Sunday, March 26, 2006

On to Indy!

George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 OT

Yes, you read that correct. An amazing, incredible story took place at the Phone Booth in DC this afternoon. George Mason did the unthinkable by beating #1 ranked UConn and advanced to their first Final Four. Prior to this NCAA tournament run, when you walked into the Patriot Center, you saw three banners proclaiming NCAA trips in 1989, 1999 and 2001, a banner commemorating a couple NIT trips and two retired numbers. That's it. However, coach Jim Larranaga has done a hell of a job building up this program since his arrival in 1997. In 2001, they gave Maryland all they could handle in their NCAA tournament first round game, losing 83-80. Maryland went to the Final Four that year and won the National Championship the next year. I often wonder what would have happened to the Maryland program had they lost that first round game to George Mason.

Prior to this tournament run, the biggest success I saw from the George Mason basketball team was they beat Tennessee in an opening round NIT game at the Patriot Center in March 2004. I went to that game with my friend John, a UT grad. After the game, the 5,000 or so Mason fans in attendance stormed the court. Apparently that was enough to wow the NIT reps and they gave George Mason a second home game in that tournament (They won that as well, but lost in the third round).

I'm still in a state of shock at what I saw on TV today. You can punch this team but they bounce back. Down 12 late in the first half, they managed a late bucket and a foul shot to close the half down 9. Then they come out with a three pointer to start the second half and the battle was on. George Mason appeared to have the game won in regulation. But UConn came up with another miracle, forcing the game to OT when George Mason's Tony Skinn missed the front end of a 1 and 1 when they were up by two and UConn's Denham Brown made a reverse layup at the regulation buzzer to send the game to overtime. The ball just hung there forever and dropped in as the horn sounded. Incredible. First Washington had UConn on the ropes Friday night, then George Mason had them down and both times UConn fought back to force OT.

In the OT, it was back and forth for a couple minutes. George Mason went up 84-80 and UConn suddenly looked rattled. UConn still fought back though. They had a chance to win due to poor free-throw shooting by George Mason, who missed three attempts in the final 15 seconds--the last two with 6.1 seconds to go. UConn had a final possession to tie or win. Denham Brown, who was the hero moments earlier, was off the mark from the left with what could have been a game winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Pandemonium from the George Mason fans in attendance.

It was easly one of the best college hoops games I've ever watched. My wife was going nuts for her alma mater, screaming and jumping up and down. I'm a Maryland Terps fan and I can say it's been fun bandwaggoning and rooting for George Mason during this run.

On to Indy next week for the Patriots.


Anonymous said...

The reason the four No. 1 seeds are no longer with us is that, unlike in some years past, each had discernible weaknesses that an opponent was eventually able to exploit.

Duke wasn't athletic enough. Connecticut lacked ball-handlers (though that seemed to hurt the Huskies more in their Sweet 16 win over Washington than in their Elite Eight loss to George Mason).

Villanova lacked size. Memphis lacked experience.

The same can be said, however, of the Bruins, Gators and Tigers. Though they've been fortunate enough to survive longer than numerous higher-seeded teams, each has negatives to go with its positives. UCLA plays phenomenal defense but, with only two real scorers in Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar, is prone to stretches where it can't buy a bucket. LSU is freakishly athletic, particularly with big men Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas, but often throws up bad shots and plays out of control. Florida has its own frontcourt studs in Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford, but you can never be sure what you're going to get out of guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey.

Then there's George Mason.

At this point, the only reasons anyone has to keep picking against George Mason are its name and its seed. So far, the Patriots have defied both. Sure, it's possible to see Florida's Noah or LSU's Tyrus Thomas and Davis overwhelming Lewis and Will Thomas. Then again, they more than held their own against Hansbrough, Armstrong and Michigan State's Paul Davis. Sure, UCLA's suffocating defense is a step up from what they've seen in the tournament to date. But in case you haven't noticed, Mason plays some pretty mean D (its four tourney opponents have shot 39.4 percent).

Though seedings, history, NBA draft projections and our own better instincts might suggest otherwise, the reality is, George Mason has as much of a chance of winning the whole thing as it does of going out in the next round.

So, too, do LSU, UCLA and Florida.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happens in Indy, George Mason deserves full credit for what it has done so far.

The Patriots have not reached the Final Four with lucky last-second shots, bad ref calls, injuries to opponents or a weak draw. This hasn't been a fluke.