Since joining the Atlantic 10 for the 2013-14 season, George Mason hasn’t been able to produce much in terms of success. The Patriots haven’t had a winning season since 2012-13, their final year as a CAA team.
Since Mason’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament (2010-11, coincidentally their last season under then-head coach, Jim Laranaga), the Patriots have been on a steady decline in terms of overall record. Last year, they won just nine games, the fewest of any George Mason team since the 1997-98 season.
Needless to say, it hasn’t been smooth sailing in Fairfax, Virginia.
Patriot fans want to see their team back in the NCAA Tournament — maybe even another magical run to the Final Four, something they accomplished a decade ago but what now feels like a lifetime ago after Paul Hewitt quickly changed the trajectory of the program.
This season hasn’t been anything special for George Mason by any stretch of the imagination. At this point, it is highly unlikely that the Patriots finish with a record above .500. Mason currently sits at 8-15 overall (2-8 A-10) and has little to no hope of reaching any postseason tournament.
That being said, it looks as if the Patriots will finally reverse the trend of consecutive worsening seasons.
George Mason may be able to manage more than nine wins this season (again, nothing is set in stone). Though 2015-16 probably won’t be a season for Mason fans to remember, there have been some encouraging moments that have indicated progress within this program, most notably, the Patriots promising road win over Richmond last Wednesday night.
Richmond is the 101st best team overall according to Kenpom. While the Spiders may not end up being an NCAA Tournament team this season after a hot non-conference start, UofR certainly came in as the favorite over a struggling George Mason squad. They exited that game however as the third top-100 caliber group to fall to this year’s young Patriots. Mason now own three wins over Kenpom top-105 teams: Oklahoma St. (63), Ole Miss (95), and Richmond (101). They had three wins over top 105 teams last season.
If George Mason can add a couple more wins over quality teams, then it will surely appear as a step in the right direction.
While the Patriots may be a few years away from being legitimate contenders in the Atlantic 10 Conference, it’s tough to deny that they show promise every now and then.
Mason fans have to be happy with the way their freshmen have performed thus far.
Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer are showing the league that they have the potential to lead this George Mason team back toward the spotlight. The freshmen are averaging 11.8 and 9.9 points per game, respectively. While neither has developed into a superstar just yet, each has had some big moments that have helped the Patriots score quality wins, including a combined 38 points against Richmond on Wednesday night despite leading scorer Marquise Moore’s off-night (2-10 from the field). The freshmen were able to step-up and help the Patriots secure a very encouraging road win.
Livingston and Grayer’s play has suggested that they could become the go-to-guys for Mason basketball in the near future.
Both have posted great performances in some big games this season. Grayer’s career-high 23 points helped GMU take down Oklahoma State at the beginning of the season, while Livingston has now scored 18 points in back-to-back games. That stands as his current career-high.
While George Mason fans may not be happy with their current 10th place A-10 ranking, they have to be somewhat pleased with the promise shown by Dave Paulsen’s freshman group and the direction in which the Patriot’s new coach has this program headed (hint: out of the gutter Paul Hewitt drove them into).
That’s an encouraging sign for a team that has struggled these past few seasons. Mason’s promising freshman backcourt duo will continue to gain experience and become the focal points in steering this program off a crash course. Though a 10 or 11-win season won’t produce a ticker tape parade down Braddock Road, my word of advice is to be patient.
The more we see out of this group of underclassmen, the more we begin to realize the vision of Paulsen and his staff, a coaching group that has already begun the process of assembling a talented core of young players that could help lead George Mason back to prominence.