Since George Mason is still new to many of us, I caught up with Alan from MasonHoops for a quick Q + A to help shed some of the mystery. If you don’t know him already, you find him on twitter @masonfanatic.
1) To call this season a disappointment by George Mason standards would be an understatement. What is going on to cause the back slide?
There is plenty of blame to go around. The forwards, with the exception of Jalen Jenkins, have been a black hole for most of the season, both on offense and defense. Part of this is due to the loss of senior forward Jon Arledge, one of last season’s breakout players, to an offseason back injury. The entire team is turnover prone and foul prone, which, when combined, lead to entirely too many fast break and-one opportunities. The defense seems to have gotten steadily worse. The Patriots have sometimes shown a credible zone defense, yet Coach Hewitt doesn’t seem to like to use it. And so on.
I don’t believe it’s just a communication or coaching problem, because players recognize what they did wrong after the fact, yet the same mental mistakes happen over and over again. Hewitt has been accused of poor pregame preparation, but Mason has actually looked very well prepared at times recently. In game adjustments seem to be one of the weaknesses right now (once a game gets derailed, Mason never recovers), but without sitting in the huddle, I don’t know whether that’s a coaching problem, or an execution problem, or both. The talent is there, and at times, the execution is there, but the team seems to have a collective mental block late in games.
Ultimately, the coach can’t inbound the ball, or defend the paint, or lead by example on the floor. The players have to execute. But a school can’t fire players, so coaches get held accountable for their portion of any problems, and for things that are beyond their control as well. Hewitt’s seat is definitely getting a little warm (it would probably be scalding hot if he were not still owed nearly $1.5M over the next 2+ seasons). I’ve thought for weeks that all this team needs is one win to break the ice and then they’ll relax and win several more, but it has yet to happen.
2) What are your thoughts on the Atlantic 10? Has it lived up to your expectations?
The Atlantic 10 has definitely met, even exceeded, my expectations. I thought the league might take a temporary step backward with the loss of several marquee programs, but instead it’s been better than ever. It’s terrific to be in a league where you know you will play a quality opponent every single night, compared to some of the truly bad teams we faced in the CAA.
As strange as it may sound when we’re 0-for-the-A-10, the adjustment has been easier than I expected. The team (coaches and players) have had plenty of opportunities, they just haven’t executed on them. We’ve been in every game except Wednesday night against Dayton. I certainly never saw 0-8 coming, but I expected the losses we did take would be more one-sided than most of them have been. It’s been a weird season for sure.
3) Marquise Moore and Jalen Jenkins provide a foundation and alliteration for the Patriots moving. Do you see a brighter future in spite of the current misery? Do those youngsters help save Paul Hewitt’s job at season end?
Moore and Jenkins are definitely two of the bright spots this season. Both freshmen have moved into the starting five and haven’t looked back. Moore is unflappable — he handled VCU’s havoc better than any other Paul Hewitt point guard has. Jenkins has been our best rebounder and probably our only reliable post scorer. All four of the underclassmen on the Mason roster seem to have bright futures, and if Hewitt continues to come through with good recruiting classes, yes, that could save his job. But individual raw talent isn’t enough to win (unless you have NBA-caliber players) and so other areas will have to improve: teamwork, attention to fundamentals, mental toughness, decision making.
Many fans are unwilling to forgive Hewitt for failing to succeed with the players he inherited, and that’s a legitimate failing, but if he’s able to milk something out of his own recruits and succeed with them, there’s still a chance he sticks around. In the mean time, every loss makes it harder for the administration to justify giving him time to prove that theory. Even so, he’ll almost certainly get at least one more season, due to financial implications and the excuse that next year he’ll finally have all his own guys (Mason has an exciting recruiting class for 2014).
4) Talk a little bit about the guard play for Mason.
The Patriots have three good scoring guards in seniors Sherrod Wright (13.9 ppg) and Bryon Allen (15.1 ppg) and sophomore Patrick Holloway (9.1). But Allen and especially Wright have been very turnover prone, and those turnovers always seem to lead to points. Holloway has the quickest release I’ve ever seen, but opponents have adjusted and defend him tightly outside the arch, forcing him to be more creative and to rely on teammates to set screens. To counter his small stature, he’s added a nice mid-range floater and a reliable reverse layup where he uses the backboard to protect his shot. Moore is a pass-first point guard who doesn’t really have a jumpshot (avert your eyes if he attempts one), but can put the ball on the floor and drive the lane like a knife if you give him space. He had 7 assists each against GW and SLU. Junior Corey Edwards is the backup point guard, and while his minutes have greatly decreased in A-10 play, he’s a pest on defense and can be a threat behind the three point line.
5) I know you’re a big time Orioles fan. Where does AJ Burnett end up and how much do you think he signs for?
This could go two different ways. If Burnett wants to stay close to home, as has been reported, the Orioles are the obvious choice (he lives in the Baltimore suburbs). But he’s had most of his success in the National League, including most recently with the Pirates, whereas his time in the AL East with Toronto and the Yankees ranged from mediocre to terrible. If the money is the same, I don’t see why he wouldn’t pick the hometown team, but given the way the Orioles’ offseason has gone so far, I don’t think they’ll get it done. My pick would actually be the Phillies. I think the Pirates are ready to move on, and Philadelphia is more likely to meet Burnett’s asking price than the bargain hunting Orioles.
6) Prediction time. Who wins today (I’m going live with this tomorrow) and if you’re feeling daring what do you think the score will be?
I was gaining confidence in the Patriots after several close games against the conference leaders, but getting crushed at home by Dayton in a very uninspired performance killed all of that. I think Duquesne wins, 77-71.
I agree with Alan almost exactly on the prediction. Again, special thanks to him for participating.