George Mason Basketball: What We've Learned so Far
Well, this isn't quite the start Mason was expecting.
Going into the year, Mason fans had dreams of grandeur about what to expect. We believed our team would steamroll their first two games, have their big date with Virginia Tech, and maybe even prepare for Syracuse in the Garden.
Unfortunately, things haven't exactly gone as planned for the Patriots.
After a nailbiting victory in their home opener over URI, Mason fell flat against Florida International, a team they were heavily favored against, and never got to have their dream matchup against Virginia Tech.
Through three games, Mason is 2-1, and although it's early, we still have learned a bit about what to expect from the Patriots this season.
Some of it's good, some of it's bad, but all of it is important, so without further adieu, here are a few of the things that Mason fans have learned from the first few games.
This Team Can Score
All Patriots fans knew that new coach Paul Hewitt was going to institute a new, fast-paced offense. The big question was, would it work? The biggest bright spot of this new offense is that when things are clicking, Mason can score at will.
Just look at their first game against URI.
After nearly 18 minutes of play, the Patriots could only muster 19 points, in large part due to shooting an abysmal 8-30 to start the game. After those opening jitters were out of the way though, Mason went on to finish the game with 92 points, which, for those who follow Mason basketball, is a ton of points by Patriot standards.
Granted, Mason had five extra minutes to score that many points, but even without overtime, the Patriots still finished with 80 points in regulation, meaning that they put up over 60 points in only 22 minutes.
If you want your mind to be really blown, of those 92 points, only six of them were by way of the three-pointer.
So what does this mean? The example I gave was only one game, but it still shows that this offense can be very explosive when it wants to be.
Of course Mason has had itheir defensive woes—they let URI's Jamal Wilson go for 38 points and FIU's DeJuan Wright go for 23—but with this offense as strong as it is, I'm almost willing to take my chances in a shootout...almost.
The Guards Are Very Inexperienced
We knew this would be a problem entering the season.
With the departures of Cam Long, Ike Tate and Luke Hancock, along with the suspension of Andre Cornelius, Mason was left with a sophomore with little experience, Bryon Allen, and a true freshman, Corey Edwards, to handle the ball at the point.
Granted, both men have shown flashes of greatness. Allen has proved that he has a nice scoring touch and can drive the ball into the lane seemingly whenever he wants. Edwards played some key minutes in overtime against URI, including coming up with two huge steals when URI had a chance to take the lead.
Where the inexperience really comes through though is in the turnover department.
To be fair, everyone on the team is responsible for this inexcusable turnover problem. The Patriots are currently averaging 19 turnovers a game, including 21 in their terrible loss against FIU. That being said, the first steps towards fixing the problem have to come from the point guards.
Edwards is averaging 2.7 turnovers a game. Allen is averaging four. Both of these numbers are just too high for point guards. A lot of it has come from panicking when facing the full-court press and from just making bad decisions and bad passes. All of these problems relate back to inexperience.
There is some silver lining to this though.
For one, once Cornelius returns, Mason will have an experienced hand to sub into the rotation at point guard. But more than that, the more that Allen and Edwards are on the floor in real game situations, the fewer silly mistakes they will make.
Inexperience is a problem that can only be solved by playing, and after Andre's suspension is up, Mason may very well have three strong point guards, which may turn their current weakness into their biggest strength.
Ryan Pearson Is a Beast
Fear the Beard.
That's what everyone in the country, and especially the CAA, is going to have to do if Ryan Pearson can keep this pace up. Through his first three games, Pearson is averaging a double-double, and is leading the team with 20.7 points and 11.3 rebounds a game.
One of the big questions coming into the season was, with perennial team captain and big shot maker Cam Long gone due to graduation, who would be the one to step up as the "go to" guy?
Pearson has made his case to be the man loud and clear, and it's hard to argue against it so far. He's unorthodox, he has one leg that's longer than the other, he's undersized for his position and he looks like he's never in control of his body, yet this All-CAA Preseason 1st Teamer is getting it done so far.
The only knock on him that I can give so far is that, both in the URI and FIU games—twice against FIU actually—he had the ball in his hands with a chance to tie or win it at the end and couldn't connect.
Part of the issue is that he's had to take three-pointers in those situations, which is not his forte; another part of the problem is that everyone in the arena knows that he's going to get the ball.
Personally, I don't have an issue with Pearson taking the last shot...provided it's not a three-point shot. In those instances, I'd much rather see Sherrod Wright, Vertrail Vaughns or Andre Cornelius, when he returns, take that shot.
But in the long run, that's one minor criticism for what has been an outstanding start to Pearson's senior season, and I can only hope that he can keep it going once CAA play starts.
The Freshmen Are Still Freshmen
I understand this seems like an obvious statement, but hear me out.
Mason had a great recruiting year, bringing in three players—Corey Edwards, Vaughn Gray, and Erik Copes—who were all expected to contribute immediately to the Patriots. Copes, in fact, was the highest-rated recruit in Mason history, and was actually on ESPN's Wooden Award watch alongside Ryan Pearson.
Well, after three games, I think we all need to pump the brakes a bit.
Don't get me wrong, all three are talented and all three, I think, will be big parts of this team by season's end. But these first three games have shown us that it will be a process to acclimate all of them to the college game.
Gray is the one who looks the most green out there—excuse the pun.
He's had the least amount of playing time of the trio, but to be fair, it's not necessarily his fault, seeing as he's playing a forward position which Mason has covered all over with experienced guys. We saw a lot of Gray in Mason's dismantling of Monmouth, and even then Vaughn went 2-9 from the field and finished with six points.
Edwards, as I've said, has had his turnover issues, and in the game against FIU, turned in one of the ugliest stat lines I think I've ever seen—15 minutes, no points, four fouls, six turnovers. He's quick, but there have been moments when he's tended to move too fast for his own good and got himself in trouble.
Copes has lived up to the billing on the defensive end. Copes has put up 4.7 boards a game and is averaging nearly three blocks per game. There have been two spots though, where Copes has struggled: his conditioning and his offense.
Many times we've seen Erik huffing and puffing up and down the court, which I guess is to be expected from a 244-pound freshman. The more concerning aspect has been his offense, which basically involved Erik catching a pass, and turning and shooting from wherever he is.
The good news is, these problems will get resolved. The freshmen are getting ample playing time to work out their issues and have seniors in their positions to help them learn from their mistakes.
By season's end, I anticipate all three of these guys having a big role, but we Mason fans need to be patient and temper our expectations.
This Isn't Last Year
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I'll admit it. I fell into the trap too. We all did. Everyone out there in Mason Nation is guilty of thinking that this year's team would be a carbon copy of last year's.
The 2010-11 Patriots did a lot of great things. They won 16 straight games, blew out every team they were supposed to, won the CAA regular season title, and even beat Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite losing a ton of players and even our coach in the offseason, I, along with the rest of Mason Nation, went along and blindly assumed that everything would be status quo once the season started.
Well, we were wrong.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that this team can't do what last year's team did.Quite the contrary actually. I still believe that Mason will be dancing come March.
That being said, I've realized that it may not be as smooth a ride as it was last year and that it may take some time before this team reaches its full potential.
This year's Mason team is still very young, featuring 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. With the new coach and new system, even the seniors have had a steep learning curve this year.
Just because this year's team has a lot of the same faces as last year's doesn't mean that they are last year's George Mason Patriots. This is an entirely new team with an entirely new style.
However, new doesn't mean worse. In my mind, Mason is still a heavy favorite to do damage and win the CAA, particularly with powers Drexel, ODU and VCU having struggles of their own, and I still feel that Mason can and will be NCAA Tournament bound when it's all said and done.
We, as fans, just need to learn to relax, and enjoy the ride. Don't get me wrong, I'll still be living and dying on every game, but to be fair, there are worse ways to start a season than 2-1, and there is still a lot of basketball to be played.