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Breaking down Mason’s 2017-18 non-conference schedule

As a member of George Mason’s Class of 2022, I officially welcome you to my first season following the Patriots! Now I know, this article is a little belated, as Mason released their non-conference schedule back in July, but better late than never! Now, lets take a look at the schedule:

November 10 | vs Lafayette

The Patriots will try to win their first season-opener since the 2013-14 season against a Lafayette team that really struggled last year. The Leopards went 9-21 against a relatively weak schedule. As long as Mason isn’t looking ahead to the next game, this should be a rather winnable game.

November 12 | at Louisville

This game is without question, the biggest of the year, and arguably, one of the biggest games since the Patriots’ last appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2011. This is the type of win that would go a long way in making the Big Dance: Louisville has not lost to a non-“Power 5” school since Memphis in 2014. And to one-up that stat, the Cardinals have not lost a non-conference game at home (to a team other than Kentucky or Duke) since falling to Drexel December of 2010. Bottom line here: you beat the Cards in the Yum! Center, and you’re pretty much set.

All the statistics aside, if you look back into the recent history of Louisville, they are a team that struggles a lot more than people realize early on in the season, and especially in the opening weekend. The last time the Cardinals even scheduled any team above a true mid-major in the first weekend was Minnesota in November of 2014. Last season, for example, the Cards opened with Evansville and William & Mary. Not exactly the most challenging schedule in the world. Look, I’m not guaranteeing that Mason is going to win this game. What I am saying, is don’t be surprised if the Patriots are ahead at the half, and right in the game down to the wire.

 November 16 | vs Binghamton

Last season, the Bearcats posted a 12-20 record and a 3-13 record in the America East. This is a game that George Mason needs to win and a game they should win if they are to do the things I believe this team is capable of doing, like at least making the NIT, if not the NCAA Tournament.

November 18 | vs CSUN

The same applies to this game as well. Last year, the Matadors went 11-19 in a true mid-major conference. These are the games, particularly at home, that Mason needs to find ways to win.

November 21 | vs Louisiana Tech (Cancun Challenge)

This game should be a good test for the Patriots. The Bulldogs went 23-10 last year and 14-4 in a pretty strong Conference-USA. While LA Tech didn’t have any great wins last year, they were right in game against high-caliber teams like Cal, Nebraska and Middle Tennessee State. Much like Mason, LA Teach is a team on the rise and could also potentially have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament as well. This will be some must-see TV!

November 22 | vs Fresno State/Evansville (Cancun Challenge)

Should George Mason beat Louisiana Tech, they are more than likely to face Fresno State. Last season, the Bulldogs went 20-13 and earned a birth in the NIT. They went on the road and beat Oregon State in Corvallis, and lost to Oregon and Marquette by a combined 15 points. They are perennial contenders in the Mountain West and will likely be again this year.

Evansville was a team that had a lot of ups and downs last year. The Purple Aces (what a nickname, by the way) went 16-17 posting wins against Northern Iowa, Boise State and Murray State but then nearly lost to Division III Mount Saint Joseph’s in mid December. Needless to say, this would be a very winnable game for George Mason should they meet.

November 29 | at James Madison

The first of two former-CAA opponents that Patriots will face this season is James Madison. George Mason beat the Dukes 80-77 last season in EagleBank Arena behind 20 points from Marquise Moore. This years’ meeting could be another test for the Patriots to see if they are for real or not.

December 3 | at Auburn

This games comes at an interesting point in the schedule, not for Mason, but for Auburn. Just four days before the two teams meet, the Tigers will face another A-10 team, Dayton. This could give Dave Paulen a distinct advantage in seeing Auburn match up against a system Mason is used to facing. Last year’s Auburn team went 18-14, and recorded wins against Oklahoma, UConn and TCU. This is the most important non-conference game for Mason aside from Louisville. If you beat both the Cardinals and Tigers on the road, you can afford a loss to Duquesne or Fordham once you enter conference play.

December 6 | vs William & Mary

The second former-CAA team Mason will face this season, though the two teams have not met since February of 2013, George Mason’s last year in the CAA. The Tribe have been one of the most consistent teams in the nation, year after year posting a respectable regular season record, playing very good teams tough (like Louisville and Duke last year), and ultimately falling just short of the NCAA Tournament, again. This should be a very challenging game for the Patriots and is arguably their toughest home game on the non-conference schedule.

December 9 | vs NC Central

The reigning MEAC Champions earned a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament last year, before falling to fellow 16-seed UC-Davis in the First Four. In addition to posting a 25-9 record, the Eagles defeated Northern Kentucky on the road, another NCAA Tournament bound team last year. This could be another good test for the Patriots, heading into the home-stretch of the non-conference schedule.

December 12 | vs Georgia Southern

Last year, Georgia Southern had a very similar season as George Mason. The Eagles posted a 18-15 record and earned a birth in the CBI. This should be a pretty winnable game for Mason as long as they aren’t looking ahead to Penn State.

December 17 | vs Penn State

Coming off their win in Happy Valley last year, the Patriots could be looking for their third win over a Power 5 team at this stage of the season. Last year, the Patriots went on the road and had their way with Penn State, winning easily 85-66. A similar win against a Big Ten school would really help out Mason’s RPI.

December 22 | vs Morgan State

Similarly to the Auburn game, Mason will have the advantage of seeing how their opponent matches up against another A-10 team. A month before the Patriots will face Morgan State, the Bears will play at GW, which would give Dave Paulsen the chance to get a good look at their opponent. This should be an easy win for George Mason and one that will hopefully generate some momentum heading into conference play.

I believe this Mason team has the potential to be one of the best teams to come through Fairfax in the last eight or nine years. I really believe the NCAA Tournament is a realistic goal for this team. They are very capable of being one of the top four seeds in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and would also have a “home-court” in the conference tournament since Capital One Arena (formerly Verizon Center) is only 20 miles from campus. The pieces are there for Mason to have a special year, they just need to put it all together.

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