- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

[12] George Mason (23-10) vs.

[5] Notre Dame (24-7)

9:50 p.m., Chs. 9, 13, AM-980, Pepsi Center, Denver

Breaking down George Mason

The Patriots reliably are one of the most fundamentally sound teams around, and they rank 14th nationally in fewest personal fouls and 16th in fewest turnovers. George Mason does not enjoy quite the same level of balance as two years ago when it reached the Final Four, but it still deploys a crafty lineup. Senior guard Folarin Campbell has handled much of the point guard duties since mid-December, and he’s joined in the backcourt by lockdown defender John Vaughan and perimeter gunner Dre Smith. Senior Will Thomas — like Campbell, a holdover starter from 2006 — is an efficient interior presence who has helped the Patriots compile an impressive 4.1 average rebounding margin. George Mason has made four out of its five NCAA tournament appearances under 11th-year coach Jim Larranaga.

Breaking down Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish are not a team likely to beat themselves, which bodes well for their short-term survival in March. Notre Dame lost only once to a team that missed the NCAA tournament (Georgia Tech), and that came on a neutral court in November. The Irish’s two most potent weapons are forward Luke Harangody, the Big East’s player of the year, and guard Kyle McAlarney. Harangody relies on eroding opponents in the paint. McAlarney has made 44.8 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. Sophomore Tory Jackson is the Irish’s silent weapon with 6.1 assists a game. It is Notre Dame’s fifth NCAA appearance under Mike Brey; the Irish lost to Winthrop in the first round last year.

Matchup to watch

George Mason G John Vaughan vs. Notre Dame G Kyle McAlarney

It’s tempting to point to the tangle in the paint between Will Thomas and Luke Harangody, but McAlarney can single-handedly destroy teams from the perimeter. Vaughan is a superb defensive player who is likely to draw the task of handling the junior sharpshooter after producing a fine CAA tournament. If Vaughan can neutralize McAlarney, George Mason will have a decent chance to pull a 5-12 surprise.

Prediction: Campbell and Thomas help George Mason hang around nearly the entire night before the Irish pull out a 72-65 victory.

Patrick Stevens

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