In 2010-11, Jim Larranaga may have his best team since the Final Four run. (Icon SMI)
By Steven Jung
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
George Mason Patriots
Last Season: 17-15 (12-6)
Key Losses: Kevin Foster, Louis Birdsong
Head Coach: Jim Larranaga
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Andre Cornelius 5-10 Jr.
SG: Cam Long 6-4 Sr.
SF: Luke Hancock 6-5 So.
PF: Ryan Pearson 6-6 Jr.
C: Mike Morrison 6-9 Jr.
Key Reserves: Isaiah Tate 6-4 Sr. SG, Sherrod Wright 6-4 So. SG, Johnny Williams 6-8 So. C, Bryon Allen 6-3 Fr. SG, Jonathan Alredge 6-9 Fr. C
Before Jim Larranaga took over at George Mason prior to the 1997-98 season, the Patriots had seven consecutive losing seasons dating back to the 1991-92 season. Minus his first year, Larranaga has had a winning record every year, including eight postseason tournament berths and four NCAA tournaments, headlined by the unforgettable Final Four run in 2006.
Last year was truly a "what if" year for George Mason. During the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament, George Mason jumped out to a 21-8 lead against 6th-ranked Villanova and held a four-point lead with 53 seconds left. However, late 3-pointers by Maalik Wayns and Isaiah Armwood stunned the Patriots for a 69-68 Villanova victory. They also lost by eight to Georgia Tech and by one to Dayton in the non-conference schedule. In conference play in the Colonial Athletic Association, George Mason started off on fire, winning 10 of its first 11 games. The Patriots fell apart by losing five of seven to finish conference play. These losses included a four-point loss at Georgia State, a three-point loss to William and Mary and a two-point loss to Northeastern.
There is plenty of optimism this year for George Mason. Minus the departures of senior forward Louis Birdsong (2.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and sophomore forward Kevin Foster (4.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), who is transferring to Central Florida Community College, the Patriots return everyone. George Mason brings in two freshmen in shooting guard Bryon Allen and center Jonathan Alredge. Allen comes in with the reputation as a premier scorer. Alredge may compete for a starting spot, but nevertheless should get major minutes because of the lack of depth in the frontcourt.
George Mason’s best returning player is senior guard Cam Long (12.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.1 apg). He led the Patriots in scoring, assists and steals last year. Simply put, when Long played well, the team won. In losses, Long shot just 27 percent. In wins, he made 47 percent of his shots. Last year, he had an inconsistent shooting season, making only 38 percent overall and 32 percent from 3-point territory. As a sophomore, however, Long made 46 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range. If Long can shoot with the efficiency he shot with two years ago, expect him to have numbers rivaling the top mid-major players in the country.
Junior Andre Cornelius (9.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) will be listed as the starting point guard. However, Cornelius is a scoring guard, and a good one at that. He averaged just 1.6 assists last year. Cornelius is a very good shooter, making 43 percent of his 3-pointers last year. Though he is not a great passer, he will have to pass with more efficiency. He had more turnovers than assists in each of his first two years. At small forward, sophomore Luke Hancock (7.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg) should have the advantage. Hancock is one of the more talented players in the conference. He is solid in many areas. He shot 50 percent overall, was fourth on the team in rebounding and second in assists. Hancock is definitely a candidate to have a breakout season.
Up front, George Mason will start juniors Ryan Pearson (11.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Mike Morrison (8.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg). Pearson is an inside-outside threat. His outside game is inconsistent at best, as he made just 14-of-49 3-pointers but shot 49 percent on 2-point attempts. He led the Patriots in rebounding last year. Morrison is the conventional big man. He is great around the basket, making 56 percent of his field goal attempts. However, Morrison is a very poor free throw shooter, making just 49 percent last year. That percentage is up from 30 percent from his freshman year, but it is definitely an area of concern for a team that shot just 64 percent from the free throw line as a team.
Off the bench, George Mason has very good depth in the backcourt with Isaiah Tate (4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Sherrod Wright (5.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg), Vertrail Vaughns (1.5 ppg) and Rashad Whack (1.7 ppg). Alongside freshman Jonathan Alredge, George Mason will have Johnny Williams (2.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg) and Paris Bennett up front.
On both sides of the floor, George Mason will have to improve to have at large hopes this year. Last year, the Patriots averaged only 11.8 assists per game and 13.7 turnovers