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2011-12 College Basketball Season Preview: George Mason

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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George Mason Patriots (Last Year: 27-7, 16-2 in CAA)

2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:

F/C: Mike Morrison (Sr)/Erik Copes (Fr)/Jonathan Arledge (So)

F: Ryan Pearson (Sr)/Paris Bennett (So)/Johnny Williams (Jr)

G/F: Sherrod Wright (So)/Vaughn Gray (Fr)

SG: Vertrail Vaughns (So)

PG: Byron Allen (So)/Corey Edwards (Fr)/Andre Cornelius (Sr)

Gone: SG-Cam Long, SF-Luke Hancock (transfer-Louisville), G/F-Isaiah Tate, SG-Rashad Whack (transfer-Mount St. Mary's)

2011-12 Outlook:
Andre Cornelius has been suspended indefinitely after being charged with credit card fraud and larceny. There is a real possibility that he may not be reinstated at all, which would be a huge blow for first year head coach Paul Hewitt as he already loses starting wings Cam Long and Luke Hancock.

Hewitt now inherits a very young backcourt that will be asked to play major roles. Vertrail Vaughns and Byron Allen played sparingly as freshmen but could end up as the Patriots' starting backcourt this season. In his limited action, Vaughns proved he can shoot the rock, hitting 33 of his 67 three-point attempts. Freshman Corey Edwards will serve as the team's lone backup guard.

Sherrod Wright was a valuable reserve two seasons ago but missed all of last year due to a shoulder injury. He should start on the wing and is at his best off the bounce. Vaughn Gray is a versatile small forward who should see a decent amount of playing time, especially when Wright is asked to slide over to the two.

Offsetting the uncertainty in the backcourt is the fact that George Mason returns both starters up front and welcome in a highly-touted freshman. Ryan Pearson (6-6) finished second on the team in scoring and lead the team in rebounds last season. Though a bit undersized, he brings physicality to the floor but can also step out and knock down jump shots. Mike Morrison is the other returning starter and is known as more of a role player.

George Mason picked up a big-time recruit with the signing of 6-8, 240 pound Erik Copes. He was a top-60 recruit in the country and should make an immediate impact. Copes plays with great energy, can attack the glass, block shots, and is light on his feet despite his size. Hewitt could elect to go with a bigger lineup at times by playing Copes, Morrison, and Pearson together in the frontcourt. Paris Bennett and Jonathan Arledge saw limited action last year but provide of depth inside. Junior Johnny Williams will likely redshirt this season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

Hewitt also picked up a transfer in Seton Hall forward Anali Okoloji. He will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules but will add quality competition in practice.

For the first time since 1997, someone other than Jim Larranaga will be patrolling the sidelines at George Mason since he left for Miami this offseason. Paul Hewitt had his fair share of success during his 11-year tenure at Georgia Tech but faces a different challenge with the Patriots. How their young, inexperienced backcourt fares will be the determining factor in whether or not Hewitt can lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament.

Player to Watch: Ryan Pearson, PF
Pearson and Morrison will be counted on to provide the leadership for George Mason this season, but it will be Pearson who must emerge as the team's star player. He is an aggressive scorer in the paint but also added range and consistency to his jump shot last season.

Key Non-Conference Games:
  • 11/16 vs. Virginia Tech/Monmouth (Pre-Season NIT)
  • 11/23, 25 possibly vs. Syracuse/Oklahoma State/Stanford (Pre-Season NIT)
  • 12/6 at Virginia
  • 12/30 at Charleston
  • 2/17-19 vs. TBA (ESPN BracketBusters)

    Predicted CAA Finish: 1st

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