The Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball coaches picked George Mason to repeat as conference champions. The Patriots received five out of a possible nine first-place votes. Old Dominion's women's team, which has won the past eight conference tournament championships, was picked to make it nine in a row. The Patriots women were picked to finish second.

"With nine guys back from last season's championship team, that allows us to be somewhat optimistic, but also somewhat guarded," George Mason men's coach Jim Larranaga said at the league's media day today.

The Patriots have every starter back except point guard Jason Miskiri, who is with the Charlotte Hornets. That means the return of junior forward George Evans, the conference's player of the year last season. Evans led the CAA in scoring (17.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (55.7 percent) and was second in rebounding (8.5), steals (2.2) and blocked shots (2.5).

Because Evans realized how much he is going to get fouled as opponents try to stop him from going to the basket, he worked on his free throw shooting during the offseason. His shooting range has also increased to nearly 15 feet.

"The beautiful thing about George is you don't have to tell him anything; he knows exactly the things he needs to do to improve his game," Larranaga said.

Tremaine Price, a junior from Parkdale High School who was Miskiri's backup the past two seasons, is expected to take over as the starting point guard.

CAA Reduction

With East Carolina scheduled to leave for Conference USA in 2001, the CAA will be reduced to an eight-team league. Commissioner Tom Yeager is in no rush to find a replacement.

"I don't think there's any particular timetable," Yeager said. "Obviously, with eight teams, you don't need to rush. But I think we're very aggressively going to look at the college basketball landscape. . . . Yeager spoke to the men's and women's coaches last year about increasing the strength of their schedules. Most got the message. The Virginia Commonwealth men's team is playing Louisville and Mississippi. The North Carolina Wilmington men's team is playing Florida. The George Mason women's team is playing national runner-up Duke. The Old Dominion women's team is playing Tennessee, Connecticut, Rutgers and UCLA.

Eagle's Eye

Last season, American men's coach Art Perry worried about his depth after so many early-season injuries. So he recruited players who could make an immediate impact.

Tim Washington, a 6-8 freshman forward from Hyattsville, is one of those players. "He's certainly capable of putting up big numbers," Perry said.

Perry also likes Ronnie Hearns, a 6-3 junior college transfer who is boxer Thomas Hearns's son. "He's not [American career three-point leader] Nathan Smith," Perry said, "but he's certainly the best shooter I've had since Nathan." . . .

Today's event was held at Virginia Commonwealth's new facility, the 7,500-seat Stuart C. Siegel Center. The Rams open the gymnasium with a men's game against Louisville on Nov. 19.