Hewitt readying Mason for his up-tempo designs

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Hewitt readying Mason for his up-tempo designs

The ball moving north and south with a quickened pace, the players creating an up-tempo scenario by taking fast break opportunities when obviously presented and sometimes when they are not.

This is Paul Hewitt basketball. Mason Nation caught a glimpse of the coach's rapid play designs last season, but not the full throated scheme.

Assuming the Patriots youthful backcourt breaks from their turnover-heavy habits, expect a more sustained look at Hewitt's push-the-ball approach during the 2012-13 campaign --now that half-courters Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison have graduated.

It's blasphimous to suggest the Patriots are better off now that their two long-time interior stalwarts have used up all their eligibility. Nobody is doing that here. Clearly replacing Pearson, the burly CAA Player of the Year, and a defensive stalwart like the lengthy Morrison is a sizable task.

That's why going forward, for the growth of the program under the second-year coach, consider Pearson and Morrison's departure as necessary evils.

In his first season on the Fairfax campus, Hewitt gently imposed his hardwood ideals on a team coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance under his predecessor Jim Larranaga. Wisely, the former Georgia Tech coach played to his team's strengths. At George Mason that meant keeping Pearson and Morrison in their comfort zones which meant more half-court action - and less running than many of Hewitt's previous teams,.

With his second recruiting class now in the mix, with the benefit of having an entire off-season rather than the mini version he had following Larranaga's surprise departure, with another year of teaching his playbook, Hewitt moves closer to his desired style. 

"I wouldn't mind having Ryan and Mike back," Hewitt exclaimed at the CAA media day earlier this month before acknowledging the potential benefits of change. "We relied on those guys so much last year, we probably didn't play as fast as we could have or wanted too."

That's not to say the Patriots sat on the ball; George Mason led the CAA in scoring with 70.4 points per game.

The Patriots were also among the worst when it came to coughing up possession.

George Mason's 15.2 turnovers per game average ranked among the CAA's highest. Some games, Hewitt surely wished the team only committed 15 turnovers. In three of their four non-conference losses, including a 20-point defeat at Virginia, the Patriots turned the ball over at least 20 times. George Mason opens the upcoming season hosting Virginia on Nov. 9.

In a win or go home scenario against VCU in the CAA Tournament, Mason committed 17 turnovers, eight coming during an epic 22-0 first half run by the winning Rams.

"That's a big problem that we had last year," Hewitt said. "The offseason workouts will help us improve that, but we've been making it a point of emphasis through practice. We keep harping on the fact that we turned the ball over so much."

In his first season as a starter, point guard Bryon Allen matched Pearson with a team-high 89 turnovers. Over the Patriots final four games, the Largo native lost possession a whopping 4.5 per contest. Allen's freshman backup Corey Edwards committed 2.2 turnovers per game despite averaging 15 minutes.

With a year of experience now on their resume, the coach expects improvement from his primary ball handlers and decision makers. Even without his top two scorers from last season's 24-win team, Hewitt believes his current edition can score more. That is, if they come to value possession.

"Even with all of the turnovers we were the highest scoring team in the CAA," Hewitt said. "If we can hold onto the ball a little more, get more shots, hey, maybe we add another 5-10 points to our scoring average per game."

Career-best night from Marial Shayok leads No. 16 Virginia past Georgia Tech

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Career-best night from Marial Shayok leads No. 16 Virginia past Georgia Tech

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Marial Shayok is emerging as the scorer Virginia so badly needs, and making his elevation to the starting lineup look brilliant.

Shayok had a career-best 19 points, the third time in four games he has set or tied his career high, and No. 16 Virginia used a 22-7 run spanning halftime to beat Georgia Tech 62-49 on Saturday.

"Today the guys were finding me and I was just catching and shooting and the ball was going in," Shayok said.

In his first start four games ago, he scored 17 points. He matched it the next game, and then set a new high on 6-for-9 shooting against the Yellow Jackets.

"He's wired to score," coach Tony Bennett said. "He can play off the bounce."

London Perrantes added 11 points, all in the first 7 minutes, for the Cavaliers (15-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), Devon Hall had 10 and Jack Salt had five points, six rebounds, a steal, a block and played harassing defense on Georgia Tech scoring leader Ben Lammers.

"There were a few story lines but I don't think there were any bigger than how Jack impacted the game," Bennett said after Lammers was 3 for 12 and scored seven points, less than half his 14.9 average. "Jack was just there. He was a presence."

The victory was the fourth straight for Virginia.

Josh Okogie led the Yellow Jackets (11-8, 3-4) with 14 points, all but one in the first half, and fellow freshman Justin Moore had 10.

The Yellow Jackets pulled within 29-28 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half, but Virginia scored the last six points of the half and started the second half with a 16-7 run to lead 51-35 with under 10 minutes to play.

"We've been pretty good at answering runs, but we didn't answer that one," first-year coach Josh Pastner said

Six DMV teams featured in Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology

Six DMV teams featured in Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology

BY TYLER BYRUM

Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Maryland are no brainers that if they keep up the pace that each team is on, they will be dancing in the NCAA tournament come March. In Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology (released on Jan. 19), he has also included three other DMV teams, two hailing from the Atlantic 10, Richmond and VCU, and Morgan State

All six are contenders for their respective conference championship, but according to Lunardi, only Richmond and Morgan State from the list of six would need to win the automatic berth to make the big dance. Every team has a different reason to be in the tournament and it is looking more likely than not that at least five of these teams will be able to maintain their standing. 

If all six can make it another month an a half, it will surpass last season's four teams (Maryland, VCU, Virginia, and Hampton) to make the tournament.

Virginia (#4 seed, ACC):

The Cavaliers (14-3, 4-2) not only have the benefit of being in the best conference in college basketball, but also have made quite a name for themselves the past handful of seasons. With no losses to sub-50 RPI teams, No. 16 Virginia is a near lock to be in the NCAA tournament, barring a huge end of season collapse. In the ACC, they sit at fourth in the conference standings, where it is anticipated that a total of 11 teams in that conference will be in the tournament.

Maryland (#7 seed, Big Ten): 

Quietly the No. 25 Terrapins are becoming one of the best team's in the country after there was some skepticism to start the season. Maryland (16-2, 4-1) has taken advantage of their moderate schedule and has seven top-100 RPI wins, but so far lack the signature win that solidly puts the team in the tournament. Next week the team will get into the heat of conference play where for the remainder of the season will have home and aways against Minnesota, Ohio State, and road games in Wisconsin and Northwestern. A key for the Terps going forward will to continue to win the games they are supposed to win and hopefully squeak one out against the aforementioned teams. 

Virginia Tech (#10 seed, ACC):

Another benefactor of the dominant ACC, Virginia Tech appears to be on track for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 when they lost in the second round. Winning all the games the Hokies (14-4, 3-3) were supposed to win in the first half of the season, and then pulling out a shocker at home against then No. 5 Duke, Virginia Tech is looking solid at this point in the season. The team still has a loaded ACC schedule to get through, including two games against Virginia and a road trip to Chapel Hill, but if the team can finish at or above .500 in conference play they should remain in. Enough has been done early on to prove the team's worth. 

Richmond (#14 seed, Atlantic 10):

The Spiders (11-6, 5-0) do not have a strong at-large resume. Earlier in the year the team had a terrible loss to Oral Roberts, currently at 228 in the national RPI, and did not get a big win to combat the loss. In fact the program's best out-of-conference win this season was over Boston College, which stands at a 165 RPI. Since though, the team has gotten hot in Atlantic 10 play winning five straight and four of those wins being their best on the season. The team does not necessarily have to win the conference championship to make the tournament, but need to continue their stretch in conference and get a couple wins against the top teams, Dayton, Rhode Island, and VCU. 

VCU (#11 seed, Atlantic 10):

Listed as on of the 'last four in,' VCU (14-5, 4-2) took a big hit in their NCAA aspirations after a devastating buzzer-beater loss to Fordham on Wednesday. Their best win is at home against Middle Tennessee, but fell short against Baylor, Illinois, and Georgia Tech to gather another strong victory. Last week the team was looking like a near lock to the big dance, but back-to-back sub-100 RPI losses has the team's outlook for the rest of the season uncertain. If the Rams can avoid anymore upsets, they should remain on the good side of the bubble at the end of the year.

Morgan State (#16 seed, MEAC):

There is no possible way for the Bears (7-10, 4-0) to make it without winning the MEAC championship and even that will be a tall task for this team. From their undefeated conference record, none of the wins came against one of the conference's top five programs. It does not appear likely they will still be on this list a week from now, but a team to keep an eye one once the conference tournament comes around for an automatic berth.

Other possible tournament teams:

From an at-large bid perspective, no other team's in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington D.C. are within striking range. With the strength of their respective conferences, George Washington, Georgetown, and George Mason have outside shots if they were to run the table, or come close to it, and get in the bubble conversation. For all teams though, that seems highly unlikely.

Two other schools have the best chance of making the list seven or eight teams with UMBC and Old Dominion possibly winning their conference championship, the America East, and Conference USA respectively.

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