#30 George Mason Men's Basketball Preview

George Mason Patriots

Overall Rank: #30
Conference Rank: #1 Colonial
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2010-11: 27-7, 16-2
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Paul Hewitt (First year at George Mason, 252-181 overall)

Coach Paul Hewitt takes over a team that has already developed a winning tradition. George Mason has made four postseason appearances after their Final Four run in 2006. This is not a team that is going to go away just because Coach Jim Larranga left. The Patriots wanted to pick up another solid coach and they did that with Coach Hewitt. His recruiting ability will pay off big time down the road, but he can win the CAA right now thanks to having a coach on the floor in the form of senior point guard Andre Cornelius. He is not a true point guard and that may cause some problems, but he is a leader, a great shooter and one of the best defenders the CAA has to offer. However, Cornelius is currently suspended and will remain suspended until legal and school judical processes are completed following his September arrest.

Who’s Out:
The Patriots took a big hit on the wings. Cam Long, Luke Hancock and Isaiah Tate are all gone. Long was the best shooter on the team and averaged 15.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest. There are other shooters ready to give it a go, but none will immediately be the overall player that Long has been during his collegiate career. Hancock was third on the team in scoring and another great all-around player. He opted to transfer to Louisville following the coaching change. There was not much Hancock could not do and his hard work on both ends of the floor will be missed. Tate was the sixth man and did a pretty good job of filling that role. He could score a little bit and knock down some long balls.

Who’s In:
So can the newcomers fill the void on the wings? Probably not. Instead, this will be a team that plays a little bigger thanks to the arrival of Erik Copes. The 6-8, 244 pound freshman is the type of player that five years ago would never consider going to George Mason, although in this case he would not have considered the Patriots had Coach Hewitt hired the wrong assistant coach. Copes is a tough, hardworking player on both ends of the floor. He may not be a prolific scorer as a freshman, but he will block some shots and grab a ton of boards. Corey Edwards is a quick little point guard. He probably needs to add his freshman 15 to bulk up a bit before he sees major playing time, but if he can be ready by January, Cornelius could spend some more time off of the ball. Vaughn Gray is an interesting prospect. He is a 6-4 wing, but he could see some playing time at the shooting guard position if nobody else is ready to step up into that spot. This team needs a shooting guard. Unfortunately, Gray is not a great shooter. He is a strong slasher who can get to the basket and that should at least give him some minutes off of the bench.

Who to Watch:
Ryan Pearson will start at the three spot. He is a dangerous scorer inside and out and will shoulder much of the scoring load this year. After tallying 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds a year ago, expect big things from Pearson during his senior season. The bigger issue will be opposite of Pearson on the wing. Gray will work himself into the mix, but he is better suited to backup Pearson at the three spot. Sherrod Wright, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, had a pretty good freshman campaign in 2009-2010. Averaging 5.5 points per game, Wright was ready to take the next step prior to his injury. He is not a great shooter, which may keep him out of the starting five, but he can finish around the basket. If Cornelius and Pearson are knocking down shots, the shooting guard will not necessarily have to be that great of a shooter. But if Coach Hewitt wants more of a pure shooter in the lineup, he can go with Ventrail Vaughns. The 6-2 sophomore averaged less than ten minutes per game as a freshman, but he knocked down one three-pointer per game and nearly made half of his attempts. Whether he starts or not, Vaughn can provide a quick spark to the offense.

Final Projection:
The frontcourt returns Mike Morrison, a 6-9 senior. He is a decent interior scorer, but will be asked to do more scoring this year, especially while Copes is working on getting adjusted to life in the CAA. If Copes does not turn into a scoring threat this year, Morrison will need to do so. However, with Copes, Morrison and Pearson, George Mason has a strong frontcourt that should be a great rebounding team. Paris Bennett and Johnny Williams are a pair of forwards who can come in and eat up some fouls and at least play some tough defense. Those two will have to provide a majority of the minutes off the bench in the frontcourt, but they should be ready to play an increased role. There are some questions that go along with a coaching change, but this is a talented team that has all the pieces to win another CAA title…and a trip to the NCAA Tournament will follow.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Andre Cornelius, Senior, Guard, 9.5 points per game
Vertrail Vaughns, Sophomore, Guard, 4.5 points per game
Ryan Pearson, Senior, Forward, 14.2 points per game
Mike Morrison, Senior, Forward, 6.8 points per game
Erik Copes, Freshman, Center, DNP last season

Madness 2011 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#61 Erik Copes

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