The Washington Times - December 21, 2011, 12:08PM

George Mason basketball coach Paul Hewitt likes to think of the regular season as a three-part deal.

Early in the season, there is excitement all around for the start of a new year.


Late in the season, the possibility of postseason play looms larger and larger.

But there’s also that chunk of games in the middle, 10 or so contests that Hewitt considers crucial.

“These middle third games really start to determine who’s a good team. You start to figure out who you are. You start to establish yourself as a team. That doesn’t mean you have to win every one of them.”

The middle third begins Wednesday for Mason (7-3) when it plays host to Duquesne. The Patriots play 31 regular-season games, but for the sake of convenience let’s call the next 11 games the second chunk of the season. That covers three nonconference games and eight CAA games, bringing Mason to the midpoint of its league schedule. All of that occurs between now and Jan. 23.

Plenty will be different in that span, notably the return of guard Andre Cornelius from a 10-game suspension and the trickle-down effect that will have on the rest of the Patriots’ rotation.

“I think our team, for a lot of reasons —- our youth on the perimeter, the development of Mike Morrison as an offensive player, the return of Andre, there are a lot of things going on with our team that could really make us a  much better basketball team over these next 10 games than we were the first 10 games,” Hewitt said. “I think we slightly underachieved in our first 10 games. I would say a game or so under where we should be or where we could be.”

—- Patrick Stevens