George Mason senior guard Andre Cornelius will be able to suit up for the Patriots this season, but he’ll be ineligible until the end of the first semester.
Cornelius, who is the only returning member from last year’s starting back court, was arrested back in September on charges of credit card fraud. He’ll miss the first 10 games of the season, but as of today he was allowed to return to practice with the Patriots. He’ll return on December 21st vs. Duquesne.
“The judicial process has been completed and Andre will be able to move forward practicing with the team and working towards his degree,” said Mason head coach Paul Hewitt. “He has admitted that he made a mistake and accepted responsibility for it. We look forward to having him rejoin us on the court in December.”
“I made a mistake, and as a result, I have lost the opportunity to do one of the things I love the most – play basketball at George Mason,” said Cornelius. “I accept this punishment and will work as hard as possible to support my team and get ready to make an impact when I come back.”
While it is good news that Cornelius didn’t lose the entire season — credit card fraud isn’t something to be taken lightly, his senior year was absolutely in jeopardy — the suspension puts Mason’s chances of earning an at-large bid in serious jeopardy. Every year, teams from the mid-major conferences are forced to schedule difficult games out of league play if they want a real chance at getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament without winning their conference’s automatic bid. The Patriots did a solid job of that this year, hosting Rhode Island and Bucknell, traveling to Virginia and taking part in the Preseason NIT.
If Mason is able to beat Monmouth in the opening round, then they will, in all likelihood, take on a Virginia Tech team that may just have enough pieces to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Regardless, the Hokies won’t do anything but help Mason’s computer numbers come March. And if they happen to win that game, GMU is headed to New York City to take on Syracuse at the Garden. That would be quite a boost to their non-conference schedule.
In other words, George Mason’s first two games in the Preseason NIT may end up being as important as the first game in last year’s Maui Invitational was to Wichita State. The Shockers lost, which may have cost them a bid to the NCAA Tournament when they lost out on playing the likes of Michigan State, Washington and Kentucky.
There is a bit of a silver lining here. The kids that will replace Cornelius in the lineup — players like freshman Corey Edwards and sophomores Vertrail Vaughns, Bryon Allen and Sherrod Wright — will all get big minutes and experience against quality competition. That will be a good thing for the Patriots come CAA play.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.