Behind second year head coach Dave Paulsen, George Mason made one of the biggest turnarounds in recent Atlantic 10 history. From an 11-21 record in his first year to a 20-14 record just one season later, it’s safe to say that Paulsen has already made an enormous impact on the direction of this program. And even though top guys Marquise Moore and Jalen Jenkins have since graduated, expectations remain high for the coming season.
The Patriots managed to win 9 straight to close out the non-conference season after losing 3 of their first 4. In that stretch, Paulsen’s squad downed Northern Iowa and Penn St. in impressive fashion. In conference play, the Patriots wouldn’t disappoint. They’d take down Richmond and Davidson on the road, and if it wasn’t for two head-shaking losses to SLU, the 7th place Patriots had a great shot at finishing in the Top 6 of the A-10 standings. George Mason would face an early exit in the CBI, losing a pretty disappointing game to Loyola MD. Regardless, George Mason fans have to be satisfied with last season, as their team managed 20 wins for the first time since 2012-13. Now, the Patriot faithful hope 3rd year head coach Dave Paulsen can take this team to greater heights.
Otis Livingston II
Here’s my sleeper pick for Atlantic 10 All-Conference first team. Livingston II seems ready for a breakout year after what might be considered a very minute sophomore slump. I’m by no means saying that Livingston II performed worse in his second year than he did his first, but some statistical categories saw slight digressions. The sophomore shot 29.9% from three in conference play compared to 38.2% his freshman season; similarly, he averaged 0.6 fewer assists per contest as a sophomore. A lot of this probably has to do with the rise of Marquise Moore into one of the best offensive machines in the A-10; he did dominate pretty much every statistical category for this 2017-18 George Mason team. The promising aspect about Otis Livingston II is how much his defense improved throughout the course of his sophomore season.
Livingston II’s steals per game went up from 0.7 to 1.1. He continued to prove that he can play defense without fouling (just 2.0 per 40 minutes in conference play). We also saw Livingston II get much more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor, taking the ball to the rack and drawing contact. His free throw rate improved more than 5% points in conference play compared to his freshman year, and he made 92.2% (6th nationally) of his attempts at the charity stripe compared to 76.3% his first season. What I love about Otis Livingston II is that he’s seemed to have mastered the fundamental aspects of his game: defense and free throw shooting. Without Moore on the floor next year, I expect his offensive production to blossom, and he’ll be the go-to-guy in crunch time.
Throughout the course of the 2016-17 season, Jaire Grayer became exactly what George Mason needed: a dynamic three point threat. Historically, the Patriots have been pretty awful from deep. Mason ranked 341st in the nation from downtown in 2015-16, shooting an abysmal 29.2% as a team. Now, Grayer is turning the tide for a team that managed to be the 3rd best from range in Atlantic 10 play last season (the Patriots were dead last just a season prior). The best part? He made enormous progressions as the season went on. Shooting just 30.2% from deep in non-conference play, Grayer was barely a threat from three. Shooting 44.9% (2nd in the conference) in Atlantic 10 play, Grayer was a guy you could not leave open on the perimeter. Grayer was a player who made huge steps late in the season (look at his 7.1% offensive rebounding percentage as well), and I’d expect that momentum to carry over to the 2017-18 season in a massive way.
As a freshman, Justin Kier actually played a majority of George Mason’s minutes at the 2. Emerging as a promising shooting guard, Kier will look to elevate his game in his second collegiate season. When I look at Kier, I look at a guy who probably needs to get some more looks from deep; while Grayer became the go-to threat from range last season, Kier usually made his attempts when he got them. Shooting 8-19 (42.1%) from three as a sophomore in conference play, it will be interesting to see if Kier gets more shot attempts from behind the arc. Can he make the same steps that Grayer did, emerging into a lethal threat from three? That’d be enormous for a George Mason team that hasn’t typically been known for burning opponents from range under Dave Paulsen.
Kier didn’t have any breakout games in the 2016-17 season, but he was always reliable to put a couple points up on the board. I love the fact that Kier is beginning to prove himself as not only a long range threat but also as someone who can draw contact with consistency. The freshman had the 14th best free throw rate in the conference last season, and luckily, free throw shooting was George Mason’s bread and butter. Kier wasn’t too bad from the line either, cashing in on 57 of his 76 attempts (75.0%) all season. Bottom line: George Mason’s shooting ability from the stripe and from range should continue to be augmented by Justin Kier’s improvement.
Though somewhat limited in playing time last year, Ian Boyd made a very positive impact on this 2016-17 George Mason team. He served as George Mason’s highest scoring freshman (5.9 PPG) and should continue to be a role player off the bench, or even maybe as a starter at the 4. Boyd proved to be most effective last season when he stayed in the post. Venturing out to the three point line now and again, he didn’t do the Patriots any favors last year from deep. Boyd ended up taking 56 attempts from long range last season, and he only connected on 26.8% of those. Justin Kier, who shot nearly 40% from range, took only 43 attempts. Even more concerning, he was just 2/18 (11.1%) in his last 9 games of the season. During that same stretch, he was 20/30 (66%) from inside the arc. That’s quite a disparity. Also, when you move Boyd out to the three point line, you limit his his ability to crash the offensive glass (he ranked 17th in the A-10 in that category). If I’m Dave Paulsen, I’m letting the guards shoot, and I’m telling Ian Boyd to crash the boards and look for shots in the paint.
George Mason’s backcourt is pretty much primed for a solid season; the frontcourt still has a lot of question marks, and this one’s a big one: how will Daniel Relvao fit the system? The 6-9, 255 lb. freshman wasn’t too much of an asset last season, playing only 13% of available minutes. Realistically, Marquise Moore and Jalen Jenkins handled almost all of the frontcourt duties last year, and yes, Marquise Moore was a guard. Relvao is the only returning big man on this roster, meaning at the end of the day, this inexperienced frontcourt will have a lot of experimenting to do. Relvao could have a starting role this season after playing just 7 minutes per game last year. Honestly, no one knows what to expect. Relvao was more or less effective as a rebounder, averaging twice as many boards (1.6) as points (0.8) per game last season. His career-high in scoring is 4 points, so it’s tough to get a good read on his effectiveness in the paint. Again, it’s going to be a lot of trial and error for Dave Paulsen down low, but you can expect Relvao to be firmly in the mix with Mason’s lack of bodies.
Otis Livingston II should get some help at point guard this season with the addition of Javon Greene. While he’s not George Mason’s most highly-touted incoming freshman, he’s certainly got the talent to make an impact off the bench. Greene is a 2 star commit from Henry County High School in Georgia. He chose the Patriots over Chattanooga, Lipscomb, and Georgia St.
The lefty has some lethal range; he can fill it up in a hurry from downtown, which is an enormous asset for a George Mason team that’s beginning to center itself around the long ball more and more. I love Greene’s court vision. He knows how to create space to get himself open shots, and I can imagine with some development under Dave Paulsen, he could easily elevate his ability to find open teammates for easy buckets.
A.J. Wilson Jr.
This very well could be George Mason’s best incoming freshman, and he may be one of the most athletic players in the Atlantic 10. The 6-6 forward from Lanham, Maryland is a 3 star recruit according to Scout. He led his high school team in blocks and was second in rebounding his senior year.
— AJ Wilson (@Justdewit12) August 25, 2017
Again, when I say Wilson Jr. may be one of the most athletic players in the A-10, I wasn’t joking. If you’re in the way, and there’s an offensive rebound up for grabs next season, get the heck out of the way. Also, Wilson Jr. has tremendous shot blocking ability, meaning he could immediately be one of Mason’s top defenders.
I absolutely love Goanar Mar’s potential in the Atlantic 10 next season. Undoubtedly, he’s George Mason’s most highly-touted recruit; he had offers from Nebraska and Iowa St. in addition to George Mason. He’s a consensus 3 star recruit, and at 6-7, 180 pounds, he offers both size and versatility to this Patriot roster.
Mar is long and lanky. He uses his long arms to disrupt shots on the defensive end of the floor, and he’s got incredible reach on offense. Not only is he great at pulling in offensive boards, but he’s effective at finishing in the paint through contact. I expect Mar to add size and driving ability to this George Mason team, which should be a big additive. The Patriots have been great at drawing contact, and Mar should be no exception to this trend.
George Mason’s 4th and final freshman will get quite a bit of playing time in the post next season. At 6-8 and 230 pounds, Calixte is one of the biggest players on George Mason’s roster, and he’ll be a big indicator as to how successful this frontcourt can be. Calixte is a 2 star commit from Mount Vernon High School in New York. The incoming freshman generated quite a bit of interest, and A-10 teams La Salle and St. Bonaventure were among the 14 schools to offer Calixte a scholarship.
I’m impressed with the way Greg Calixte (#33) uses his frame to manufacture his way through the post. Unlike some traditional big men, Calixte is darn quick on his feet, and if you don’t watch out, he’ll blow right by you and dunk over you. I like that Greg Calixte shows little to no hesitation in the paint. He gets the ball and knows exactly what to do with it. Expect him to fill the role of a Jalen Jenkins type player next season.
Lafayette (Home), Nov. 10th
Let’s hope that George Mason can start off the season with a win at home (it wasn’t so fortunate last year). Lafayette ranked 330th in Kenpom last year, so if the Patriots blow this game, uh, not good.
Louisville (Away), Nov. 12th
I love that George Mason got this game on its schedule this year. Talk about a great opportunity to get an eye-opening test early in the season. The Patriots will have to give all that they’ve got to put up any sort of fight in the Yum Center, but it’s always fun to see A-10 teams face perennial powerhouses like the Cardinals.
Binghamton (Home), Nov. 16th
This will be the first game for the Patriots for the 2017 Cancun Challenge. Binghamton only managed 3 wins America East play last year, but this team will return its top 5 scorers from last season, which could be tough.
Cal State Northridge (Home), Nov. 18th
The Patriots will get one final tune-up game before heading to Mexico. There shouldn’t be much to this game, unless George Mason let’s a subpar mid-major team keep things interesting in Fairfax.
2017 Cancun Challenge (Neutral), Nov. 21-22
Mason opens up the 2017 Cancun Challenge in Riviera Del Maya with a matchup against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs won 23 games last season and should be a tough opponent in the first round. Depending on the outcome of that game, Mason faces either Fresno St. or Evansville. No matter who George Mason ends up facing in this contest, it’s going to be tested. If the Patriots fly away from Mexico at 2-0, they will be in great shape heading towards the latter half of their non-conference schedule. But, that will not be easy.
James Madison (Away), Nov. 29th
Historically, this has been a very heated rivalry between these two teams, and believe it or not, the Dukes hold the edge all-time. It took overtime to oust this James Madison team at home last year. No matter how good it is, James Madison is always competitive against George Mason. This should be a great game to watch.
Auburn (Away), Dec. 3rd
Other than the Louisville game, this could be GMU’s hardest non-conference test. I love that Dave Paulsen got a road game against a Power 5 team on the schedule. Auburn is no pushover, and they’ll definitely be the favorites. That being said, George Mason has nothing to lose coming into this one, and if this team’s able to steal one on the road, all the better heading into conference play.
William & Mary (Home), Dec. 6th
Another great home game for George Mason, it should be tested tremendously. Expect the Tribe to come out swinging when it visits Fairfax.
North Carolina Central (Home), Dec. 9th
The Eagles went 25-9 last season and made the NCAA Tournament after winning the MEAC. Definitely don’t cast this one off as an easy victory for George Mason.
Georgia Southern (Home), Dec. 12th
This is a team that loves to surprise. Props to Dave Paulsen for scheduling quality mid-major opponents at home that will more than likely give George Mason a great test. This game could be very competitive.
Penn St. (Home), Dec. 17th
You’ve gotta love this one. The Patriots had one of their most impressive wins of the season on the road last year over the Big Ten foe. Now, the Nittany Lions will have to come to Fairfax. This Penn St. team has been much-improved, especially with a great class of rising sophomores. Beating the Nittany Lions again won’t be easy.
Morgan St. (Home), Dec. 22nd
This will be a good tune-up game before conference play. George Mason should get some confidence with an easy win over a team that’s not likely to put up too much of a fight.
Home- Davidson, Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis George Washington, Massachusetts, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, VCU
Away- Duquesne, Fordham, La Salle, Rhode Island, George Washington, Massachusetts, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, VCU
George Mason is going to have a ton of enormous games in Fairfax. Playing host to Davidson, Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s, and VCU, it’s likely that George Mason picks up a few big conference wins next season. The road isn’t too rough for George Mason either; Massachusetts, Duquesne, Fordham, La Salle, and Richmond are all teams that can be beaten away from home. I really like the way this team’s conference schedule sets up, and if it can bring out a supportive home crowd, it’s going to have a chance to make some serious noise in Atlantic 10 play.
Non-Conference Record: 9-4
Conference Finish: 6th in Atlantic 10
Starting Lineup: Otis Livingston II, Justin Kier, Jaire Grayer, A.J. Wilson Jr., Daniel Relvao
X-Factor: Jaire Grayer
Biggest Sleeper: A.J. Wilson Jr.
Most Improved: Justin Kier
MVP: Otis Livingston II
I like George Mason a lot this year; I like them more than most. I don’t think the Patriots have been given enough credit for their recruiting class, and returning sophomores and juniors are going to make big jumps this year. George Mason’s biggest question lies in its frontcourt. Can the Patriots keep up with the rest of the league? The Atlantic 10 will be guard-centric, but the Patriots will be particularly thin on the frontline. The development of Calixte, Relvao, Mar, and Wilson Jr. will be a big factor into how successful GMU is going to be. At the end of the day, this team will return EVERYONE for 2018-19, so the future looks bright for Dave Paulsen.
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