Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the George Mason vs. Northern Iowa game on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, Northern Iowa came to Fairfax, Virginia, to play George Mason for the second consecutive year. Both teams are etched into the minds of college basketball fans because of some recent unforgettable moments in March. The Panthers have remained relatively intact since their stellar moment in 2010. Same coach, same league, and moderate success in the Missouri Valley. The Patriots, however, have experienced a sort of program face-lift since their Final Four run. They lost long-time head coach, Jim Larranaga, to the ACC’s Miami (FL) in 2011, and hired Paul Hewitt, the former George Tech coach whose career there produced mixed results, as his replacement. They also upgraded their conference affiliation by moving from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10, starting this season. While Hewitt was in Atlanta, he relied on talented underclassmen, like Thaddeus Young and Iman Shumpert, to drive his program. But this season at George Mason, he’ll need to rely on his slate of returning upperclassmen to transition into the A-10 and make a run at the school’s first NCAA Tournament under his watch.
Hewitt has led the Patriots to 20 wins in each of his first two seasons, and they return nearly everyone of significance including redshirt senior Sherrod Wright, who averaged 16.6 PPG last year. Despite that success, Hewitt has not yet managed to earn enough quality or timely wins to make the NCAA Tournament. Now that George Mason will be in a higher-profile league, the tougher competition will give his team more opportunities for signature wins on its resume. So far this season, the Patriots have eked out a win against American and beaten Lamar handily. The visit by the Panthers represented their first test against competition comparable to what they’ll be facing in the A-10 most nights out.