George Mason Patriots (27-7, 16-2)
Projected starting five:
Sr. G Andre Cornelius (eligible Dec. 21)
So. G Sherrod Wright
Sr. F Ryan Pearson
Sr. F-C Mike Morrison
Fr. F Erik Copes
Head coach Jim Larranaga left to take the head coaching position at Miami, and he took his entire staff with him. Three starters departed: Cam Long (15.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg) and Isaiah Tate (6.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg) graduated and Luke Hancock (10.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.3 apg) transferred to Louisville.
55.5 percent of scoring and 65.7 percent of rebounding
New head coach Paul Hewitt has three newcomers on the roster:
Fr. F Erik Copes
Fr. G Corey Edwards
Fr. F Vaughn Gray
The Patriots have some challenges in nonconference play, a slate almost entirely inherited by Hewitt. They open with Rhode Island at home before playing in Virginia Tech’s pod in the NIT Season Tip-Off, with a chance to get to New York for two more. They head on the road to play at Virginia and Sun Belt contender Florida Atlantic, while welcoming Patriot League favorite Bucknell. In CAA play, they get a break during the stretch of four games in eight days in that three of those games are at home.
Projected finish and outlook:
George Mason might have as much talent as any team in the conference at first glance, although they took a pretty good hit when glue guy extraordinaire Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville. They took another big hit for the first month in point guard Andre Cornelius, part of a senior core that has won a lot of games. Cornelius pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of credit card fraud and was suspended for the first 10 games of the season. That makes the all-important point guard spot a major question mark in nonconference play, meaning Vertrail Vaughns, who new head coach Paul Hewitt has said looks good so far, may have to be this team’s quarterback.
Pearson is a Player of the Year candidate and will do a lot of things for this team, while Morrison is the emotional leader and the frontcourt gets a good boost from the addition of Copes, who could start right away although sophomore Jonathan Arledge will be in the mix for minutes up front as well if he improves on the glass.
The perimeter has no shortage of talent, and no one will be more important there than Sherrod Wright, who is working his way back from an injury. Bryon Allen has a chance to emerge, while junior Paris Bennett should also get more of a chance depending on the lineup as he is really more of a combo forward and Johnny Williams is likely to miss the season due to injury. If Cornelius returns seamlessly and the perimeter questions are answered, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be competing for the top spot in the conference.