Area Schools Scouting Report
George Mason | Navy
From News Services
Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005; Page E7
Coach: Karl Hobbs (64-53 in four seasons).
Last season: 22-8, 11-5 Atlantic 10, won conference tournament.
The glue: Pops Mensah-Bonsu is the fan favorite. High-flying Danilo "J.R." Pinnock demands highlight-reel time. Carl Elliott hit the Colonials' most memorable shot last season, a half-court heave to beat Dayton at the buzzer.
Mike Hall, though, might be the team's most important player, which is why Pinnock calls him "the heart and soul of this team."
Hall's value is, in large part, his versatility. The 6-foot-9 senior will defend both centers and shooting guards, depending on the situation. He led the Colonials in both rebounding and three-point shooting last season and averaged the most minutes of any returning player.
Like Mensah-Bonsu, Hall declared himself eligible for the NBA draft last spring before deciding to return to school. He said that process was about trying to market himself to the pros, and that the best way to do that this year will be to help the Colonials return to the NCAA tournament.
"There's players all over the country that can score, defend, are athletic," he said. "You just have to win and prove you can do it in the spotlight, and then your talent will be legitimized."
Game to watch: March 4, vs. Charlotte. One of two newcomers to the Atlantic 10 -- along with Saint Louis -- Charlotte is expected to challenge GW for the league title. The teams combined to receive 56 of 65 first-place votes in the preseason media and coaches' poll. This game is the regular season finale for both teams.
Postseason prospects (from 1 to 4 basketballs): 4 -- Anything less than a return to the NCAA tournament would be a major disappointment.
18-1: George Washington's record last season when scoring at least 75 points. The Colonials, who averaged a league-best 77 points, were 4-7 when failing to reach 75.
Coach: Jeff Jones (75-71 in five seasons at American, 221-175 overall).
Last season: 16-12, 8-6 Patriot League, lost in conference semifinals.
The glue: Junior guard Andre Ingram is the only remaining player from last season's roster who averaged more than seven points a game. He's the only remaining player who averaged more than 25 minutes a game. And while he's 6 feet 3, Ingram is also the only player on the Eagles' roster who averaged more than four rebounds a game.
Still, when Jones is asked whether he's worried about Ingram trying to do too much, he has a simple answer: "I'm not."
Ingram "has been very, very patient, to the point where we would like to see him assert himself a little more," Jones said. "There are going to be times where he's going to need to step forward."
Or run forward, as the case may be. With minimal playing experience and minimal size -- at least until 6-foot-11 transfer Paulius Joneliunas becomes eligible in late December -- the Eagles plan to open up their offense. The team will likely start three guards, including freshman Derrick Mercer, junior Linas Lekavicius and Ingram, who led American in scoring his first two seasons and is the leading returning scorer in the Patriot League.
Game to watch: Jan. 11 vs. Bucknell. American and Bucknell have each advanced to at least four straight Patriot League semifinals. Last year the Bison topped American in that round and went on to win the league title and shock Kansas in the NCAA tournament.
Postseason prospects (from 1 to 4 basketballs): 1.5 basketballs -- The Eagles have finished with a winning record four years in a row for the first time in 30 years. Extending that streak to five would be a significant accomplishment.
5.5: Combined points per game scored last season by American's three returning front-court players.
Coach: Gil Jackson (first season as a head coach).
Last season: 5-23, 2-16 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, lost in conference first round.
The glue: The Bison's dramatic plunge after a somewhat promising start last season coincided with the loss of point guard Louis Ford to academic troubles. Howard began the season 4-6 and 2-0 in the MEAC; after Ford's departure, the Bison went 1-17. Ford's grades are in order this year, and he will lead a three-guard offense for a team without many interior threats.
When he played last year, the 5-foot-6 senior guard led Howard in points (14.1 per game), assists (5.6), steals (3.8) and free-throw percentage (.917). And with first-year coach Jackson, a longtime assistant at Penn, adjusting to a new league and a different style of play, Ford will be counted on for both scoring and leadership.
"He just has a huge, huge basketball IQ -- he knows what opponents are going to do before they do it," Jackson said. "He's definitely going to be the focal point."
Cliffone Ault, Howard's third-leading scorer a year ago, is enrolled in school but not on the team. Ford's back-court mates will include Will Gant, who averaged 14.0 points a game, and Darek Mitchell, a solid outside shooter who needs to work on his defense.
Game to watch: Feb. 6 vs. Hampton. The Pirates embarrassed Howard by 39 last January in front of the Bison's second-biggest crowd of the year. Bruce Brown, Hampton's 6-11 center, led the nation in field-goal percentage last year and is the MEAC's preseason player of the year.
Postseason prospects (from 1 to 4 basketballs): 1 basketball -- Howard has not played in the NCAA tournament since 1992 and was picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the MEAC.
8: NCAA tournament appearances Penn made during Jackson's 16 years there as an assistant coach.
Coach: Jim Larranaga (139-97 in eight seasons at George Mason, 337-266 overall).
Last season: 16-13, 10-8 Colonial Athletic Association, lost in conference quarterfinals.
The glue: The Patriots rely on three seniors who each received all-conference honors a year ago: Jai Lewis, Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn. The team's fate, though, may rest with two less heralded perimeter players: sophomore Folarin Campbell and junior Gabe Norwood.
Skinn played point guard last year but will move to the wing, leaving Campbell and Norwood in charge of distributing the ball. The team also lost its best perimeter defender, John Vaughan, to a preseason knee injury, and Campbell and Norwood will often find themselves matched up against primary scorers. Finally, George Mason was plagued by rebounding troubles last year, and its perimeter players -- again, including Campbell and Norwood -- are being asked to contribute more rebounding this season.
Game to watch: Jan. 28 vs. Old Dominion. The teams split two meetings last year, with each team winning at home. The defending CAA champion Monarchs have four starters back, including conference player of the year Alex Loughton.
Postseason prospects (from 1 to 4 basketballs): 2.5 basketballs -- The Patriots will get an early chance to impress national observers in this week's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic; a win against UC Irvine today would likely bring a matchup with No. 18 Wake Forest tomorrow. George Mason, which was picked third in the preseason CAA poll, has played in the postseason four times in the past seven years.
24-3: The Patriots' home record over the past two seasons. They enter this year with a six-game winning streak at Patriot Center, but their home opener is against NCAA tournament regular Creighton.
Coach: Billy Lange (9-19 in one season at Navy, 48-38 overall.)
Last season: 9-19, 5-9 Patriot League, lost in conference quarterfinals.
The glue: As Navy's most experienced front-court player, Matt Fannin would have been a key to the Midshipmen's hopes even before Carlton Baldwin's injury. But when Baldwin, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, broke his right ankle in September, Fannin's responsibilities expanded even further.
Navy's 6-6 senior captain led the team in scoring (10.9 points per game) and rebounding (6.7) a year ago. He was second in the Patriot League in rebounding, and with Navy employing a three-guard lineup, he'll likely need to play a bigger interior role this season.
"Matt's got to be our catalyst; he's got to be a physical rebounder for us," Lange said. "He's our go-to player on the inside. I'm sure everybody knows that; there's no secret."
Baldwin, who led Navy in scoring and rebounding two years ago, has healed faster than expected and could be ready for next Friday's season opener against Georgetown. Had Baldwin's recovery lasted longer, 6-5 freshman Casey Reed likely would have joined Fannin in the front court.
Game to watch: Jan. 25 vs. American. This game obviously has none of the pageantry of home meetings with Air Force or Army, but from a basketball standpoint, it should provide a significant measuring stick. The Midshipmen lost three games to American last year by a combined 15 points, including a two-point overtime loss in the Patriot League tournament.
Postseason prospects (from 1 to 4 basketballs): One basketball -- With all six freshmen expected to see playing time, any improvement on last season's record would be satisfying.
478: Combined points scored by guards Corey Johnson and Greg Sprink last season. It was the first time in Navy history two freshmen reached 200 points in the same season.