Last season’s George Mason team was very much a mixed bag. When the team was playing their best, they could hang with almost anyone in the nation, namely Louisville and Auburn. But when the Patriots did not have their A-game, they were susceptible to embarrassing losses, like their 71-54 loss to Georgia Southern at home. Yet despite their final record of 16-17 (9-9), Mason took several important steps forward last season. On March 8th, the Patriots secured an important conference tournament win. In addition, they finally got the monkey off their backs by defeating Revolutionary Rival George Washington 72-65 on February 10, their first win over the Colonials since the Patriots joined the A-10.
Perhaps the biggest thing George Mason has going for it this season is that they are the only Division I men’s basketball program to retain 100% of their scoring from last season. In addition, this summer, the Patriots went on a trip to Spain, where the squad went 2-1.
FINAL: Mason 96, Mataro All Stars 92!
Patriots finish the foreign tour with a 2-1 record.
— George Mason Men's Basketball (@MasonMBB) August 7, 2018
In addition, Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter put up some solid numbers:
Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter averaging 11.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG through three games on George Mason's foreign tour. Also shooting 60% from the field.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 9, 2018
Not only are the Patriots adding a very solid transfer, the experience gained on their foreign tour this summer will no doubt help this squad in the upcoming season. Despite that, the non-conference schedule that awaits is as challenging as one can remember for GMU. A schedule that includes four NCAA Tournament teams from last year, including Kansas State who reached the Elite Eight before falling to Cinderella Loyola-Chicago. Now, with all of that said, let’s take a look at their 2018-19 non-conference schedule:
Nov 1 | vs Johns Hopkins (Exhibition)
The Patriots’ exhibition game should be a good test against the Blue Jays, who went 24-5 and only lost two seniors from last year’s squad. Obviously, there’s only so much you can prepare for an exhibition game, but this should be a solid test-run for Mason.
Nov 6| vs Pennsylvania (ESPN+)
Last season saw Penn make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007, and the Quakers gave 1-seed Kansas quite a fight. Penn kept that game close for a surprising amount of time, and would’ve likely been the best showing by a 16-seed if it weren’t for UMBC turning the world upside down. In addition to their success in March, Penn also saw victories over Dayton and Harvard. While Penn did lose quite a few seniors, they have just as many rising-senior this season who should be able to fill their shoes, and provide George Mason with a formidable opening-night opponent.
Nov 9 | vs American (ESPN+)
Last season for American was, well…rough. The Eagle posted just a 6-24 record, with only two of those wins coming in non-conference: VMI and New Hampshire. It didn’t get better from there as down the stretch of the season, AU lost 11 of their final 12 contests. Their only victory during that span was over Boston U, 60-56, whom they actually managed to sweep the season series with. Now, American will likely be better then they were last year, but there is absolutely no reason why Mason should have much trouble handling American in this one.
Nov 13 | at Georgia Southern
George Mason will be out for revenge in this one, as last December, the Eagles dealt the Patriots an embarrassing 71-54 loss at home. Georgia Southern did go on to finish 21-12, but there’s no doubt that Dave Paulsen has already circled this matchup on his calendar. This is a game that, for many reasons, GMU needs to find a way to win.
Nov 17 | vs Southern (ESPN+)
Southern is entering a new era in their men’s basketball program, as Sean Woods is taking over the helm of the program. Last season saw the Jaguars post a 15-18 record, finishing 5th in the SWAC. This is a team that Mason should out-class, and really needs to beat, and probably handily at that.
Nov 20 | vs NC Central (ESPN+)
Last season saw NC Central make their second-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, receiving a 16-seed and playing in the First Four. The Eagles posted a 19-16 record, winning the MEAC Tournament as the 6-seed and defeated 1-seed Hampton in the conference championship. When Mason and NC Central met in Fairfax last season, the Patriots emerged victorious 77-65. As this year’s matchup approaches, remember the name Raasean Davis, who dropped 21 points and 8 rebounds in the meeting. This has the potential to become a trap-game for George Mason, and they cannot allow themselves to look ahead to Cincinnati and the Emerald Coast Classic.
Nov 23 | vs Cincinnati (CBSSN) [Emerald Coast Classic]
The Patriots will open their holiday in Niceville, FL against yet another NCAA Tournament team from last year. The Bearcats posted a 31-5 record and received a 2-seed and reached the second round of the tourney before falling to Nevada. Jacob Evans went on to leave early for the NBA draft, selected with the 28th pick by the Golden State Warriors. Aside from his departure and Kyle Washington’s graduation, this should be a very similar team to last year’s squad. This very well could be George Mason’s toughest test of the entire non-conference season.
Nov 24| vs Baylor/Ole Miss (CBSSN) [Emerald Coast Classic]
Should Mason draw Baylor in the second round of the Emerald Coast Classic, they would be in for a tough test. The Bears went just 19-15 last season, but recorded victories over Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. They may not be the toughest team on paper, but if the Patriots are to face Baylor, this could be a tough outing.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, only posted a 12-20 record, but would still likely be a difficult, if more winable game for GMU. The Rebels had only one KenPom top-50 win, over Missouri (KenPom #40) on February 20. Regardless of whether Mason draws Baylor of Ole Miss, any game against a Power 5 school is sure to be a tough matchup.
Nov 28 | vs Morgan State (ESPN+)
George Mason will be looking for their second win over the Bears in as many seasons when they meet. Last year, Mason defeated Morgan State 86-79 on December 22. The good news for GMU this year? Both Tiaian Kendley and Phillip Carr, the two Morgan State players who scored over 20 points in the meeting last year, have graduated. So long as the Patriots don’t have a post-Florida hangover, this should be a winable game
Dec 1 | at William & Mary
No meeting with the Tribe is ever an easy outing, and this was proven again last year, when the Patriots fell 77-70 at home on December 6. William & Mary went on to finish 19-12 before falling in the CAA Semifinals. This will likely be a very difficult outing for George Mason again this year, and they will need a total team effort to come back with a win from Williamsburg.
Dec 3 | vs Vermont (ESPN+)
The Catamounts were 0.5 seconds away from overtime in the America East Championship game before Jairus Lyles drilled a dagger step-back three to send UMBC to the NCAA Tournament. The stunned Catamounts were the team with the second-best record to best left out of the tourney, behind only Saint Mary’s. March aside, Vermont had a remarkable year, finishing 27-8, racking up wins over NKU, Harvard and America’s darlings, UMBC (twice). Vermont only lost two senior from last year, so this will be a loaded team, and a hungry one at that, that could cause problems for Mason.
Dec 7 | vs James Madison (ESPN+)
Mason will look to secure another win over a former CAA-foe, when JMU comes to Fairfax. Last year, the Patriots defeated the Dukes 76-72 in Harrisonburg thanks to a 9-1 run from Mason in the final 26 seconds of the game. James Madison went on to finish 10-22, falling in the opening round of the CAA Tournament.
Dec 21 | vs Navy (ESPN+)
One of the more under-the-radar programs in the country, Navy is on the right track under head coach Ed Dechellis. The Mids have been steadily improving for years now, and last season, posted a 20-12 record. While Navy did lose big-man George Kiernan, senior point-guard Hassan Abdulah is ready to make this his team. This could quietly be one of the most difficult games of the non-conference slate for George Mason, who will have their hands full against the Mids.
Dec 29 | at Kansas State
Aside from Loyola-Chicago’s run to the Final Four last year, I don’t think there was a more surprising team in the NCAA Tournament then Kansas State. After posting a solid 22-11 record entering the tourney, K-State took down Creighton, UMBC, and Kentucky before ultimately succumbing to the magic of Loyola-Chicago in the Regional Final. But I don’t think many people had this team even advancing past the second round (granted, most people had Virginia in the Final Four, but still). In my own bracket, I had the 8-seed Creighton winning the first round matchup against the Wildcats.
And now, one year removed from their run to the Elite Eight, Kansas State returns most of their core from last season and will most likely be the toughest test for George Mason in their non-conference slate. While their record last year may have not been as impressive as say, Vermont, there is nothing that can compete with success in March. This is a core that has been through the pressure of the lights, and could be back to make some more noise this season. If Mason can steal a win from K-State in the O-Dome, they will turn more than a few heads around college basketball.
This season for Mason could turn into something special if they can put all the pieces together. They have the depth and the size to make some noise in the Atlantic 10, and their non-conference schedule is pack with some high-RPI opponents. The Patriots are certainly setup for success this season, it just remains to be seen if they can deliver under expectations they have not faced since joining the A-10.