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2006
27
Mar

Patriotism

Okay, how many of you, when filling out your brackets, penciled in George Mason for the Final Four? Let’s have a show of hands……. Anybody? I didn’t think so. That shows how much we know about basketball. Certainly my own selection of UConn to advance looks pretty stupid.

This strangest of NCAA tournaments became just that Sunday afternoon as George Mason knocked off UConn to make the Final Four. The NOVA commuter school joins LSU, UCLA and Florida in Indianapolis . Who knew?

The Patriots reaching the age of mid-majority provides vindication for NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Craig ‘I don’t see Tubby in no Final Four’ Littlepage. Little Craig had taken serious heat for packing this year’s tournament with teams from something other than the power conferences. George Mason reaching the Final Four certainly makes Little Craig appear to be a bit brighter than he did when handing out that fat contract to algroh. It also did not hurt GMU’s chances that their AD was on the Selection Committee.

Given entry into the Big Dance, George Mason certainly made the most of it. En route to Indianapolis , they knocked off Michigan State , North Carolina and UConn, three of basketball’s most elite programs. The Patriots will hardly be sneaking into the RCA Dome through the service entrance.

The three teams GMU designated ‘losers’ have enough NCAA hardware between them that, if melted down, would provide enough structural steel to build another dome. The Spartans, Heels and Huskies also represented what were considered the three best basketball conferences in the land. They would be the three with no Final Four squads among their membership. So much for those RPI rankings.

All Big 11 teams were gone by the end of the second round, the ACC representatives by the third. The Biggie East, the World’s Best Basketball Conference Ever, did place two in the Elite Eight, but no farther. Maybe Mikey should try supersizing the Biggie East even more, to 40-50 teams. George Mason would still probably not be among those included.

The Patriots would not get a look from the ACC, either, even if Little Johnny Swofford had a hankering for more teams. It was hard enough getting Tech in. Mark Warner would not have had the same success had he instructed Dr. Casteen, “Hold out for Mason, too.”

George Mason labors in obscurity, at least until now, in a region overlapped by both the ACC and Biggie East. In DC, they are at least the fourth team on the radar, behind even George Washington. But, it is the school named after the less-famous George that is heading to Indianapolis . Being the father of the country cut little ice when it came to the Final Four.

GMU also heads to the Final Four as a representative of the Commonwealth of Virginia . The scoreboard reads: Virginia 1 North Carolina 0. The state where football receives most of the headlines, whether for Frank’s accomplishments or algroh’s bragging now can lay claim to some basketball prowess, too. The adulation heaped on Jim Larranaga this week will be positively Frank-like in its intensity. North Carolina , where basketball holds status as state religion, advanced nobody to the basketball championships. Tudor can blame it on expansion.

He can also blame it on the nature of the NCAA’s basketball postseason. The system does not reward teams that display consistent excellence through the course of a long season, such as Duke, UConn, Villanova and Memphis , the four top seeds, all of whom are now preparing for next year. Increasingly, the objective in basketball is not to win over the long haul, but to maneuver oneself into the Tournament, then get hot for six games.

Had George Mason played an ACC schedule during the regular season, their conference mark would have looked much more like Tech’s 4-12 than anything resembling an NCAA-worthy one. It didn’t matter. Neither did it that if an NBA-style playoff were in effect, the Patriots would not have gotten past Michigan State, likely losing four games to one. The 65-team field and the one-and-done format means that anything can happen, including a relative unknown blowing past MSU, Carolina and UConn. This year it did.

Football determines its champion a little differently. For all of the faults of the BCS, it does do a fairly decent job of matching the country’s best two teams in its Final Two. It does this through heavy emphasis on the regular season. It took until early December after all of the regular season games had been played for the match-up of USC and Texas to be determined. It can hardly be argued that they were not the best two teams.

It also can hardly be argued that the Final Four participants are the country’s best over the course of the season. They are instead the four best in March. This is rendering basketball’s regular season very close to irrelevancy. It certainly pales in comparison to what is at stake during the football one. Even determining a league’s champion has been affected.

The Virginia Tech-Florida State football game rewarded the winner with a berth in a BCS bowl. When Duke and Fredo tangled for the ACC’s basketball championship, both were already in the NCAA Tournament and, we later learned, their seedings and destinations had already been set. All things considered, I prefer the excitement that comes from the importance placed on football’s regular season. Among other things, it will help ease the pain inflicted from writing the $655 check demanded by the football season-ticket application that showed up last week. Well, maybe the games against Northeastern and Kent State won’t carry a hell of a lot of importance in the overall scheme of things, but at least there will be a Clubhouse Tailgate.

Nevertheless, George Mason is the team that got hot in March. The Patriots will be making the basketball equivalent of Wake Forest somehow showing up in a BCS bowl. They will be joined this weekend by UCLA, Florida and LSU. Let’s hope that Spring football games are not scheduled for Baton Rouge or Gainesville this weekend, otherwise there will be plenty of cheap tickets available at the RCA Dome. You can bet neither the Tigers nor the Crocs will move their games to Friday night.

March Madness does make for great theatre. George Mason’s Cinderella ride to the Final Four is a great story, even if it did cause brackets to head for the paper shredder and waste basket. Congratulations to the Patriots and enjoy Indianapolis . Heck, while they are there, they might as well win the whole thing.

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