College basketball tips off locally

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Photo courtesy of Robert Morrison

George Mason, similar to other programs within the area, faces a new season full of change and challenges.

The men’s 2021-2022 college basketball season is now underway and teams within the area have resumed competition after a COVID-ridden season just one year prior. A new year brings new players, coaches, and challenges that will require teams to adapt en route to potential NCAA tournament appearances.

Coming off an early first round departure in the 2020-21 NCAA tournament, the University of Virginia Cavaliers face new challenges on their quest for a second National Championship in program history. The Cavaliers are without their top three scorers from a season ago, leaving head Coach, Tony Bennett, in need of scoring contributions from across the roster. UVA begins the season with nine returning players and four incoming players, two of which are transfers. 

“I am excited to see what’s going to happen this year especially with UVA and I am very interested in following the team,” said senior Zach Beiro.

Point guard Kihei Clark, most known for his tournament heroics three seasons prior, will man the offense this season and assume a leadership role, as one of the longest tenured players on the roster. Alongside Clark, transfer wings Armaan Franklin and Jayden Gardner, who both posted double digit scoring averages a season ago, look to provide much needed offense for a UVA starting five that seems to be void of a true scoring identity. The Cavaliers kicked off the 2021-22 season with a surprising eight point defeat against unranked Navy, leaving fans in question of the team’s ability to shoot the ball efficiently and defend the perimeter. Despite the loss, the Cavaliers hope to bounce back, with hopes of capturing a third ACC Championship title and a NCAA Tournament bid.

Hoping to find similar success, the Georgetown Hoyas seek to recapture the Big East title for the second consecutive year and remain in the hunt for another NCAA Tournament berth. One season prior, Georgetown claimed its first Big East championship in 14 years and its first under head coach and former Hoya standout Patrick Ewing. Despite the recent success, Georgetown has failed to win an NCAA Tournament game in five years, with their last victory coming in the first round of the 2015 tournament. The 2020 NCAA tournament was cancelled altogether due to COVID-19. No teams played or qualified. 

In search of a tournament win, the Hoyas look to debut a cast of new and incoming players with hopes of finding sustained success and a return to college basketball dominance. The 2021-2022 roster features freshman guard and highly coveted recruit Aminu Mohammed who is likely to make an immediate impact on the floor. A former McDonald’s All-American and a 2x Missouri Gatorade Player of the year, the 6’5 Mohammed will join freshmen guards Jordan Riley and Jalin Billingsly as well as 7’2 freshman big man Ryan Mutombo, the son of the former Hoya great, Dikembe Mutombo. With only six returning players, Ewing heads a relatively inexperienced group of players in his fifth year as head basketball coach. With an early defeat to Dartmouth to begin the season, Georgetown looks to take advantage of an easier schedule prior to conference play.

In Fairfax, the George Mason Patriots begin the 2021-22 regular season under new head coach and former 2012 NBA second round draft pick Kim English. At 33 years of age, English comes to George Mason with six years of assistant coaching experience, all of which have come at the division I collegiate level. Along with a new head coach, the Patriots welcome five transfers and five incoming freshmen, making their roster relatively young and new to one another. Of the few returning players, junior forward Josh Oduro is poised to have a significant and impactful season serving as the team’s primary source of points and rebounds. Oduro, a graduate of Paul VI High School, averaged a career best 10.4 ppg and 6.1 rpg a season ago. Statistical improvements from veteran players such as Oduro and sharp shooting senior Jamal Hartwell will be critical in Mason’s success in an increasingly competitive A-10 conference. Mason began the 2021-22 season with an emphatic 22 point home opening victory over Stony Brook in which Oduro posted a game high 16 points. With an early victory under their belt, Mason looks to continue to find success and potentially earn a NCAA tournament bid.

“I really look forward to going to games this year and following George Mason,” said senior Haroon Huesseini.

Local colleges and universities across the commonwealth are now facing non-conference opponents at this early stage of the season as they prepare for conference play. Although we are far away from March Madness, there is plenty for basketball fans to enjoy during the beginning stages of the 2021-2022 season.