Coming into this season the George Mason University basketball team faced a season of question marks. How would they get past the loss of last season’s stars - Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell – both of whom graduated? Lingering questions were asked if redshirt senior forward Darryl Monroe could recover from toe surgery that cost him all of last season. Finally, how would the Patriots freshman – highly touted point guard Andre “DJ” Cornelius, Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison – contribute? As Mason prepares to take on Williams and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. tonight the reigning CAA tournament champions are looking for the their best start in CAA history, 6-0, and trying to improve to 13-3, a record that would equal the programs best start since the 1983-1984 season.
The Patriots, despite being on the cusp of history, have shown there signs of youth and adjusting to one another. They lost by six points to Hampton, No. 224 RPI, floundered a lead and an eventual overtime loss at Liberty, No. 164 RPI, and became turnover prone at Dayton, blowing a late lead that would have easily been the Patriots standout win on the season thus far.
The Tribe’s last game against the Patriots was in Richmond, Va. last March in the CAA championships. Final score: Mason 68, William and Mary 59. After having a slew of players return from last season’s surprising CAA tournament run, the Tribe has been inconsistent this season. They are 5-9 and have six losses to teams with an RPI under 100. They also have suffered back-to-back home conference losses to Old Dominion University and James Madison University.
In a game that the Patriots should win, they could see a focused Tribe squad looking to snap the road teams five game winning streak on their come court. For William and Mary a victory would give them a signature win before venturing on a three game CAA road trip. A loss could put them in a continued tailspin that they may not be able to recover from until tournament time. For the Patriots, a win is vital as there next three opponents – home to rival Madison and away games at Northeastern and Virginia Commonwealth University next week – pose there toughest stretch of the season as all three teams have a winning record.
The question marks of the beginning of the season need to continue to improve in order for Mason to succeed tonight and its next three games. Monroe leads the CAA in field goal percentage – 64.6 percent – is second in rebounds at 8.9 – and averages 10.6 points per game. The three freshman average a combined 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one block per contest. The uncertain starting lineup has been rarely changed this year as a consistent eight man rotation has been used.
Look for Mason to overwhelm and wear out the taller William and Mary team in the second half and win by double figures.