This was going to be a big year for George Mason. The Patriots have a new head coach in Paul Hewitt. They have a coterie of returning talent from a team that won a tough Colonial Athletic Association and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. They have a shot to be ranked in the top 25 to start to season, a shot to spend much of 2011-12 getting the kind of national profile boost that can be so rare for a mid-major, even one as recently successful as GMU.
But none of that is going to happen if George Mason doesn't have a backcourt. Right now, things aren't looking good.
This week, Mason suspended senior guard Andre Cornelius. Why? Because Cornelius was arrested and charged with credit card fraud and credit card larceny Friday, for which he was taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He was released on $1,500 bond. The school released a statement Monday:
“Cornelius has been summarily suspended from the team as a result of the charges filed against him,” the school said in a statement. “The suspension will be in effect until the legal and University judicial processes have been completed.”
There's no telling when that could be, and there's a decent chance, if the charges against Cornelius are found to be true, that he won't be back with his team at any point during this season (and maybe any other).
In other words, George Mason's backcourt takes another major loss. Cornelius started all 34 games for GMU last season, averaging 9.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. In and of itself, that doesn't seem like a huge loss in production. But when combined with the graduation of senior star Cam Long and the transfer of efficient scorer Luke Hancock to Louisville this spring, Cornelius' likely absence could be devastating. It means the Patriots will play the 2011-12 season with no returning backcourt starters. It means relying on Byron Allen or Vertrail Vaughns, promising young players with minimal experience in key roles. It means turning over a guard corp that was the main ingredient for Mason's surprising success in 2011-12. Without all that brilliant shooting and timely passing, can Hewitt's first Mason team really maintain last year's momentum?
That question was relevant anyway; losing Long and Hancock was always going to be difficult. But this only adds to the challenges. Can Hewitt find a way to overcome?