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Sunday, March 26, 2006

George Mason advances to the Final Four

I just watched George Mason beat Connecticut to advance to the Final Four and I am still not sure if I believe this craziness. Sure, the Patriots of George Mason have nothing to do with the state of Ohio, nor did they play any Ohio teams this season. But what an amazing "Cinderella" run this is for the George Mason basketball team. In 2002 the Golden Flashes of Kent State made a similar run advancing to the Elite 8 before running into a scorching-hot Indiana team. But George Mason, out of the mid-major Colonial Athletic Association, has now topped Kent's awesome run.

Just two weeks ago today Billy Packer and Jim Nantz, those classy CBS commentators who are currently broadcasting the Florida vs. Villanova Elite 8 game on CBS, denounced George Mason's inclusing into the NCAA Tournament. They ripped the Tournament Selection Committee chairman on live TV saying that too many mid-majors were in the Big Dance. Now, just two weeks later, the mid-major Patriots of George Mason are just two games away from winning the National Championship. Yes, I said it. George Mason could win the National Championship. As crazy as that may sound, look at who they have defeated to get here:
- #6 Michigan State - Tom Izzo's squad was regarded as a "sleeper" pick as a #6 seed with a shot at making the Final Four. Folarin Campbell led the Patriots to a 10-point win with 21 points on 8-8 shooting.
- #3 North Carolina - Roy Williams won his first ever National Championship in 2005 and somehow molded his young team into a #3 seed having beaten Duke, Kentucky, NC State and several other ACC opponents this year.
- #7 Wichita State - In a rematch of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend match-up, the Patriots of George Mason were able to defeat Wichita State for the second time in just over a month. Wichita State came in as the Champions of the almost-no-longer-a-mid-major Missouri Valley Conference.
- #1 Connecticut - This is the most impressive of these wins in my opinion. While UCONN never seemed to have a sense of urgency, I really thought that the 3-point play by Marcus Williams in the final minute of regulation was going to result in UCONN finishing the comeback. Then a lay-up by UCONN's Denham Brown to force overtime prompted me to tell my wife that the Huskies would wake-up and dominate in overtime. Instead, the Patriots had a 4-point lead with under 50 seconds left in OT and were able to hold on and beat one of the most popular National Champion picks in brackets across the nation.

Watching this game and seeing the end result gives me hope that, once again, a mid-major from Ohio could once again shock the nation and advance past the first weekend of the Big Dance. Miami's Sweet 16 run in 1999 and Kent's 2002 run to the Elite 8 were two of the most exciting runs I have ever enjoyed in my sports-dominated life. There's just something special about watching and underdog make a run like that, beating big-name, high-budget schools and Athletic Departments from major conferences.

So next up for the Patriots is the winner of the #3 Florida vs. #1 Villanova game. If there's anyone in America doubting George Mason's chances to win another game or two, well, I'd say you're crazy.

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