George Mason, though still nowhere near where it wants to be, made a little bit of progress last year with an 11-21 finish to the season under head coach Dave Paulsen. Yeah, 11 wins is nothing spectacular, but I’m pretty sure most Mason fans are relieved to have gotten to double digits, especially after Paul Hewitt’s last season where the Patriots went 9-22. 2 more wins are 2 more wins. Last year’s Mason squad showed some promise in winning big games against Oklahoma State, Richmond (2), VCU, and Davidson. Though it’d definitely be quite a long shot, here are 5 reasons George Mason could make the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
1. Marquise Moore will be back
I thoroughly believe that Mason still has yet to get 100% of what Marquise Moore has to offer. His 11.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game last season were certainly helpful for the Patriots, but something tells me that he can do a lot more. Moore missed 4 games in the middle of conference play last season and really wasn’t the same after that. I believe that this senior point guard is one that’s not receiving enough attention. For someone that can do it all on the court, I really wouldn’t sleep on Marquise Moore next season.
2. Rising Sophomores are huge components
If Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny hadn’t won A-10 rookie of the year last season, the award really could’ve gone to 2 of Mason’s outstanding freshmen. Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer averaged 11.9 and 9.5 points per game last season respectively and will look to make even more noise for the Patriots next season. Dave Paulsen has to be ecstatic to see that kind of production out of his first year players; by the time they’re seniors, Paulsen may have two contenders for A-10 player of the year.
Even though the two freshmen were great on the court, there are still areas for improvement. Both need to do a better job taking care of the basketball and forcing turnovers on the other end of the floor. George Mason ranked dead last in the nation in defensive turnover percentage last year according to Kenpom. That stat needs to change drastically if the Patriots want any shot at making the Big Dance next year.
3. A chance to make noise in a pre-season tournament
George Mason will play in the 2016 Gulf Coast Showcase and actually have a pretty decent chance at winning the thing in November. Perhaps the toughest game for the Patriots will come in the first round when they face Houston, an on-the-rise team that took down some meaty opponents last season. The rest of the field looks decent enough for Mason, so a championship is definitely in the picture. I am by no means saying that winning in the Gulf Coast Showcase will give George Mason the help it needs to make the NCAA Tournament, but winning a tournament like that can be a huge confidence boost before heading into A-10 play.
4. Jalen Jenkins could be a dark horse in the frontcourt
After averaging 7.1 points and 5.5 rebounds on 21.4 minutes played per game last season, Jalen Jenkins could step into the light as one of Mason’s better forwards. Jenkins didn’t do much at the beginning of the season but began to catch fire towards the end of conference play. The junior rattled off 6 straight double digit scoring performances in the month of February, including 17 and 16 point nights that helped take down Davidson and VCU. George Mason could be a dangerous team if Jalen Jenkins can score with that consistency. With more playing time and more rebounds to be grabbed (no more Shevon Thompson), the senior could become a dangerous threat and a dark horse on this Patriot team.
5. Things can’t get a lot worse
Sure, George Mason making the NCAA Tournament is a long shot. That’s actually an understatement, but the point is that there is a lot for Mason fans to look forward to in the coming years. The Patriots have 2 excellent sophomores that are geared to take this team up to the top of A-10 standings. It may not be this year, but George Mason will be back in the NCAA Tournament. And 11 wins? That can’t be that hard to surpass, right?
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