George Mason Basketball Preview: #66
Overall Rank: #66
Conference Rank: #2 Colonial Athletic Association
2008-09: 22-11, 13-5
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: Jim Larranaga (229-142 at George Mason, 427-311 overall)
George Mason continues to have success, although nothing will ever quite live up to their Final Four appearance. Still this is a team that is in the mix for the top spot year in and year out in the Colonial Athletic Association. And they will be again this year even without three of their top four scorers from a year ago.
Key Losses: F Darryl Monroe, G Dre Smith, G John Vaughn
This is one of the best recruiting classes for a so-called mid-major team in the nation. Small forward Paris Bennett could find himself in the starting lineup right away. That is unless shooting guard Sherrod Wright has something to say about it. Wright is a prolific scorer from anywhere on the floor and he will immediately give this team another offensive weapon. Vertrail Vaughns and Rashad Whack will add even more options on the perimeter. Johnny Williams highlights the big guys. The 6-8 power forward averaged a double-double in high school and has the size and strength to battle in the CAA as a freshman. Add Luke Hancock and redshirt freshman Kevin Foster to the mix and the Patriots have a lot of youth to work with.
The problem is the returning players on the perimeter are pretty young too. Andre Cornelius is just a sophomore and while he showed promise as a freshman, is he really ready to take over this team? By the numbers he committed more turnovers than he had assists and that will have to change if George Mason expects him to be the consistent ball handler that they need. Cam Long can run the point too, but he is also the team’s best scorer. Last season as a sophomore he led the squad with 11.7 points per game. Long is a very consistent outside shooter and the more time he can spend off the ball trying to get open for three-pointers, the better.
Like the backcourt, the frontcourt is also bursting with potential. Ryan Pearson, a 6-6 forward, had a very good freshman campaign, averaging 7.0 points and 3.6 rebounds. He only started one game and averaged less than 18 minutes per contest. Without Darryl Monroe on the floor, Pearson is expected to take over a lot of those minutes. Fellow sophomore Mike Morrison will take some of those minutes too. Morrison has more size than Pearson and when Coach Jim Larranaga needs another rebounder on the floor, he will call on Morrison.
Who to Watch:
There is only one senior on the roster and it is 6-6 forward Louis Birdsong. Birdsong let Monroe do most of the scoring under the basket last year, but he will need to become more assertive on the offensive end and join Pearson as an interior scorer. Unlike Pearson, Birdsong is a decent outside shooter and can consistently knock down the mid-range jumper and even occasionally a three-pointer. However, it is on the defensive end where Birdsong does his best work after leading the team with 1.1 blocks per game last season.
There are a lot of options on this team. If Long needs to run the point, then some of the talented freshmen will step in on the wings and give the Patriots plenty of scoring options. The frontcourt can play small with Pearson and Birdsong or they can go big with Morrison and Williams. Time will tell how the battles for playing time will shake out, but one thing is for sure: this young team will grow up and be very dangerous come March.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Andre Cornelius, Sophomore, Guard, 5.5 points per game
Cam Long, Junior, Guard, 11.7 points per game
Paris Bennett, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Ryan Pearson, Sophomore, Forward, 7.0 points per game
Louis Birdsong, Senior, Forward, 6.4 points per game
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