a part of O’Reilly Auto Parts/ESPNU BracketBuster weekend.

The Flashes (16-9, 9-3 Mid-American Conference) are coming off a resounding 61-45 win over Miami and look to take advantage of the break in conference play. But Kent State coach Jim Christian said despite George Mason’s struggles this season, it won’t be easy.

“I don’t care what their record says, they are a Final Four team,” Christian said. “So that’s going to be a huge test for us.”

George Mason (14-12, 8-8 Colonial Athletic Association) went to the Final Four last season, and took out the No.1 seeded University of Connecticut to get there. Their run ended after losing 73-58 against the eventual National Champion Florida Gators.

“They’re a good team,” senior guard Armon Gates said. “That’s why I think they put us together, with us going to the Elite Eight (in 2002) and they just came from the Final Four, it’s going to be a good game.”

Sophomore guard Jordan Mincy said the Flashes are not going to feed into all the hype.

“We’re excited to play,” Mincy said. “But it’s just another game. It’s another time to play and just put the basketball on the floor.”

George Mason defeated Delaware 66-46 Wednesday to end a three-game losing streak. The Patriots are the No.1 defense in the CAA, holding their opponents to 57 points per game.

“They’re the best defensive team that I’ve seen in their league,” Christian said. “They really make you earn it. They struggle to score, but they make it really hard to score. So, if we beat them 3-2, we’ll be happy.”

George Mason averages 62 points per game, while Kent State scores 68.

The Patriots are 6-4 at home this season, and have dropped their last two home games. Their last home win was a 30-point drubbing against Delaware, 89-59, Jan. 31.

Christian pointed out that the game will have special significance for the Patriots.

“It’s their homecoming, which is typical for us,” Christian joked. “We get all the senior nights, and 100th year anniversaries, and homecomings. They love to see us coming.”

Kent State will have to work hard to contain George Mason’s presence in the post. Junior forwards Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas lead the team in points and rebounds.

Campbell, who occasionally plays guard, is averaging 14.5 points per game, ninth best in the CAA. Thomas is just behind Campbell, averaging 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

It is the third BracketBuster appearance for George Mason, who is 2-0, beating Manhattan and Wichita State. Kent State is 2-2 in the annual event, with wins against Creighton and Butler and losses to Southern Illinois and Hawaii.

Christian said the Flashes are in a position to beat anyone, as long as they give themselves the chance.

“When we play on all cylinders, we can play with a lot of people,” Christian said. “But it takes all cylinders. When you play 25 games, it’s hard to be on all cylinders every night, but that’s our challenge.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].