The George Mason University basketball program has announced its 2017-18 non-conference schedule, which includes a home contest vs. Penn State, road games at Louisville and Auburn and a berth in the 2017 Cancun Challenge.
“This is a great non-conference schedule that will provide a strong test for our team,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “Our goal is always to have a series of attractive home games for our fans. It’s exciting to have a marquee team like Penn State coming in to our building. But we certainly feel like we have some other talented programs coming to Fairfax. We’re looking forward to renewing our series with William & Mary. There are also some veteran teams on the schedule in December that may not be household names, but are high-quality programs that will push our guys.”
Lafayette & Louisville – Nov. 10 & 12
The Patriots open the 2017-18 campaign at home on Nov. 10 against Patriot League foe Lafayette. Paulsen is very familiar with the Leopards after facing off with the program throughout his time at Bucknell.
“Fran O’Hanlon is one of the best coaches in the country,” Paulsen said. “His guys run a strong motion offense which will be a good challenge right out of the gate for our players.”
After the opener, the Patriots will square off with expected national title contender Louisville just two days later on Nov. 12 in Kentucky.
Louisville returns the majority of its roster from a 2016-17 squad that posted a 25-9 record, including a 12-6 mark in the ACC. Louisville also will welcome a star-studded recruiting class ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN and No. 8 by Rivals.com.
One of the most storied programs in the nation, Louisville has made 11 of the past 12 NCAA Tournaments and has earned four Sweet 16 berths in the last five seasons. The Cardinals reached the national final in 2012 and won the national championship in 2013.
Cancun Openers – Nov. 16 & 18
Following that game, Mason will return to Fairfax for a pair of games that serve as the opening contests of the 2017 Cancun Challenge. The Patriots will begin that slate with a game vs. Binghamton on the Nov. 16. One of the many veteran teams on the schedule, the Bearcats return their top five scorers from 2016-17.
Mason then will host Big West opponent Cal State Northridge on Saturday, November 18. The Matadors are coached by former NBA All-Star and NCAA All-American Reggie Theus.
2017 Cancun Challenge – Nov. 21 & 22
From there, the Patriots will travel to Mexico for a two-game tournament at the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Del Maya. Mason opens the 2017 Cancun Challenge against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 21.
The Bulldogs are coached by two members of the Mason family. Head coach Eric Konkol served as an assistant coach for the Patriots from 2002-05 and again from 2007-11. Assistant coach Tony Skinn played three seasons for Mason from 2003-06 and was a key member of the Patriots’ 2005-06 NCAA Final Four squad.
Louisiana Tech returns two of its top three scorers from a team that won 23 games in 2016-17 and posted a 14-4 record in Conference USA.
The Patriots then will play either Mountain West foe Fresno State or Missouri Valley opponent Evansville on Nov. 22, depending on the outcome of the first contest. Both Cancun games will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network.
“The tournament in Cancun, in addition to being a nice venue, provides excellent competition for our team,” Paulsen said. “In the non-conference schedule, we also try to expose our guys to a variety of styles and systems against teams that aren’t just located in our region of the country. This tournament helps accomplish that goal.”
Road Tests at James Madison and Auburn – Nov. 29 & Dec. 3
Mason returns to the U.S. and will enjoy a week-long competitive hiatus around Thanksgiving. The Patriots return to action on Nov. 29 with a contest at former CAA rival James Madison. The all-time series, which began in Mason’s second season of men’s basketball (1967-68), has been one of the most competitive in the program’s history. The Patriots have won 46 meetings while the Dukes have claimed victory in 50.
The Patriots will remain on the road to battle SEC foe Auburn on December 3 inside Auburn Arena. The Tigers return their top-4 scorers from a team that posted an 18-14 record, including a 7-11 mark in SEC play. Auburn also welcomes a recruiting class ranked No. 22 in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 29 by ESPN.com. The team’s new additions also include VCU transfer Samir Doughty.
“We have scheduled some demanding road games. They will prepare our team to compete in the types of hostile environments we will see in A-10 play,” Paulsen said. “We’re excited to continue our longstanding rivalry with James Madison. And with the addition of Louisville and Auburn, it gives us three Power 5 teams on our schedule and the opportunity to compete against some of the best programs in the nation.”
Former CAA Rival William & Mary – Dec. 6
Following the Auburn game, the Patriots will play the final five games of the non-conference slate inside EagleBank Arena.
That homestand commences with a game against another former CAA rival, William & Mary. The Dec. 6 contest features a Tribe team that returns eight letter winners from a 2016-17 squad that posted a 17-14 record and a 10-8 mark in CAA play.
Veteran Teams North Carolina Central & Georgia Southern – Dec. 9 & Dec. 12
Mason then will host MEAC power North Carolina Central on December 9. The Eagles have dominated that league over the past few seasons and have won at least 22 games in four of the past five seasons. During that stretch, NCCU has earned two NCAA Tournament berths and a spot in the 2015 NIT. In a three year stretch from 2012-15, the Eagles posted a 46-2 record in MEAC play. NCCU went 25-9 last season and qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Following that game, Mason returns to EagleBank Arena on Dec. 12 to host Georgia Southern. Another strong mid-major program, the Eagles posted a 11-7 Sun Belt mark last season and a 17-14 record overall. GSU returns leading scorers Ike Smith (19.6 ppg), Tookie Brown (17.1 ppg) and Mike Hughes (10.6 ppg).
“North Carolina Central and Georgia Southern are two very strong programs and bring back a lot of guys,” Paulsen said. “They’re from regions of the country we haven’t played for awhile. Some of the teams the average team knows a lot about. There are also teams on our schedule the average fan doesn’t know a lot about that are very strong programs.”
Big Ten Battle vs. Penn State – Dec. 17
Mason’s penultimate non-conference game features a marquee matchup with the Penn State Nittany Lions onSunday, December 17. Penn State returns five of its top six scorers from a 2016-17 campaign that included wins over Georgia Tech and Big Ten NCAA Tournament squads Michigan State, Minnesota and Maryland.
The game is the second contest of a home-and-home series between the two programs. The Patriots won last season’s matchup, 85-66, on December 7, 2016 in State College.
Wrapping Up vs. Morgan State – Dec. 22
The Patriots will conclude their 2017-18 non-conference schedule with a contest against DMV opponent Morgan State. The Baltimore-based Bears graduate just one player from a 2016-17 team that posted an 11-5 in MEAC play.
Nov. 10 – Lafayette
Nov. 12 – at Louisville
Nov. 16 – Binghamton
Nov. 18 – Cal State Northridge
Nov. 21 – vs. Louisiana Tech (at Cancun Challenge)
Nov. 22 – vs. Fresno State/Evansville (at Cancun Challenge)
Nov. 29 – at James Madison
Dec. 3 – at Auburn
Dec. 6 – William & Mary
Dec. 9 – North Carolina Central
Dec. 12 – Georgia Southern
Dec. 17 – Penn State
Dec. 22 – Morgan State