I. Renko is an RTC correspondent.
On Saturday night, the only two undefeated teams in the CAA faced off in a battle for first place, as Georgia State visited George Mason. Only one team could, and did, emerge victorious, as Mason held off the Panthers for a 61-58 win. But given the gulf that separated these two teams coming into the season, the result was a meaningful “win” for the coaches of both teams, each of whom has had something to prove during the early part of the CAA season.
At the start of this season, George Mason and Georgia State had little in common. Mason won 27 games last year, won the CAA regular season championship, and earned a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Georgia State went 12-19, finished in the bottom half of the CAA, and had its season promptly ended in the CAA Tournament — by George Mason. Mason has been a perennial CAA contender over the last several years and pulled off a miracle run to the Final Four in 2006. Georgia State has been a perennial also-ran since joining the CAA in 2005 and hasn’t played a single national postseason game of any kind. Mason, returning three starters from last year’s squad, was picked to finish second in the conference this year. Georgia State was picked to finish second to last.
Mike Morrison and George Mason Edged Georgia State for First Place, but the Panthers are "Gonna Be Around to Stay for a While"
About the only thing the Patriots and the Panthers shared was an offseason coaching change. But the circumstances of the two coaching changes were considerably different, one resulting from success, the other from futility. Jim Larranaga, who built the Mason program and led the Patriots on their improbable Final Four run in 2006, left for the higher profile of the ACC, landing a coaching job at Miami. Mason, in turn, landed a coach with a high profile ACC pedigree and his own Final Four experience to replace him: Paul Hewitt, who took Georgia Tech to the Final Four in 2003. Georgia State’s coaching change was the result of four subpar seasons turned in by Rod Barnes. To replace him, the Panthers went deep into the Summit League, where they found Ron Hunter, who had been coaching at IUPUI since well before it was a Division I program.
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