Rest of CAA struggling as league play starts

The George Mason basketball team is stuck in neutral, but that's fine in the CAA, where running in place is a way to get ahead.

The Patriots have played to the level of their competition, winning some, losing some, taking incremental steps forward, then others in reverse. Ten of George Mason's 12 games have been decided by seven or fewer points, with it winning half of those.

It all adds up to an undistinguished 7-5 record, more questions than answers and little resolved in a 10-player rotation that has talent but still is grasping for roles and cohesion.

Up next
Northeastern at George Mason
When » Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where » Patriot Center

But as the Patriots contemplate the start of CAA play, no team is on more solid ground. Before Wednesday's games, George Mason's RPI of 50 was more than 100 notches higher than any other team in the league.

As the CAA has been rocked by defections and long-term uncertainty, some teams appear to have been affected in the short term. After winning 29 games in 2011-12 and being designated the preseason favorite, Drexel (4-8) already has lost more games than last season. Delaware (5-8), predicted to finish second, has lost to weaklings Lafayette and Delaware State. Old Dominion (2-11), picked to finish fourth in its final year in the CAA, has fallen at home to Holy Cross, Virginia Military Institute and Texas-San Antonio.

With so many supposed powers receding, the Patriots -- picked to finish third in the preseason -- have emerged simply by holding serve. George Mason and William & Mary (7-4) are the only teams in the conference with a winning record.

When the Patriots play their CAA opener Thursday night against Northeastern (5-7), it will come against another conference team that has shrunk. The Huskies, picked to finish fifth in the league, were exposed in consecutive home losses to Maine, Massachusetts, La Salle and UNC Asheville.

Thursday's game will feature two of the best backcourt players in the CAA, both candidates for conference player of the year. While Northeastern senior Joel Smith ranks fifth in the CAA in scoring (16.7 ppg) and first in free throw shooting (82.1 percent), George Mason junior Sherrod Wright ranks fourth in scoring (17.3 ppg) and first in 3-point accuracy (45.5 percent).

The 6-foot-4 Wright has filled a void after the graduation of last year's conference player of the year, Ryan Pearson. Wright has scored at least 20 points in his last four games. When asked recently about his emergence as a go-to scorer, however, Wright talked more about his all-around work.

"The coaches and my teammates are starting to look for me to step up more and make plays, whether it's assists, steals, rebounds," Wright said. "They look for me to do a lot of different things on the court besides just to score."

Wright's work in Saturday's 61-57 loss at South Florida -- 22 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks -- was evidence of his multitasking.

"Sherrod's had this kind of potential since his freshman year," junior forward Johnny Williams said. "I'm not surprised at all."