BY BEN CRISWELL, STAFF WRITER
With the men’s basketball team opening its regular season this Saturday, Head Coach Dave Paulsen is prepared to improve off the 11-21 record the Patriots finished with last year.
This year, Mason has one of the youngest rosters in the Atlantic 10 Conference with just three seniors and no juniors on the roster. There are also a total of six freshmen, which means the team will look to its seniors and even sophomores for leadership.
And since the team is young, Paulsen expects there to be some obstacles during the year. Consistency is among the biggest.
“It is a huge adjustment for freshmen [and sophomores] to be able to bring it every day and to sustain intensity,” Paulsen said.
Paulsen also said that he likes “the steps our sophomores have taken in terms of becoming more consistent.”
One of the sophomores expected to take on a leadership role is Otis Livingston, who was named one of the team’s captains. Last season, Livingston averaged 11 points per game and showed himself more than capable of being Mason’s primary ball handler.
What Paulsen likes about Livingston is his work ethic and love for the game. Paulsen said, “He works as hard and is as passionate as anyone I’ve ever coached.” One key difference between this year’s team and last year’s will be versatility.
Last season, Mason boasted one of the biggest frontcourts in the Atlantic 10, but the bulk of that frontcourt is now gone. The Patriots will now look to their forwards and guards to guard multiple positions defensively and create matchup problems on offense.
“We’re going to be more versatile offensively and defensively, but we have to be able to handle the physicality,” Paulsen said.
Physicality will be big with the Patriots this season. And without a traditional center on roster, an undersized frontline is going to have to play big.
Defensively, a key factor for the Patriots will be rebounding. Forwards Jalen Jenkins and Troy Temara will most likely anchor the Patriots down low, but with the graduation of Shevon Thompson, rebounding will have to be a collective effort if Mason is to be successful.
Mason’s guards are going to be especially big on the defensive end. The guards will have to disrupt passing lanes and crash the boards to combat the physical stature of the opponents.
Offensively, the style of play will be different than that of years past. Last season, Thompson dominated the ball down low and could score in a variety of ways around the rim.
This season, the Patriots will most likely look to spread the floor to give their guards and wing players more room to operate, making the ability to make shots (as always) paramount to their success.
In terms of shooting, last year’s Patriots shot just 29 percent from three and only 67 percent from the line. Those numbers may go up with the addition of a couple key players and as the team becomes more guard-oriented.
One of those key players for the Patriots this season will be guard DeAndre Abram.
At 6 feet 7 inches tall, he is one of Mason’s tallest and most versatile players. In his freshman year, Abram played 20 minutes a game, but will now be forced into a more dynamic role.
Abram was limited oftentimes last season to beyond the three-point line, but has progressed into a more “do-it-all” player, both offensively and defensively.
Paulsen expects four freshmen to see significant minutes on the court this year: Troy Temara, Ian Boyd, Justin Kier and Kamari Newman.
All bring something different to the table and will provide a solid bench for Mason this season.
While Paulsen does not like to set expectations based on wins, he said that, “The ideal season would be that we can sustain the level of effort and intensity we’ve had to this point and that we don’t allow either success or short-term failure to impact the process.”
Paulsen also said that he likes the spirit of his young team, but jokingly added that none of them have been yelled at during a game yet.
The development process will also be a big part of the Patriots’ upcoming year.
Mason will retain the majority of their starters from last year, but will have an inexperienced bench.
It is safe to say that the inexperience will be short-lived, however, as the best way to combat inexperience is to play. The goal, Paulsen said, is progress—getting better each day.
Another goal for Mason will be to make their home court a formidable place to play. Paulsen said he hopes to finish the year with a .500 or better record at home. In the inaugural year of EagleBank Arena, the Patriots finished 7-8, with a Jan. 22 contest played at the RAC.
Paulsen knows that in order to establish a formidable home court, it must start with their play.
In his second year, Paulsen appears to have taken the right steps in terms of building the foundation for a winning program. This season, Mason will look to build off that foundation and make strides in terms of effort, consistency and, ultimately, wins.
The Patriots open the season Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. in EagleBank Arena.