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Season Preview: George Mason Patriots

September 30, 2011

Ryan Pearson

2010/11 Record: 27-7 (16-2, 1st place in CAA)

What happened last year: Mason rolled off 16 straight victories from the middle of January to early March, won a school-record 27 games, went 14-0 at home, 16-2 in conference, and, after flopping in the semifinals of the conference tourney, won an NCAA game as a No. 8 seed against Villanova.

What’s Changed: Cam Long graduated, Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville and coach Jim Larranaga, the face of the program – probably the face of the school after 14 years and 273 wins there –  decided to move on to whiter beaches and coach at the U. Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who reached the Final Four in 2004, took residence and Fairfax and will join a well-regarded freshman class as new blood. To compound matters, junior forward Johnny Williams underwent shoulder surgery and could miss the entire season, while guard Andre Cornelius was suspended indefinitely for a charge of credit card fraud.

Key Team Stat: (12.7) Margin of victory for Mason in 18 CAA games (73.7-61.0), by far the largest in the conference. Hofstra’s plus-3.6 was next best.

Key Player Stat: (47) Percent of Mason’s 30.2 points per game of returning scoring (not including Cornelius and Williams) that forward and preseason Player of the Year front-runner Ryan Pearson’s 14.2 ppg represents.

Who’s Vince: Pearson gets the promotion from E to Vince now with the Patriots’ top two playmakers (Long and Hancock) gone. The herky jerky left-hander scored inside and out, grabbed 6.7 rebounds a game and earned 2nd-team honors amidst an extremely balanced starting lineup. Less balance this year, and Pearson will need to do the heavy lifting.

Who’s E: This is the year when senior forward Mike Morrison needs to put it all together. The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder is limited offensively and averaged 6.8 points on five shots per game last season. There should be plenty more touches available for the high-energy big-man who seems to drift mentally sometimes. More important than his numbers might be his personal maturation as a leader on what is now such a young team.

The Entourage: As good as Mason was last year, it wasn’t particularly deep. This season any number of a guys could be the key members of a supporting cast. Guards Sherrod Wright (who redshirted last year because of a shoulder injury) and Vertrail Vaughns showed as freshmen that they could be career-long contributors, while rookie Bryon Allen never got the chance to live up to his hype. But the incoming freshman class of center Erik Copes (highly-touted nephew of new Mason assistant Roland Houston), Corey Edwards and Vaughn Gray may even bump the sophomores (to whom Hewitt owes no loyalty) lower in the rotation. The loss of Williams hurts; one CAA coach said if he could take any player of Mason’s roster, aside from Pearson, it would be Williams.

Realistic Goal: Inexperienced but talented players flourish under Hewitt and Mason tops the CAA standings again, this time with a more modest 12 league wins.

Postseason tournament chances: This team should be playing somewhere after the CAA Tournament, but its NCAA hopes aren’t great if Cornelius and Williams aren’t around.

DN-R Prediction: 2nd in CAA* (ballot was delivered days before Cornelius news broke)

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