[Note to self: use spell checker on your entry titles from now on]
George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 [69, OT] – The game that will forever be held up as the inspiration for mid-majors. You had to think the Patriots would get their share of shots, what with them not being turnover-prone and UConn not being in the business of forcing them. The Patriots did get their shots, and as necessary they shot lights out – 50% on 2s and 50% on 3s. That might not be lights out to you, but against UConn it was. The Huskies defense ranked 5th in the country in each of those categories coming in. No team had shot at least 40% simultaneously in both departments, let alone 50%, against UConn this season. The other thing that nobody could have predicted was that GMU would outrebound UConn. This allowed the Patriots to be ordinary from the line (and less than ordinary in the clutch) and still gain a victory.
UConn fans excepted, you have to be happy that the team that wanted it more, and thus I would argue deserved it more, got the W. Five years from now, this collection of UConn players will be awesome. UConn, while having a bunch of players with “upside”, was a team that never distanced itself from the field. The thing to learn from this is that when a team doesn’t play up to its alleged potential for 33 games, why should we expect them to do so in game number 34?
As a displaced DC area resident, it is nice to see GMU get its due. Their modest fan base doesn’t whine about the lack of column inches they get in the local rag, or the lack of respect they get nationally. As the season rolled into late January, there was some evidence that a case could be made they were deserving of more respect than they were receiving. It’s not my style to reveal private e-mail correspondence, but I sent a note to former GMU assistant Mike Gillian on January 31 that read in part:
How about what Coach Larranaga is doing up the road from you? That team is looking dangerous.
In fact, I made a halfway tongue-in-cheek reference to their standing in the DC area back then, which prompted some interesting responses from fans of the other area teams. But the fact is, there were aspects of GMU’s performance to that point suggested they deserved as much attention as the team AP voters thought was one of the ten best, GW.
The real shame in all of this is that a nation’s collective basketball opinion is so influenced by an hour on CBS when the brackets get revealed. George Mason’s performance indicated they were at-large worthy for a while. This win wasn’t the biggest upset in tournament history as some seem to believe. There have been 50 upsets in the 64-team era that were more improbable. It’s probably true that their four-game run is the most unlikely in the 64-team era, because they really didn’t duck anybody to get here, and they don’t have anyone considered NBA material.
But their run doesn’t prove that we’re right and they’re wrong. The fact is, if GMU plays Michigan State 10 times without Tony Skinn, maybe they win five times. They may win 3 out of 10 against UNC, and 2 out of 10 against UConn. Nothing is ever proven in college basketball. If Mason had lost in the first round, it wouldn’t have made them less worthy in my mind, and perhaps that they have gone so far doesn’t prove they deserved it. Even if GMU reverses the rotation of the Earth and wins two more, Florida State fans will still think their team would have gone 14-2 in the CAA. And even though the CAA has collectively gone 9-2 in the postseason, with one loss in OT and the other when Old Dominion and Hofstra had to play each other in the NIT, there’s no way to prove them wrong.
Bottom line here, I’m not a shill for the mid-majors. I want the 34 best teams to fill the at-large spots. This year it just so happened that there were deserving teams from the top of the MVC and CAA, a couple of them who didn’t get a chance that they deserved to be where George Mason is. Unfortunately, most observers saw the name George Mason, and they saw history. The history of a team they had never heard of. History that had nothing to do with this season.
Florida 75, Villanova 62  – Oh yeah, this other game. It basically went as expected. Nova got 26 offensive boards and gave away only 6 turnovers. It doesn’t matter when you can’t finish near the hoop or make 3s. There’s that age old dilemma about what wins games, guards or bigs. In reality, you need both. I guess Florida is the favorite to win it all now. I liked Billy Donovan’s quote after the game where he said something to the effect that if you played the tourney over again, you’d probably get four different teams in Indy. There’s a lot of truth to that.
By the way, when you look at the Final Four teams, GMU has needed the least luck to get here.
Florida – needed Georgetown’s Darrel Owens to miss a late wide-open 3-point attempt. The Gators would have still had a possession left to win, though.
LSU – needed Darrel Mitchell’s buzzer-beating 3 against Texas A&M.
UCLA – needed the frantic comeback against Gonzaga.