Coming off a loss at Bucknell, George Mason looks to rebound this weekend island-style, though there doesn't figure to be tons of toes in the sand time during the Patriots' jaunt to St. Thomas.
Without a pair of suspended sophomores, Paul Hewitt's squad faces Atlantic Sun program Mercer on Friday at 1:30 p.m., the first of three games in four days for the Patriots (1-1). After the meeting with the Bears, Hewitt will have the services of imposing center Erik Copes and swingman Vaughn Gray for the final two games. Before the season, the sophomores were each suspended three games for conduct violations.
The matchup with Mercer stands as potentially one of three games that will boost Mason's all-important RPI. Yes, it's important to live in the moment, especially when you're in, hello, paradise, but this tournament is tremendous opportunity to help the Patriots NCAA Tournament at-large resume.
Following Mercer, George Mason faces either New Mexico, an NCAA Tournament team last season, or Illinois-Chicago. No. 23 Connecticut and Wake Forest loom on the other side of the bracket along with Iona and Quinnipiac. With a little luck, the Patriots could leave the island with three matchups the bracketology community will love in addition to the two already in the can.
Facing a comparable scenario last season in the NIT Tipoff, the Patriots fell to upstart Florida International in the early rounds. That meant rather than playing Virginia Tech, George Mason took on the underwhelming trio of Monmouth, Brown and Albany.
Junior point guard Bryon Allen, the reigning CAA co-Player of the Week, scored five of his 13 points in the final minute of George Mason's season opening win over Virginia. Swingman Sherrod Wright leads the Patriots in scoring (15.5) while shooting 60 percent from the field.
The Bears (2-0) have won their games this season by an average of 37 points, though it's hard to gauge what to make over victories against Sewanee (?) and Oglethorpe (???). There is no mistaking the Macon, Ga. program's accomplishments last season as anything but impressive. Four starters return from a 27-win team that knocked off Georgia Tech during the regular season and captured a postseason championship in the College Insiders.com tournament. Guard Travis Smith (11.5 ppg) leads in scoring, though the Bears are expected to be without All-Conference point guard Langston Hall (ankle).
Beat Mercer and George Mason plays the New Mexico/UIC winner on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Lose and the Patriots second game is 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. Regardless of the path, the third game will be on Monday.