George Mason: A New Era Begins in Virginia

George Mason Patriots Men's College Basketball

George Mason: A New Era Begins in Virginia

Five years ago, the Colonial Athletic Association first made itself known in men’s basketball circles, sending fans across the country scurrying to their computers to find the answer to two questions.

Where the hell is George Mason, and where did this school come from to get to the NCAA Final Four?

Prior to that magical 2005-06 season, George Mason had plenty of success. Between 1985 and 1990, the Patriots actually had four 20-win seasons and two tournament appearances. George Mason lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1989 and fell in the second round of the NIT in 1986.

Even so, campaigns like those didn’t mean the Patriots would be in the Final Four in 2006. That year, George Mason shocked everybody as the 11th-seeded underdogs took out Michigan State and North Carolina in the first two rounds, bounced Wichita State in the regional semifinals and then shocked Connecticut in the regional final. Florida may have beaten the Patriots 73-58 in the national semifinals, but George Mason made its presence known.

The school earned more respect even as it fell back to more realistic numbers in terms of overall standings. Still, that 27-8 season was followed by a 23-11 mark in 2007-08 and a 22-11 record in the 2008-09 campaign. Last year, the Patriots finally captured some of that 2006 magic and recorded another 27-win season before falling to Ohio State in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Now, the man behind the Patriots’ meteoric rise over the last several years is gone. Jim Larranaga ended a 15-year run with George Mason when he accepted the job at Miami (FL), trading in a low-profile appearance for a higher one as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Replacing Larranaga is Paul Hewitt, who himself is a longtime coach that was also looking for a new school in the offseason… but not by choice. Hewitt was fired by Georgia Tech after 11 seasons, but he does have a 252-181 overall record and some success with the Yellow Jackets. His teams made five appearances in the NCAA tournament, so he isn’t exactly green when it comes to basketball.

It’s going to be strange not to see Larranaga on the George Mason sideline, but the memories of 2006 will linger in many Patriot fans’ minds for a long time.

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