Sunday, March 26, 2006


File this one under the most improbable weekend in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament. At press, three #1's are watching the Final Four and the other is playing for it's life in Minnesota. A Pac-10 team looks like it can't lose, an SEC team has the best Big Baby in the tourney (sorry, J.J.) another SEC team could join the fun and as for the three power conferences, the Big Eleven, the Big 16 and the ACC, well, think about that watching the Final Four instead of playing again. And the biggest surprise in the whole thing is that one of the teams in the Final Four this year is the #11 George Mason Patriots.

Not Georgetown or George Washington or any other George school you might know. George Mason.

You have got to be kidding me.

The George Mason Patriots have gone on the most impressive tournament run not only in recent memory but probably ever. It was cool when Butler made a run a few years ago, and everyone was all over Gonzaga when they went ahead and made their run in 2001, but look at who Mason (as the locals call it) has played and, summarily beaten:

Rd. 1 - Michigan State (who was in the Final Four the year previous)
Rd. 2 - North Carolina (who WON the tourney last year - and forget about who they lost, they're UNC and teams like Mason generally fill up ACC schedules in November and are referred to as "cupcakes")
Rd. 3 - Witchita State (this was not a weak win. WSU had beaten Mason earlier in the year and had dispatched of their first round fodder with relative ease. GMU throttled them)
Rd. 4 - UConn (raise your hand if UConn was YOUR national champion for this year. That's right. Everybody.)

And now here they are, on the brink of taking their status as a trivia question (just wait for it, on sports shows in 10 years - what two teams have made it to the Final Four boasting #11 seeds (LSU '86, GMU '06)) and actually making something of it. UConn was the best team in this tournament but they were also the dumbest and didn't know how to play to their potential. Look at their first game against University of Albany, down 13 with 7:30 to play. It took a 39-19 run to end the game for Jim Calhoun and his team to be called winners. Good teams can go on that run. Great teams don't have to. Ever.

Can this team do what '86 LSU could not? Can they be the next '85 Villanova (it seems irony must have filled out a bracket, too, as GMU might have to go through 'Nova to win a title) and slay two mighty Goliaths? It's improbable. It's not impossible. Rewind to yesterday (Saturday) and remember what you were saying to yourself after the LSU/UCLA wins: "Man, UConn will kill either of those guys." I said it. You said it.

And now we get to the question of bandwagonning. With every single bracket now firmly entrenched six feet under, suddenly more than the school's 30,000 students will be rooting for the Patriots. I will be. UConn was my champion, beating Boston College in the Final Four, Duke in the championship. My bracket is more gone than Jimmy Hoffa. And the scary thing is, I think the Pats can do it. They'll have to beat a very fast, very proficient Florida or Villanova team to do it and then probably UCLA (though who trusts my picks right now?) in the final game. Mason is fast enough to hang with either team in game one and could shoot UCLA or LSU into the ground on a good night. I hate that I'm saying it but if GMU wins this thing, I won't be surprised. You beat MSU, UNC and UConn and you can beat anyone.

But let's go back to reality for just one second. A #11 seed cannot win a national championship. That's like a 9-3 team winning football, or anyone other than USC winning water polo, right?

We'll know in a week.

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