Mason, UVA battle for tempo in Commonwealth clash

bryonallen.jpg

Mason, UVA battle for tempo in Commonwealth clash

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.

Fuente ready to take Virginia Tech back to prominence

Fuente ready to take Virginia Tech back to prominence

Taking over for a legend is never easy, but that's the position Justin Fuente now finds himself at Virginia Tech.

Frank Beamer built the football program at Virginia Tech into a national power during his 29 seasons in Blacksburg. Fuente now takes over looking to preserve the Hokies' 23-year bowl streak and return to the team to the heights reached during Beamer's peak.

“I feel pressure to do a good job because Virginia Tech football means a lot to a tremendous amount of people," Beamer said. "It’s important."

RELATED: Hokie kicker nails 70-yard field goal

With that comes a lot of expectations. Fuente wouldn't have it any other way.

"It’s great to coach at a place with expectations," Fuente said at the ACC Football Kickoff. "There is a lot that comes with that and I understand that. That’s just the way it is. But it’s fun to coach at a place that means so much to so many people."

Fuente's task is made more difficult as Virginia Tech finds itself at a crossroad of sorts. After eight straight seasons of 10 or more wins, the Hokies have not won more than eight since 2011. Rather than competing for ACC Championships, Virginia Tech has had to battle just to reach bowl eligibility.

For Fuente, he recognizes that fans do not just expect him to extend the bowl streak. His job is to return the Hokies to national prominence

"We’re taking over a program that is not where we want it to be," Fuente said. "When I say ‘we,’ I mean Hokie Nation. We want it to be back to where it was ... but we will get it there. I know that for a fact.”

MORE VIRGINIA TECH: Hokies driven to 'get the job done' during the offseason

Bronco Mendenhall is not interested in a 'honeymoon period' at UVa

usatsi_9394751.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Bronco Mendenhall is not interested in a 'honeymoon period' at UVa

Going from BYU to a power conference like the ACC is quite the jump for Bronco Mendenhall, but so far the new Virginia head football coach has seemed right at home.

Mendenhall has been tasked with changing the culture at a Virginia program that has been to a bowl game only once since 2008. The difficulty of that task became apparent to Mendenhall immediately as he met the team.

"The team that was in front of me when I arrived at UVA, their eyes would not make contact," Mendenhall said at the ACC Football Kickoff. "Their heads were down. They looked right on the verge and acted right on the verge of despair. I remember changing what my message was to them, what I had prepared, when I saw that, working to inspire at that point."

RELATED: HOKIE KICKER NAILS 70-YARD FIELD GOAL

To do that, he is emphasizing will and determination rather than just football.  At practice, players do not get numbers because they have not yet earned that right. Mendenhall wants the team to build its confidence through hard work before worrying about X's and O's.

"We are a football program that bases will before skill," Mendenahll said. "We work from the inside out. Eventually we'll play good football. But we work on toughness and effort. We've made significant inroads in that regard. We think the football will catch up and catch up relatively quickly."

After watching their team finish with a losing record in seven of the last eight seasons, you can forgive Virginia fans for wondering just how quickly the football will catch up. Mendenhall's answer: pretty darn quickly.

Despite the talk of building up confidence and having to change the culture at Virginia, Mendenhall's ultimate message was clear. His expectations for the team remain high and the turnaround in Charlottesville will be swift.

"I would say at the University of Virginia, we're ahead of schedule in terms of the culture, with the execution to follow," Mendenhall said. "We'll be working hard this fall camp to make sure, for the players that earn the right to come into fall camp with their conditioning, that they're ready and fit. But we have some football work to do."

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Hokie QB loses cousin in Louisiana shooting

Former GW players come to coach Mike Lonergan's defense amid abuse allegations

usatsi_6931460.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Former GW players come to coach Mike Lonergan's defense amid abuse allegations

George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan is facing serious allegations of verbal and emotional abuse from both a current and former Colonials basketball players, according to a lengthy report from the Washington Post.

But in the wake of the allegations, two of Lonergan's more prominent players have spoken out in defense of their head coach.

Patricio Garino, who will be in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics as a member of Argentina's basketball team, was rather outspoken in defense of his coach, while still implying that Lonergan was rough on his players.

"Anonymous" declarations of some GW players about our program," Garino wrote.

"Coach is very old school and he is gonna push you to the limits to reach your potential, even though we went at each other a few times I knew he did it because he knew I was able to perform better, and that's something that I appreciate now because it got me to where I am today. He built in me the work ethic necessary to play at the highest level, he taught me not to quit under any circumstance and he told me to persevere to reach my goals. I owe a lot of my success to Coach Lonergan and his coaching staff through four years, i truly would be close to playing in the Olympics if it wasn't for him.

Garino played for Lonergan from 2012 until 2016, and averaged a career-best 14.1 ppg this past season. Tough love works for some players, but the issue is that it hardly ever works acroiss the board. Some players do not respond well to it.  

But Garino was not alone in his defense.  Isaiah Armwood, a 6-9 forward who transferred to George Washington in 2012 after two seasons at Villanova, stood by his former head coach too.

There was also Mo Creek, a graduate transfer from Indiana who joined the Colonials in 2013. 

It's clear that Lonergan's methods were not for everyone, but there were those who believe it was for the better.