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How Justin Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback may have saved Virginia Tech’s season

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How Justin Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback may have saved Virginia Tech’s season

Before the calendar turned from September to October, Virginia Tech was already left for dead. Coming off a bye week, the Hokies were handed a 45-10 blowout loss at home by Duke. That left Virginia Tech at 2-2, 0-2 in the ACC and their only wins coming against Old Dominion and FCS Furman. Needing seven wins to reach bowl eligibility this season due to having two FCS teams on the schedule, it was hard to look at the eight games remaining on the schedule and find where those five remaining wins could come from.

And then something happened. A Virginia Tech offense that could get nothing going against Duke the week beforehand somehow managed to put up 42 against Miami in a 42-35 upset on the road. That game proved to be a turning point for the offense and the Hokies have now won three straight including a six-overtime victory over North Carolina.

What changed? The answer is the coaching staff finally realized the missing ingredient the offense needed in order to work: a dual-threat quarterback. That realization just may have saved Virginia Tech’s season twice already.

Sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker started the game against Miami, taking over for the incumbent Ryan Willis. Hooker added a running threat that the team did not have with Willis and, while he did not have the best performance through the air with 10 completions on 20 attempts, the threat of the run opened up the offense. Hooker threw for three touchdowns and ran for 76 yards and another touchdown.

Prior to Saturday’s win, it would have been easy to say the difference was the move to Hooker by itself. A new quarterback sparked the offense. As well as Hooker had played, however, it was the realization of the coaches that it was that running threat that made all the difference, not necessary Hooker himself. That realization proved critical against North Carolina as head coach Justin Fuente made a huge gamble and it paid off.

Just two games after the win over Miami, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina and Hooker left the game with an injury in the second quarter. Willis came on in relief, initially, completing all three of his pass attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown.

But after a drive in which Willis was sacked twice including a 12-yard loss on an intentional grounding call that took Virginia Tech out of field goal range and forced a punt, Fuente made perhaps the most important call of his tenure in Blacksburg.

On the next drive, third-string, freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson was in at quarterback.

“Quincy hasn’t taken as many reps in the past couple of weeks as the top two guys - but we made the decision there pretty quicky to move along and bring Quincy in,” Fuente told the media after the game. “Obviously, it changed what we looked like a little bit. To me, he did a great job of running hard, taking care of the ball, and he made a few good plays in the passing game.”

Patterson had only one college completion in his career. Yet, he came into the game and was able to pass for 54 yards, rush for another 122 and score two total touchdowns. He also ran in the game-clinching two-point conversion in the sixth-overtime.

“Part of it is his threat of running the football, it can give you some advantageous looks to throw the ball,” Fuente said of the advantage Patterson brought to the offense.”

It takes guts to decide to replace your former starter, who had already thrown for a touchdown, with a freshman quarterback who has virtually no experience.

Ultimately the results speak for themselves.

With Willis as the starter, Virginia Tech went 2-2. They turned the ball over 11 times in those four games and the offense was getting progressively worse. The Hokies managed 442 total yards in the season opener against Boston College. That was down to 403 the week after, 350 in Week 3 and finally 259 against Duke.

With Hooker and Patterson as the primary starters, Virginia Tech has turned the ball over only twice. The total yards have climbed each week from 337 to 485 to 490. Perhaps most critically, a Virginia Tech team that was averaging only 148.8 rushing yards per game was has averaged 210.3 rushing yards in the past three wins. The Hokies are also average 39.7 points per game, up from 23.3.

Think those points were inflated by the overtime win? Not really. If you take away the 12 points Virginia Tech scored in those six overtimes, their scoring average would still be 35.7.

Even with three straight wins, Virginia Tech still has a tough hill to climb to get back to protect its treasured bowl streak and contend for the Coastal Division. The Hokies have five wins and must find two more in their schedule at Notre Dame, Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, Pitt and at Virginia.

But you can’t count them out just yet. The offense has pulled the team back from the precipice after Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback paid off.

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Mac McClung has entered the NBA draft, what happens if he doesn't return to Georgetown?

Mac McClung has entered the NBA draft, what happens if he doesn't return to Georgetown?

After back-to-back stellar seasons with the Georgetown Hoyas, Mac McClung has stated his intentions to enter the 2020 NBA Draft process. 

A general consensus from draft evaluators and fans is that McClung will eventually withdraw his name from the process after the NBA Combine and come back. Declaring can be used to gain feedback from scouts and agents alike on where he is at in his playing career.

If he came back to Georgetown he could use that criticism to develop and prepare for the draft next season. It makes sense and is a system that has worked countless times to create solid NBA players.

But what if McClung doesn't withdraw his name and fully commits to the draft? It can't be ruled out given that is why he is declaring. 

That could put Georgetown in a precarious situation next season. Not only would it hurt losing such a dynamic scorer and playmaker in McClung, but once again they would be thrust into another season with potential roster concerns. 

With McClung, there are seven returning players on scholarship for next year. It is assumed Omer Yurtseven will not be returning either for a graduate season after his post on Instagram "closed a chapter" and seemed like a goodbye message to the Hoyas. That would leave six scholarship players returning. 

Not an ideal situation for Patrick Ewing as he is still looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time. But, that situation is manageable with two starters returning and two others that saw significant playing time. 

If McClung leaves, that means five returning players will be on next year's roster. Only three having played regular minutes. There would also be only one guard.

Relief is coming, three of the four commitments for next year are guards, all of them being three-star recruits. In this situation, at least one, potentially two of them, would have to start immediately for Georgetown. Now, freshmen start all the time in college hoops but that's a tall task for three-stars. There's also the transfer market, but no big transfer has been publically linked to the Hoyas as of this writing.

Why is this an issue? The consensus is that McClung will return next season. He's slightly undersized for either the point or shooting guard positions in the NBA. He is a 3-point shooter, but at 32% last season he isn't consistent enough to make it on his shooting alone. The best, and most enticing part, of his game is his athleticism and dunking ability.

But at the combine, things can change quickly. Jordan Bone of Tennessee (2019) and Kevin Huerter from Maryland (2018) proved that.

Both are examples of prospects that can shine in the combine and then make a sudden decision to forgo their eligibility and get drafted. McClung already has a leg up on other prospects by being well known in the scouting community from the hype surrounding him in high school. He's already had valuable conversations and connections with those involved in the evaluation. 

A good combine can make McClung an attractive prospect and if a team is telling him the right things, it may be enough to get him to leave college. That is not a reality that Georgetown could afford to face next year. 

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March Madness Revisited: George Mason lives out of their Final Four shadow in 2011

March Madness Revisited: George Mason lives out of their Final Four shadow in 2011

As March wound down without its usual flurry of March Madness moments, NBC Sports Washington took a look back at some smaller DMV schools who made a big impact during their most recent NCAA Tournament appearances.  

When one thinks of George Mason basketball, instantly they're called back to the historic Final Four team in 2006. That team's legacy hasn’t outgrown that legendary performance when the Patriots stunned everyone with one of the great Cinderella runs in tournament history.

But the 2010-11 George Mason squad had something to prove, too. Those Patriots wanted to write their own history. Hard to do when the mark was an unprecedented Final Four appearance. In 2011 they moved the Final Four to the side and gave pundits another story to tell, adding another giant of the sport to their list of downed foes.

Five years removed from the original Cinderella story, it was an entirely new team. New players, new assistant coaches and a new era of Mason basketball. But, it was recent enough to still have extra motivation for those on the roster. 

“We were kind of in those shadows of ‘Alright we don’t want to be the guys that come to college and then don’t get to the tournament,'’” former Patriots forward Mike Morrison told NBC Sports Washington. “We still communicate with [the Final Four] guys as if we’re on the same team. We know them personally. We play videogames online with each other from across the world and group chats and all that stuff. So, we were pretty tight.”

During that 2010-11 season, the Patriots, led still by coach Jim Larranaga, set records that even the Final Four team never did. A program-best 16-game winning streak propelled the team to an at-large bid. As a rehe CAA regular-season title for the second time ever. They received a higher seed, in fact - the best in the league’s history by being the No. 8 seed. George Mason sult, they won twas the first CAA team to ever be the home seed in an NCAA Tournament game. 

And unlike Selection Sunday in 2006, there was no doubt they would hear their name called. A 26-6 (16-2) record in a three-bid CAA had them prepared to continue playing. It was a matter of who, when and where, not if. 

Mason’s first opponent was Villanova, a team that the Patriots had just lost to by a point a year prior in non-conference play, a team Mason believed it could beat.

“We weren’t just happy by the seeding. We were very excited to get Villanova," Morrison said. "The year before we played them in Puerto Rico and we really felt like we should have beat them and we didn’t play our best game. There was a lot of excitement behind our matchup for sure.”

Mason’s roster was full of characters. The quiet, lead-by-example Cam Long was one of two seniors in the rotation. With him were the loud and boisterous juniors Ryan Pearson and Morrison in the frontcourt. At the point was sophomore guard Luke Hancock. They didn’t back down from a challenge. Mason was aggressive, loud, talked smack and was not afraid to tell teams they were better than them. They were battle-tested.

“We played tough games that year,” then-assistant coach Mike Huger told NBC Sports Washington. “We were in battles throughout, even in the 16-game winning streak. The CAA was very good and very competitive with us and VCU and just battling each other throughout. Old Dominion was very good as well.”

The first-round matchup played out exactly how an No. 8-9 game should. Back-and-forth, each team trading blows, answering the bell when it looked like the other had them on the ropes. 

An 8-0 spark in the final moments gave Mason brief control of the game. Up until that point, Villanova had led for most of the contest and Mason would not go away. A foul on a Corey Fisher 3-point attempt gave Villanova the lead right back with the shot clock turned off. Mason was down one, with plenty of time left for multiple possessions and then Hancock stepped back for a three.

“Luke shot it and that wasn’t the plan,” Morrision said jokingly. “Luke just did what he does.”

“Well, first it was more like ‘What are you doing?!’ He had the lane to drive to the basket and then he stops on a dime and takes a step-back three… and it was like holy smokes,” Huger said. “The shot was just such a shock. I think Villanova was in shock that everything happened the way it did. I think that kind of froze them a little bit and they weren’t able to make a play after that.”

The Patriots withstood the final 20 seconds to beat Villanova 61-57. Another blue blood to go down, joining the list of Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut from 2006. Could Patriots, with a crop of new faces, do it again? 

The three by Hancock extended Mason’s tournament but did not extend his own. Before they were set to play No. 1 seed Ohio State, Hancock came down with food poisoning. The “glue” of the team was gone and quickly shut down the wild concept that this could be another Cinderella team. 

"That changed the dynamic of the team,” Huger said. “We didn’t understand how much we would miss Luke going into that Ohio State game until it really hit us and now it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s not here.’”

The David Lighty and Jared Sullinger-led Buckeyes throttled the Patriots 98-66 in the second round. A magical run wasn’t allowed to end organically. 

As fortune would have it, that was the end of the road for a group that had so much potential. With four starters returning, running it back and perhaps having an even better season was definitely in the cards. 

But Larranaga left at season’s end to coach the Miami Hurricanes. His assistants would follow. Hancock, who had just come off his ‘One Shining Moment’ shot, transferred to Louisville, where more NCAA Tournaments would follow. 

The 'what ifs' grow bigger as time has gone on, showing how quickly life can change for mid-major programs. The Patriots haven’t made the tournament since.

“We thought we could really do something special with that group coming back, but everything changed,” Huger said. “Who knows what would have happened if we would have stayed and had another crack at it the following year with that group back. So that’s the thing that you always wonder.”

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