I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court. You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Maybe Drexel will have some company at the top after all. The Dragons are the CAA’s prohibitive favorite after the conference lost VCU to the A-10, and perennial contenders George Mason and Old Dominion graduated the majority of their starting lineups. But on opening night in Fairfax, George Mason proved that despite their losses, they are poised to compete for the conference championship. The Patriots defeated visiting Virginia 63-59, their first-ever win over an ACC team in an exciting, competitive game before a near-sellout crowd at the 10,000-seat Patriot Center. While one should never read too much into a single game, the Patriots offered important, if tentative, answers to the most pressing offseason questions that will decide whether they can make a run at both Drexel and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Can Mason replace the interior presence of Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison?
For three years running, the Patriots’ starting frontcourt featured Ryan Pearson, last year’s CAA POY, and Mike Morrison. The players worked especially well together, with Morrison’s length and athleticism complementing Pearson’s skilled offensive game. While the Patriots returned a host of veteran perimeter players, the loss of Pearson and Morrison presented the team’s most pressing concern. Most of the attention on their potential replacements has focused on sophomore center Erik Copes, a former top 100 recruit who has a strong defensive presence but a still-developing offensive game. Copes, however, missed the game against Virginia, serving the first of a three-game suspension for “student-athlete conduct violations.” So the task of filling Pearson’s and Morrison’s big shoes fell primarily to two players who did not see the floor last year — redshirt junior Johnny Williams, who sat out last year’s campaign with an injury, and unheralded freshman Marko Gujanicic. Read the rest of this entry »