The Patriots did not return to the mainland with the Paradise Jam title. It could be months before we learn whether either of George Mason's two victories earned on the island of St. Thomas prove NCAA Tournament resume helpful. Saturday's matchup against winless Boston University (4:00 p.m., Patriot Center) may not provide additional clarity. However, we know this much about the Patriots right now:
- led by guard Sherrod Wright, the Patriots are offensively potent and efficient. Among CAA teams, George Mason ranks first in 3-point shooting and third in field goal percentage.
- Following the return of center Erik Copes and swingman Vaughn Gray, Mason is legitimately deep.Like mixing and matching 12 players without a noticeable drop off in most spots deep.
- The team quickly rebounded from the stunning collapse against New Mexico, one that cost the Patriots a championship game slot, to soundly beat Quinnipiac. Plenty of talking points and questions remain for coach Paul Hewitt to teach his players heading into the non-conference game against the Terriers (0-4), but that's some legitimate mental resolve showed considering how the loss unfolded.
Throughout the three-game event, Wright made shots, which is hardly a surprise seeing as knocked down looks from all angles last season. The 6-foot-4 guard, Mason's top scorer in four of games this season, shot 48.4 percent while averaging 16.7 points at the Paradise Jam. Though Wright's 3-point touch proved faulty against Mercer and Quinnipiac, the junior drilled 5 of 7 from beyond the arc en route to scoring 22 points against New Mexico. Hardly a one-trick Patriot, Wright grabbed seven rebounds in the tournament finale and made 15 of 18 free throws during the three games.
Forward Johnny Williams paced the Patriots against Mercer with 16 points and 10 rebounds then went for 12 and 8 with three steals against New Mexico. After sitting out last season, the slimmed-down 6-foot-8 forward looks much improved both as a scorer and banger. Not saying the Patriots have flat out replaced the graduated Ryan Pearson-Mike Morrison production, but Williams and Copes (4 of 5 FG, nine rebounds vs. Quinnipiac) are eliminating fears that they won't.
Turnovers remain a concern - 19 against Mercer, 16 against New Mexico including a costly late botch - though the Patriots pressure defense forced 16.7 per game.
Though winless, the Terriers suffered close encounters against CAA-program Northeastern and Rutgers, losing by one and two points respectively. Guard D.J. Irving leads Boston with 18.0 points though collectively the Terriers are shooting only 40.8 percent from the field.
Elsewhere in the CAA this weekend...
Hofstra at George Washington - 2 p.m.: After claiming three straight wins, the Pride (3-3) lost at Manhattan on Wednesday despite 22 points from sophomore guard Taran Buie, Hofstra's leading scorer. Though Buie and 5-foot-10 dynamo Shaquille Stokes thrive on the perimeter, Hofstra is shooting only 29.8 percent from 3-point territory. Defensively against George Washington (1-2), the Pride must slow down freshman point guard Joe McDonald and keep energetic center Isaiah Armwood off the glass.
James Madison at Miami (Ohio) - Noon: In between two blowout losses, including a 22-point drubbing by North Dakota State, the Dukes lost by two in overtime at Duquesne and defeated Youngstown State. Leading scorer Raysahwn Goins scored at least 20 points in each of JMU's first three games, but finished 2 of 10 for five points against NDSU.
UNCW vs. Wofford - 2 p.m.: The Seahawks (1-3) return home for two weekend games after three straight road losses. UNCW also hosts Hampton on Sunday.
Old Dominion at Murray State - 8 p.m.: Starting the season 1-4 is not what you expect out of a Blaine Taylor coached team. Ending the current 3-game losing skid against the Racers and All-American candidate Isaiah Canaan won't be easy, or likely.
Northeastern (in Great Alaska Shootout): Following Friday's semifinal tilt against Belmont, the Huskies will play Charlotte or Oral Roberts on Saturday. Guard Quincy Ford scored 14 points in Wednesday's opening round 61-52 win over UC Riverside.
Drexel (in Anaheim Classic): The CAA preseason favorites opened the campaign with a fierce non-conference schedule. Bruiser Flint's squad has not shown they can handle, losing four of five games including Friday's 69-65 setback against Xavier. Rarely pretty offensively, two of the Dragons primary scorers - Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat - are both shooting less than 40 percent from the floor. While other games exist before the Dragons open CAA play, their NCAA Tournament fate essentially now lays in winning the conference tournament. As for their current tournament, Drexel will face either Drake or Rice on Sunday.
Delaware at Temple - 2 p.m.: Historically this matchup would seem lopsided in the Owls' favor, but these Blue Hens (2-3) are a tough out no matter the record. Guard Devon Saddler went for 28 points in Friday's loss at Pittsburgh while 6-foot-9 forward Jamelle Hagins averages 13 rebounds and 10 points. Senior swingman Scootie Randall leads Temple (2-0) with 23.5 points per game.