Coach: Paul Hewitt. Second season, 24-9; 279-196 overall
Last season: 24-9, lost in CAA semifinals
Key player: C Erik Copes. The sophomore offered a hint of how he could alter the game with seven blocks at Drexel in January. He’ll be the focal point of the Patriots’ revamped frontcourt.
Biggest loss: F Ryan Pearson. It will be difficult to replace all of the production from last year’s CAA player of the year. Pearson averaged 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior
Top newcomer: F Marko Gujanicic. The Serbian freshman (by way of a California prep school) scored a team-high 16 points in Mason’s exhibition game last month. He possesses a savvy game and could press for a place in the starting lineup before long.
Best case: The Patriots cut down on their costly turnover habit and an inconsistent backcourt shows progress as Mason exceeds expectations and wins the CAA tournament a year after falling behind Virginia Commonwealth 32-4 in the conference semifinals.
Worst case: The Patriots can’t get out of their own way and remain turnover-prone even after factoring in a push for a faster tempo while the frontcourt rotation can’t match the production of Pearson and Mike Morrison as Mason sinks to the middle of the conference standings.
Dec. 2 vs. Maryland. The second of two ACC opponents for the Patriots (Virginia pays a visit for Friday’s opener) provides an opportunity to up a possible NCAA tournament team on a neutral floor.
Jan. 10 vs. Old Dominion. The Monarchs, who depart for Conference USA next season, make their last visit to the Patriot Center as a CAA foe. Mason’s won five straight against ODU in Fairfax.
Jan. 31 at Drexel. The road to the top seed in the CAA tournament will probably go through Philadelphia, and the DAC is the only arena in the league where Mason hasn’t won in the last two seasons.