|Around the Rim: Pre-Paradise Observations|
Some thoughts, questions and attempted answers as the Patriots are 1-1 and headed to the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they are sure to play an opponent which doesn't have blue and orange as team colors:
--Could the team be better than last year's 24-9 squad?
Coach Paul Hewitt thinks the answer is yes. The answer, of course, won't come until the end of the season. But there are signs this year's team could be better despite the losses of seniors Ryan Pearson, the CAA player of the year, post Mike Morrison and sharpshooter Andre Cornelius.
The Patriots are more aggressive defensively, often employing full-court pressure, and deeper. Hewitt may be shuttling 12 players a game once post Erik Copes and wing Vaughn Gray are finished with their three-game suspension that ends following Friday's Paradise Jam opener against Mercer.
"I'm more impressed with Mason this year than I was last year," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen, after Tuesday's 61-56 victory. "Their pressure and their length make it difficult."
Said point guard Bryon Allen, after the season opening 76-72 win against Virginia: "Honestly, we're a lot better team than we were last year even though we had the player of the year. This year we had to focus on not turning the ball over because that's what made us lose most games we should have won. We know we can compete with anybody."
--So far the turnover situation is OK. The Patriots made 10 against UVa and 11 against Bucknell. Let's hope Allen can play as steadily and efficiently as he has so far. The 6-3 junior is averaging 11 ppg, shooting 53.3% with seven assists to two turnovers.
If Allen can produce like that over the season, he'll be a huge asset. He doesn't have to carry the load alone. Sophomore Corey Edwards can also be productive.
The other side of the coin is that the Patriots can force turnovers this season. Both Paulsen and UVa coach Tony Bennett were complimentary of the Patriots' press which is capable of forcing turnovers and turning them into easy baskets.
--The foul shooting situation has to be a fluke. The Patriots are 13-for-31 at the line. They are better beyond the arc at 14-for-31.
Hewitt is not worried - yet. The sample size is too small to panic. Sherrod Wright shot 85.9% at the line last year and this season is 3-for-7. Freshman Marko Gujanicic has nice looking form and is 0-for-6.
--Is there a go-to player a la Pearson?
So far the answer is no. The role may be filled by committee. Allen, who shot 16.7% from three-point range, hit two key threes down the stretch against Virginia.
Freshman Patrick Holloway, the All-Met Player of the Year last season at Paul VI in Fairfax, hit two threes in the late going against Bucknell as the Patriots cut a 13 point deficit to three late in the game. With the Patriots down 59-56 with 15.4 seconds left, Hewitt called a timeout and set up a play for Holloway, who missed a contested three.
"He's got a knack for making tough shots when he's got it going," Hewitt said. "He has days in practice where he just starts throwing 'em in from everywhere. We said let's go with him again and see what happens."
Wright could also be a candidate. He can create his own shot, has three-point range and is strong enough to finish with contact.
Hewitt also has confidence in Gujanicic. When the Patriots struggled in the early going against Bucknell, Gujanicic was the first sub and helped settle the offense. "He's not your typical freshman," Hewitt said.
--The Patriots left Wednesday for St. Thomas in the Caribbean and three more games.
"We've got to play better than we did tonight," Hewitt said after Tuesday's loss. "I was disappointed in our effort overall. I thought our shot selection at times was suspect. We just have to play better."