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It hasn't been a great couple of months for George Mason basketball

George Mason Basketball: It hasn't been a great couple of months for George Mason basketball

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It hasn't been a great couple of months for George Mason basketball

Back in early March the George Mason Patriots were flying high and achieving feats that even bested the 2006 Final Four squad. They finished 16-2 in conference play and held the nation's longest active winning streak for weeks until eventually falling to VCU in the CAA tournament semifinals. Despite the early exit from the conference tournament the Patriots still earned an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament as an #8 seed, the highest seed ever achieved in school history. 

The team went on to face Villanova in their first game in Cleveland and we all know how it ended.  Sophomore Luke Hancock had a heroic three-pointer to all but seal the victory for George Mason and giving them their first NCAA tournament win since 2006. After which fans had nothing by high hopes for Jim Larranaga and the Patriots as they began to break out their Final Four t-shirts and hats.  But as we all know soon after Hancock sank that three-pointer and George Mason became that first round darling again things started to head south for the team. Things are not spiraling out of control but they aren't good.

Let's recap:

Luke Hancock gets a food illness before the Ohio State game. Minutes before the tip-off of the Patriots second tournament game we learned from local media that Luke Hancock wasn't even at the arena warming up due to an illness.  Apparently it was so bad he could barely get out of bed and the team started the game without him.  The hero of the win over Villanova and all around "glue guy" was sidelined leaving the already over-matched Patriots a man short. We later learned it was some sort of food illness/poisoning and it gave us another reason to hate the city of Cleveland.

George Mason gets absolutely dominated by Ohio State in their second tournament game. The excitement didn't last long from the thrilling Villanova win as the under-manned Patriots got throttled by the Buckeyes three-point shooting and strong inside play. There was not an area of the game the Patriots weren't dominated in. After the dust settled the boxscore showed a 98-66 beat down that was the team's worst tournament loss in school history.  

Head coach Jim Larranaga bolts for University of Miami and the ACC. After 14 years in Fairfax and bringing a program out of the CAA basement to NCAA glory, head coach Jim Larranaga left for Miami.  Fans and media were shocked as most thought he would end his career in green and gold but he stated the lure of the ACC, where he started as an assistant at UVA, was just too much of an opportunity to turn down. Later we found out Larranaga and athletic director Tom O'Connor didn't quite see eye-to-eye on where the basketball program was going at George Mason.  That left fans wondering if Larranaga could have been retained if the school had showed more signs of investing in the basketball program. Which also brought up the question of how committed the university is to having a continually winning basketball program.

Paul Hewitt is hired, mixed reviews follow.  Overall the hiring of Paul Hewitt is probably the best the program could have done to keep things running smoothly.  However the fact remains that they have taken on a coach that hasn't owned a winning conference record since 2004.  A lot fans wanted a young up and comer, the next Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens maybe. Instead the program got someone whose last employer  is coughing up $7.2 million just to get rid of them. Not quite the back story you want from your new head coach, especially considering he often possessed rosters with future NBA talent. Can he replicate Larranaga's success in the CAA? It's certainly going to be quite a task for him.

Photo by John Powell
Luke Hancock transfers to Louisville. Paul Hewitt was able to retain both of Larranaga's 2011 recruits but not returning starter Luke Hancock. This one hurt almost as much as Larranaga leaving because the hopes for next season were high with the squad returning most of their core from a promising season. It didn't help that the speculation of whether he was staying or going went on for what seemed like weeks. While Larranaga didn't have much coaching left, an encore to follow up the 2010-2011 would really boost the program and junior Luke Hancock was expected to be a big part of that. At the time media members were projecting Mason in their Top 30 rankings for next season. He was probably the most irreplaceable guy on the team other than maybe Ryan Pearson. He just simply made things happen and would have been the team's top assist leader and second scorer. He and Cam Long facilitated a lot of the Patriots' offense in one form or another.  With Long gone a lot was expected of Hancock in the backcourt entering into this season.

Johnny Williams is most likely going to redshirt this season.  The promising junior forward showed flashes of his scoring talent against Villanova but off season shoulder surgery might very well keep him off the court this year. There's a quote from Hewitt in yesterday's Post article on the redshirt situation saying "It's very much a possibility". Fans were hoping for a break season from Johnny, who might not be a bruiser like freshman Erik Copes but definitely has a scoring touch the Patriots will need after Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison leave. It's great to keep him for another season after those two leave in retrospect but it does leave the team a little thin at forward this year. Many times last season I wondered how much better the team could have been if Sherrod Wright was playing and I have a feeling I will be wondering that about Williams this year.

Photo via John Powell
Senior guard Andre Cornelius is arrested for credit card fraud. And this brings up to the present where we are only left with more question marks heading into the season.  Mason Madness is 24 days away and yesterday we found out the team's starting point guard was arrested and summarily suspended by the university. It's dark cloud over the program and something they don't need as they will be looking for a new identity in this post-Larranaga era. Even with Cornelius, who isn't quite a true point guard, the backcourt had many question marks.  I talked about the point guard position back in June and now it's even more up in the air. Best case scenario is that Cornelius misses a few games at the beginning of the season, worst case is that he's is dismissed from the team. Either way they are most likely going to have to try to win games without their most experienced guard in the rotation. As one of three seniors on the team with a new coach there was no doubt that the staff was expecting him to be one of the team's leaders. Cornelius hasn't really played that role in his career here and if the charges against him are true than the point is more than validated.  Regardless, it will most likely open the door for a few young players, especially sophomore Bryon Allen and freshman Corey Edwards, who played well over the summer.

Things can only go up from here right?


Anonymous Andy said...

and johnny williams is most likely out for season

3:04 PM  
Anonymous gmuhoops said...

I had that in my plans and forgot to put it in haha. Just added it. Thanks.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Charlie T said...

Williams should never red shirt. He needs to play,prove himself against real competition,practice hard and understand he has some real gifts. If he is truly hurt then sure but if not then he is cheating only himself. Love his game but not his mind set. Hope he proves me wrong. Do hope things turn out right for Andre. Its really time for him to be truthful,humble with a few prayers thrown in. All the rest so be it. We have a schedule to play and true fans will support it.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous gmuhoops said...

I think Williams is in a situation similar to what Sherrod Wright was in last year at this time. He could start the season with the injury miss a few games and hopefully be able to contribute for the majority of the games or just redshirt and get back to full strength without losing a year. I'm sure it's not an easy choice to for staff and the player to make because if you start playing in games you risk not being eligible for a medical redshirt.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

The only question I have is...Who the heck is gonna throw the alley-oops to Mike Mo?

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Matt K. said...

Honestly I think its been a few tough months, but its a matter of how the team reacts.  WE dont' know how the bit with Cornelius will play out, and I am thinking that because of what he did (supposedly $60 on a charge card) he may get off with some community service and a small suspension.  With that being said, if you take him out of the equation Mason has a lot of inexperience and unproven talent.  Hewitt has his work cut out for him, but I think this could be a good chance for players like Bryan Allen and even our freshman to really step up in the face of adversity.  If anything, this could be a season similiar to two years ago, and then next year things get much better.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Flex said...

On the plus side of things, we got a nice new big man coach and Copes along with him. I think that offsets a lot of our bad fortune as it was completely unexpected. As bad as things look, I would put my money on this years team over last years. I remember when Wright had something like 26 points in one game his freshman year and he made it look easy. That's the Wright i think will be returning this year. Once our younger guys shake their nerves, the show they put on is going to be unreal. And Morrison is finally going to be where he should have been all along. Under that basket for rebounds. Larranaga's system sure has me scratching my head about why Mo was passing the ball from the point when we didn't have anyone under the basket to get rebounds. That was about the time I started to lose faith in his coaching strategy. Don't tell me you all didn't wonder the same thing.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Delichen03 said...

on the bright side, at least Mason gets a little publicity along with UCLA....haha.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Arriellegreen said...

Thank you for sharing about George Mason another info. Like to watch their team games. :)

PBA News

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

I think Luke did a lot last year but he's by no means irreplaceable and as far as team leadership goes Ryan is definitely the guy.  He gets it done on both ends and is a senior.  If Luke was here Ryan should still be the leader of this squad!  If Andre doesn't get a major suspension then we should be ok.  One of the things to think about is if we lose his poise in early games that give us a chance to roll Tech and try to meet up with Cuse we lose opportunities to build good wins in the non-conf schedule.  That's not good.  As far as Morrison goes, more boards would be fine but close to the hoop he was rarely scoring, missing easy lay ups or getting fouled and missing free throws.  Having him in the high post and Pearson down low was a much better option because Ryan can finish!  I love Mike's spirit but he's gotta use the 6'9 to score!!!   

9:08 AM  
Anonymous worstposterever said...

Keeping Morrison off the block was a strategy to help prevent double teams on Pearson. If Pearson was double teamed, it left Mike open to roll off the top block for an alley-oop dunk (his only shot). This strategy killed two birds with one stone. Considering, offensively, we had one of the highest efficiency ratings in all of college basketball; i think Coach L. should be remembered as a genius on both ends of the floor.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Flex said...

If what you all say about Morrison is true, that he can't use his size for anything useful like rebounding and scoring, what was he ever doing on the floor? As a decoy for Pearson you say? That's a terrible waste for a guy his size. We clearly have better ball handlers on the team. What were we doing with a guy with the ball sitting at the point that can't dribble or shoot. I thought it was hilarious because the majority of the time, the other team didn't even send out a guy to cover him. He just sat out there all alone til he could find someone to pass to. The other team always took the opportunity to try and intercept the pass because they knew it was coming. Our offensive rebounding was terrible and it cost us more than a few games (not just last season). We would have done much better with him under the basket if for no other reason than rebounding.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Chris Douthat said...

This was such a depressing post to read. 

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Taylormade703 said...

Larranaga did not "bolt".  You could make the argument he didn't choose to "leave" for that matter.  We just didn't keep him, for whatever reasons. 

Bottom line is Coach L is a class guy all the way around.  Bottom line is any true Mason fan will appreciate him for what he did (remember Westhead and Nestor???) 

Without Coach L's leadership and vision we would still be middle of the pack in the CAA and average 3000 people at games.  We would not be on the national radar.  We would not have games on ESPN.  We wouldn't have additional publicity, which leads to more enrollment, which leads to additions on campus, which leads to more prestige for the school.

People who diss Larranaga sound like the boy in high school who dumped his girlfriend, and then his girlfriend moved on and he's all bitter.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous c hirsch said...

Um, he coached us and now coaches Miami. He wasn't fired, he left for another job. I think that would define leaving. I like Larranaga as much as the next guy but it isn't a criticism to say he left us.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Mike O said...

Larranaga left as a business decision because O'Connor wouldn't move on the athletic budget and because of the vacuum left Merten's upcoming retirement. Basically he saw the writing on the wall and knew he didn't have everything he needed to go out a winner. He earned the right to retire coaching in a major conference in a pleasant climate but Mason also wasn't aggressive enough in building on his team's efforts in order to keep him.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous gmuhoops said...

Spot on

3:28 PM  
Anonymous c hirsch said...

Yes, he left us, as I said. I didn't say his reasons weren't valid.

Although good luck to him now that Syracuse and Pitt are joining the ACC, more schools that he can lose to.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous overrated14 said...

Come on Pearson did not pass out on a double team or even triple team in some cases.  What is wrong with you guys?  {Pearson rarely passes once he gets the ball

10:25 PM  

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