Rather than do a traditional game preview for tonight's George Mason-Virginia matchup tonight at the Patriot Center, we're going notebook style...
*Without suspended center Erik Copes, the Patriots starting five won't look the same against UVA - or the first three games - as it will the rest of the season. Barring injury setbacks, expect Paul Hewitt to trot out forwards Jonathan Arledge, Anali Okoloji and Johnny Williams with Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen in the backcourt, the coach told CSNwashington on Thursday.
*As for a specific key to the Commonwealth Clash (catchy, right? Just made it up. Feel free to use it), look no further than the game's pace, which will be dictated on the defensive end. During the preseason, I wrote about Hewitt's desire for a more up-tempo offensive approach this season even though in 2011-12 the Patriots led the CAA in scoring with 70.4 points per game. Those plans will be tested against the half-court loving Cavaliers, who under coach Tony Bennett led the ACC in scoring defense last year, allowing opponents only 54.2 points per game. In last season's meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia did even better, holding George Mason to 48 points in a 20-point win. On the other side, the Patriots defensive designs won't include the shot-blocking Copes. Even with the physical center available in the previous meeting, Virginia shot 60.5 percent from the floor.
"It’s a case of case which team is more effective on the defensive end," Hewitt said. "Tony's teams historically don't give up a lot of points or easy baskets. We have to grind it out."
*So, the Patriots want to push the ball and have the scoreboard humming (or at least be semi-active).That means having a strong traffic cop of a point guard and one that limits turnovers. Allen had his moments during an up-and-down sophomore campaign -- led the team with 123 assists, but also tied Ryan Pearson with a team-high 89 turnovers -- but will need to find a happy medium against the consistently pesky UVA defenders. The good news is that after missing two weeks with what Hewitt called a pulled muscle in his back, Allen has "looked good over last 3-4 days."
*Virginia's starting lineup may include three freshmen, including former Montrose Christian star swingman Justin Anderson, center Mike Tobey and guard Taylor Barnette. The trio would likely join junior forward Akil Mitchell and junior guard Joe Harris, who takes over the scoring burden now that Mike Scott has moved onto the NBA.
"Joe Harris is obviously a terrific player. Terrific scorer, has size." Hewitt said of the 6-foot-6 who averaged 11.3 points and shot 38 percent from 3-point territory last season.
While the Cavaliers frontcourt lacks a scorer like Scott, a prolific double double machine, Hewitt says the unit "is deeper, more athletic."
*Last season Virginia finally made the long climb back to the NCAA Tournament. George Mason most recently reached the ultimate March Madness in 2011 and of course did the Final Four thing in 2006. Part of Hewitt's plan for getting the green and gold back in the field of 68 this season involved beefing up the non-conference schedule. The push starts Friday, for both teams.
"Great opportunity, but here we are here at the start of season, striving for same thing," Hewitt said. "People here remember '06 and '11. That's what were trying to do starting Friday."
*As for the suspensions to Copes and Vaughn Gray, Hewitt offered no specific details. "Student athletes probably today are probably under more scrutiny than in 25 years of coaching," Hewitt said. "Not an excuse, both made mistakes." Hewitt expects to have both plays back for the second round of the Paradise Jam tournament.