The Patriots have four starters returning. Three of them had double-figure scoring averages for a team that finished third in the Colonial Athletic Association last season. So it's not surprising that in a poll of CAA coaches the Patriots were picked to finish second in the conference behind perennial national power Old Dominion.

"We have a lot to live up to with that ranking," George Mason Coach Debbie Taneyhill said. "But that's a goal that we're working up to at George Mason. I hope our kids can go out and embrace that ranking."

It's certainly a welcome change from the end of last season, when the Patriots finished with just seven of the 12 players who began preseason practice. Two were removed from the team after the first semester for academic reasons. Then, on Feb. 6, Taneyhill suspended three freshmen for violating team rules. After that, however, the Patriots won four of their final seven games.

Three of the five players who didn't finish last season have returned. One will start and another might. Senior swingman Jill Bartley has regained her academic eligibility and will start at small forward. Maggie Johnston, one of the three suspended in February, started the team's first exhibition game at point guard. Another of the suspended players, guard Terrana Pyfrom, also has been reinstated and is expected to contribute as a reserve.

Even if Johnston doesn't start, she will play a lot, as Taneyhill attempts to improve on last season's average of 21.6 turnovers a game.

"When you're trying to run like we do, you have to have someone that takes care of the ball," Taneyhill said. "With the offensive weapons we have, we can't afford to throw the ball away before we get a chance to get the ball to those players."

Those players are junior guard Jen Surlas, senior forward Trish Halpin and senior forward Chrissy Todd. They carried the team at the end of last season, and Taneyhill is hoping that with a larger supporting cast they can take the Patriots even farther.

Data

Last season: 13-14, 10-6 Colonial Athletic Association.

Coach: Debbie Taneyhill (third season, 23-24).

Top returning players: G Jen Surlas, 5-8, Jr. (15.6 ppg, CAA-best 56 three-pointers, first-team all-CAA); F Trish Halpin, 6-3, Sr. (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, school-record 75 blocks, first-team all-CAA); F Chrissy Todd, 6-2, Sr. (12.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg); G Courtney Kaup, 5-6, Sr. (5 ppg, 5.4 apg).

Key departures: F-C Jasmine Goffe (7.4 ppg, 7 rpg).

New faces: G Shelbylynn McBride, 6-0, Fr. (Valrico, Fla.); F Khalilah Smith, 6-0, Fr. (Eastampton, N.J.); F-C Courtney Hall, 6-3, Fr. (South Lakes High).

Schedule

November

20 at Providence, 7

23 Morgan State, 7

26 vs. Mount St. Mary's*, 6

27 vs. Alabama-Birmingham or Akron*, 3 or 5

December

1 Georgetown, 7

5 at St. Francis (Pa.), 2

11 Duquesne, 7

18 Santa Clara, 2

21 at Lafayette, 5:45

28 at Duke, 7

January

2 at South Carolina, 2

7 American, 7

14 at James Madison, 7:30

16 UNC Wilmington, 2

21 Old Dominion, 7

23 East Carolina, 2

28 at Va. Commonwealth, 7

31 Richmond, 7

February

4 William & Mary, 7

6 at Old Dominion, 2

11 at American, 7

13 at Richmond, 2:30

20 Va. Commonwealth, 2

25 at UNC Wilmington, 7

27 at East Carolina, 2

March

1 James Madison, 7

5 at William & Mary, 2

8-9 CAA tournament in Richmond

*Patriot Thanksgiving Classic