College hoops preview: George Mason

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College hoops preview: George Mason

There is no point in pretending otherwise: from program defections to the loss of several key graduating players, the CAA men's basketball league is not entering the upcoming season with the sexiest of mid-major reputations. Programs hoping to enhance their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes by picking up those much-needed RPI victories in conference could be left holding the NIT bag.

Clearly, Paul Hewitt did the math. In turn, George Mason's coach stacked the Patriots upcoming non-conference schedule with one resume-boosting opportunity after another.

While the Sherrod Wright-Erik Copes led Patriots are expected to remain in the regular season title mix, no CAA team outside of favorite Drexel figures to land serious national preseason attention. Perennial power Old Dominion appears headed for a transition campaign. Delaware has the look of a dark horse candidate, but the program's lack of roundball tradition makes the Blue Hens a wait and see scenario. VCU now calls the Atlantic 10 home.

Obviously, the Patriots must navigate the always-tricky conference waters in winning style, but a strong effort before CAA play tips off could make the conference tournament title not become an all-or-nothing scenario.

The Patriots have two ACC teams on their schedule, starting with the regular season and home opener against Virginia on Nov. 9. An NCAA Tournament team last season, the Tony Bennett coached Cavaliers remain formidable, but may be without starting guard Jontel Evans for the in-state meeting.

On Dec. 2, George Mason faces Maryland at the Verizon Center in the Patriots first matchup against the Terps since 2004.

Mark Turgeon's aggressive recruiting effort has the College Park program headed in the right direction, but uncertainty exists when looking at the transitioning roster. Also potentially helping Mason's cause is the game will be played on what is essentially a neutral court - Maryland fans haven't exactly packed the Verizon Center in recent years.

Other notable foes among the 12 non-conference games -- all scheduled before New Year's -- include Big East program and 2012 NCAA Tournament participant South Florida, Atlantic 10 schools Rhode Island and Richmond, Missouri Valley stalwart Northern Iowa and perennial Patriot League power Bucknell.

The true wild card in the scheduling lot comes with a beachfront view. George Mason will participate in the Paradise Jam on the island of St. Thomas November 16-19.

The three-game stint starts against Mercer. Beating the Atlantic Sun program won't offer much help from the number-crunching perspective, but with a little luck, the Patriots could leave the island with exactly that. New Mexico, another NCAA Tournament team last season, stands as potential semifinal opponent while Connecticut and Wake Forest loom on the other side of the bracket.

In a comparable scenario last season, the Patriots fell to upstart Florida International during the NIT tipoff. Rather than facing Virginia Tech, George Mason met Monmouth followed by Brown and Albany in the consolation round. That's an RPI tradeoff no bracketoligist can embrace.

Home games against Boston University and UMBC round out this season's out-of-conference matchups.

George Mason opens CAA play Jan. 3 against Northeastern then end the regular season March 2 at Delaware. Drexel comes to the Patriot Center on Jan. 31 -- the Patriots only home date in a five-game span -- before George Mason returns the favor with a trip to the City of Brotherly Love on Valentine's Day.

Putting a number on the amount of non-conference wins needed to separate themselves from the at-large pack would just be a guessing game. We can say that simply putting the Mercer, Boston and UMBC contests on the good side of the ledger is not enough.

We can also say that Hewitt's scheduling has given his squad more than a puncher's chance at being in that at-large mix. If the Patriots can deliver a few knockout blows early on and then clean up in the CAA, there's a good chance George Mason will indeed pick up some bracketology attention.

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

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USA TODAY Sports

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

Virginia has added another quarterback to its roster for next season as Kurt Benkert of East Carolina announced Sunday that he will transter to UVa.

Benkert announced on April 25 that he intended to transfer. The move to Charlottesville will reunite the quarterback with former head coach Ruffin McNeill who now is the defensive line coach for Virginia.

Benkert's bio on ECU's athletcis website lists him as 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and describes him as "A talented and polished signal-caller whose arm strength perhaps already ranks among the best in the history of the Pirate program ." He was named the starter by McNeill at ECU heading into last season, but a knee injury forced Benkert to miss the entire 2015 season.

As a graduate transfer, Benkert will be immediately available for next season. He will also have two years of eligibility remaining.

Benkert will now be thrust into a quarterback competition in Charlottesville with incumbent Matt Johns and fellow transfer Connor Brewer.

RELATED: TWO HOKIES SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY AFTER ARRESTS

Smart move: GW adds Harvard grad transfer

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Smart move: GW adds Harvard grad transfer

Harvard forward Patrick Steeves, a 3-point shooting threat, has committed to George Washington men's basketball program, a source revealed to CSNmidatlantic.com.

The 6-foot-7 Steeves, a native of Montreal, graduates from Harvard next month. He is eligible immediately at GW and has two years of eligibilty remaining. 

Injuries plagued him early in his career with the Ivy League program, but he turned in a solid 2016-17 campaign with averages of 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Steeves shined from long range, sinking 45.8 percent (33 of 72) of his 3-poit attempts.

California, Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Richmond were also after Steeves, accorrding to a source.

Steeves joins a massive contingent coming to help for the 2016-17 season. The Colonials lost six players from a team that won 28 games last season and captured the season-ending NIT championship under coach Mike Lonergan. 

Former Seton Hall transfer Jared Sina is eligible after sitting out last season. The heady guard and Steeves will help offset the perimeter loss of seniors Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald and Alex Mitola. Guards Paul Jorgensen and Anthony Swan transfered out of the program after the season.

Incoming big man recruit Kevin Marfo headlines a five-player class. The Colonials also lost starting center Kevin Larsen to graduation.

Leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Cavanaugh returns along with fellow starting forward Yuta Watanabe.

VIDEO: Brian Mitchell helps Navy QB learn to return punts before draft

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VIDEO: Brian Mitchell helps Navy QB learn to return punts before draft

CSN's Brian Mitchell, one of the best punt returners in NFL history, is helping former Navy QB Keenan Reynolds to reinvent himself in advance of the 2016 NFL Draft. 

While learning to play another position to increase his chances of getting drafted or making a roster, Reynolds showed off his ability to field punts. And he's already pretty good. 

Watch the full segment featuring Mitchell, Reynolds, and CSN's Rob Carlin in the video player above.