What a long, strange trip it's been for George Mason basketball this season.
The story of the 2012-13 season for the Patriots so far this season has been consistency, or rather, a lack thereof. Never before have I seen a team with such a split personality.
On the one hand, you have the good George Mason team.
This team gives one of the best teams in the country everything it can handle. This team scratches and claws their way back to a victory in a hostile environment. This team blows out lesser opponents without thinking twice about it.
On the other hand, there's the bad George Mason team.
The scary part is that this Jekyll and Hyde effect is starting to take place within the same game recently.
So the million-dollar question surrounding Mason basketball becomes, what's the problem?
I, along with many Mason fans, worried about what the loss of Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison would mean for this team. It wasn't so much the loss of points that worried me—I had rationalized how their production would be made up—but rather the loss of the leadership that these two provided the team with last season.
Every great Mason team has that leader you can point to. The one who is vocal on and off the court, who wills their team to victory when the chips are down and who gives their team that killer instinct when they have an opponent on the ropes.
I'm talking about guys like Lamar Butler, Cam Long and of course Pearson and Morrison. These were the guys who made sure that Mason came out ready to play every day, no matter who the opponent was.
And sure, some of this seeming lack of motivation at times can fall on head coach Paul Hewitt as well. It's his job to make sure his team is fully prepared to play, no matter the situation.
But when you watch Mason games, do you see that definitive leader on the court, who not only takes charge of a game hanging in the balance, but makes sure his team is ready to do so as well?
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to crucify our players for this. Being that type of leader can be difficult, and the reasonable fan understands that Mason is still in the early stages of this two-year odyssey with virtually the same bunch.
Really, the frustration that fans have had with Mason is that the talent is clearly there. It's not like they are a team who is just overmatched night in and night out by their opponents; that would make struggles almost understandable.
But instead, Mason has freshman Patrick Holloway, who is becoming a star before our very eyes. They have Jonathan Arledge and Corey Edwards, who have made amazing strides over the course of the first half of the season. They have Sherrod Wright, who will have a legitimate case by season's end to be CAA Player of the Year.
And yet, despite all of these players with fantastic upsides, here they sit at 9-7 overall and 2-2 in conference play, and you can point directly to effort as the culprit.
Now, can Mason turn this around? Of course they can. As I said before, clearly the talent level and ability to perform is there.
Do I expect this year's version of Mason basketball to match that feat? No. You have to be some sort of crazy to ever expect a stretch of domination like that.
But do I think that this team can go on a similar run? Absolutely.
Look, I'm a diehard fan and as frustrated as any other supporter of Mason basketball, but we all need to take a step back for a moment and realize that there is still a ton of basketball yet to be played.
The narrative of this season has not yet been completed. Whether or not this story has a happy ending, though, will rely solely on how much Mason's players want it to.
For George Mason basketball opinions, news, and updates, follow Joe Campione on Twitter @jcamp459