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 season, 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 season, 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): 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.