Monday, March 27, 2006

George Who?

The first President of the United States is usually the George that gets all the love in this Country. George Washington has monuments, cities and colleges named after him, and rightfully so. However, it's a different Founding Father named George that's stealing the spotlight in the NCAA Tournament. The George Mason Patriots have beaten Michigan St., N. Carolina, and Connecticut to reach the Final Four as an 11 seed. The Patriots victory over N. Carolina might have been the biggest upset of the tournament in most years. However, George Mason's victory over Connecticut has to go down as the biggest upset in not only this tournament but in NCAA Tournament history.

George Mason reaching the Final Four by beating three powerhouse teams is equivalent to an eight seed in the NBA Playoffs winning the NBA Championship. Only one eight seed in NBA Playoff history has ever beaten a one seed to even make it to the second round. George Mason only beat two teams in the RPI top 50 all season! The Patriots lost to Hofstra twice and Mississippi St. To think that this team could beat three elite teams in a row was simply unfathomable just two weeks ago.

Like its namesake, George Mason is a founding father. It is the founding father for mid-majors representation in the Final Four. The odds of George Mason beating Florida and then either LSU/UCLA are slim. However, they aren't any worse than the odds that they were going to beat MSU, N. Carolina, and Connecticut coming into the Tournament. It would truly be the biggest underdog story in sports history. An 11 seed winning the NCAA Tournament after being one of the last at-large teams selected would truly be remarkable. I hope it happens. It would certainly liven up the record books for all of history.

I've followed college basketball extensively this year on this blog. I've paid special attention to the mid-majors including the MVC and CAA. There were some mid-majors that were unfairly left out of the tournament. Just a few weeks ago when asked how mid-majors could get more respect come Selection Sunday, Billy Packer sarcastically said something to the effect of, "have you ever heard of the NCAA Tournament?" Well, three at-large mid-majors made it to the Sweet Sixteen this year and now George Mason has made it to the Final Four. The mid-majors take a lot of heat for not playing difficult schedules. The problem with that argument is that big-time schools from major conferences will not travel to George Mason, Wichita St., or N. Iowa. Big-time schools have no incentive for playing those teams on the road when they can pay teams to get blown out on their own court. The mid-major conferences have made consistent leaps over the last few years to the point that these schools have to be feared come Tournament time.

The combination of underclassmen leaving early for the NBA Draft and the reduced number of scholarships has created an environment in the NCAA where Junior and Senior laden mid-major teams can compete with Freshmen and Sophomore laden major teams. There's no question that the major schools would still dominate if underclassmen weren't allowed to leave. But, that's not the case.

Billy Packer was right about one thing. Since schools from major conferences won't travel to play solid mid-major programs, the only way mid-majors can prove themselves is in the Tournament. And that is just what they did this year. This development is good for all college basketball fans as it will result in a more exciting landscape in college basketball and the NCAA Tournament as the gap between mid-majors and majors narrows.

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