|Around the Rim: CAA Season Arrives|
Pre-conference records can be deceiving. They’re not always easy to interpret. Who knows what it means that Virginia is 0-3 versus the CAA, losing to George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion? Does it mean anything that the Patriots are 1-1 versus ACC teams, beating UVa and losing to Maryland?
Those questions will be answered in the next few weeks. Coach Paul Hewitt likes where Mason is entering Thursday’s CAA opener against Northeastern in the Patriot Center:
“I’m looking forward to it,” Hewitt says. “I’m excited. I like our energy level – we’re playing hard. We’re not shooting the ball well right now, but I’m not going to dwell on that -- as long as we keep playing well defensively and keep trying to move the ball and take good shots.
“The thing that I don’t like right now is we’re falling back to the habit of fouling too much the last part of games. That was such a point of emphasis early in the year about silly fouls and silly turnovers. Now we’re back to fouling again.”
The Patriots (7-5) are certainly battle-tested after the non-conference schedule. Only two of their games were decided by more than seven points. The team split the 10 close games, going 5-5.
Like Hewitt, junior post player Johnny Williams thinks preseason opponents such as Virginia, Maryland, Bucknell, New Mexico, Northern Iowa and South Florida have prepared Mason for the rigors of the CAA.
“I’m pretty confident we should be ready to take over this league,” Williams says.
Hewitt calls the CAA opener “tough.” Northeastern is 5-7, but the record is deceiving. The Huskies played their first nine games without senior guard Jonathan Lee, a first-team CAA preseason selection, who had a foot injury. Lee is averaging 15.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in the three games he has played.
“They’re a different team with him,” Hewitt says.
The Patriots remember last year when Northeastern pulled a home upset, 85-82, as Lee scored 27 points, going 18-for-20 at the foul line as the Huskies went 31-for-35 as a team. Mason entered the game 14-2 in conference; Northeastern was 12-15 overall.
There was another glaring stat from last season’s game – the Patriots had 21 turnovers, though Northeastern had 22. Mason has experimented recently in practice with point guards Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards playing together.
“We’re looking at that,” Hewitt says. “Anything to shore up our ballhandling.”
Hewitt has been emphasizing good defense without fouling and proper spacing to minimize turnovers in recent practices.
“I’ve told them every once in a while I feel like I’m coaching 12-year-olds,” Hewitt says. “But they’re trying really hard. You can see the energy in practice."