March 27, 2006
George Mason:
So, I assume everyone had GMU beating UConn to get to the Final Four on all of their brackets, right? No? Greatest Cinderella ever? Yes, and here's why...
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
CINDERELLA.  STORY.

Cinderella's name is George.

As ESPN.com's resident Instant Historian, let me put a more definitive stamp on George Mason's trip to the Final Four:

GMU is the biggest Cinderella to reach the Final Four in NCAA Tournament history. How fitting, in the Year of the Mid-Major.

Let's lay out the argument:

(1) Seed: They become the worst-seeded team (11) to ever reach the Final Four, matching only 11-seed LSU in '86. But here's a caveat...

(2) Conference: While LSU came from a power conference, GMU comes from the mocked mid-major Colonial Athletic Association, barely the 10th-ranked conference by RPI in the country.

(The last teams to make the Final Four from lower-tier leagues were Penn and Indiana St. in '79, but Penn was "only" a 9-seed and Indy St. was a 1.)

(3) Path: First, GMU beat Michigan State, a 2005 Final Four team widely considered to be one of the toughest 6-seeds ever in the NCAA Tournament.

Then the Patriots beat the defending national champs, UNC, the region's 3-seed...

Then they beat Wichita St., the top-seeded mid-major at No. 7 (and it wasn't even a shocker; GMU beat 'em handily).

And, finally, they beat UConn, the team more people picked than any other to win the title -- and arguably the field's deepest and most talented team.

(If you can think of a tougher four-game path to the Final Four, e-mail me, because I'd like to hear the argument. I'm sure GMU can beat it.)

(4) How they beat 'em: Outrebounded rugged Michigan St. 38-23; limited UNC to 36 pct FG shooting; held Wichita St. to 3/24 3-pt FG shooting (on the season, the Shockers shot 37 pct); shot 5/6 in OT to beat UConn.

(5) Dismissal: No Final Four team has ever been as publicly dissed as the Patriots, who were essentially called out as a fraud on national TV on Selection Sunday.

(With GMU's win, no matter how the Patriots finish at the Final Four, doubting them is officially the top "Dewey Defeats Truman" blunder in college hoops history. Congratulations, gripers! Your obituary lead is written.)

Individually, each component of the argument makes George Mason an unbelievable story.

But combined together, they create the most authentic Cinderella that has ever been to a Final Four.

(And here's the most remarkable thing about this "Cinderella": Considering the way the Patriots have won on this run, not only could GMU beat any of the other Final Four teams, but maybe it's time to favor the Patriots.)

Florida Upsets Nova
Besides ensuring that zero 1-seeds will be at the Final Four for the first time since 1980, the Gators defy the conventional wisdom that Final Four teams need senior leadership.

The Gators start four sophomores and a junior, and the only senior in the usual rotation played only two minutes in the win over Nova. Instead of senior leadership, they have selfless underclassmen. That works, too.

Check back tomorrow for a complete breakdown of the ways all four teams in this year's Final Four defied conventional wisdom.

Big Baby Mania
Why is LSU so angry? The dominant image of the Tigers' win over Texas is seconds after the game ended, "Big Baby" Davis screaming obscenities, so loud it was picked up by the distant TV microphone.

Big Baby provided the opposite reaction of the NCAA Tournament's most notable other "big baby," Adam Morrison, who started crying on TV before Gonzaga had even finished losing.

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Jim Larranaga: Who else will let him say, "I told you so!"
Ben Howland: Final 4 in 3rd year at UCLA = Rebuilding stud
John Brady: Credit LSU coach for recruiting smart locally
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Jim Calhoun: Maybe he needed to play Duke to win that game
John Calipari: Best chance he'll ever get for Final Four?
Dude in your office who picked Mason in the pool: No way!
 
So while Morrison was crying for his mommy, Big Baby had some other choice commentary about mothers. Yikes: This LSU team has a chip on its shoulder the size of Big Baby's backside.

And yet I'm not sure why: Beating Duke made them a cause celebre among the Great Majority Who Loathe Duke. And LSU's youth, energy, fearlessness and backstory make them impossible not to embrace.

We don't doubt you, Big Baby! In fact, if anything, even more fans will join the Tigers' bandwagon this week.

UCLA Wins Ugly
Was UCLA-Memphis not the ugliest "important" game you've ever seen played?

Of course, that makes it inherently dramatic: Can the two teams really sustain this level of ineptitude? (And, amazingly, they did!)

One stat says it all: The teams combined for the lowest point total for an NCAA regional final in the shot-clock era -- by 15 points!

I'm happy to credit UCLA's D in making it so hard for Memphis to score. In fact, UCLA plays defense so well even its own offense can't score.

I went back to the play-by-play record, just to confirm: In the first half, UCLA had a stretch from the 9:45 mark to the 1:17 mark without a FG.

But that's nothing compared to the 2nd half: UCLA recorded exactly one FG between 17:13 and 4:16 (with a total of 4 FGs for the half).

So UCLA essentially went to the "prevent" with 9:45 to go in the first half (ahead 21-9) and got away with it -- for the game's final 30 minutes!

Was the partisan crowd chanting "U-C! L-A!" or "U-G! L-Y!" Yet you can't blame the Bruins: It's Memphis that ain't got no alibi.

Final Four Preview
LSU-UCLA: No team from this half of the bracket is hotter than the Tigers. And if the Bruins think "Stall Ball" can work versus LSU like it did against Memphis, they're going to be sadly mistaken.
Pick: LSU
George Mason-Florida: If you aren't rooting for Mason, you have no soul. And if you can't understand why there's every reason to think they'll keep winning, you haven't been watching college hoops the last two weeks.
Pick: G. Mason

I think the overwhelming popular favorite to meet in the title game will be fun-loving, high-flying LSU versus Greatest Cindy Ever, George Mason.

NCAA Postscript
Washington: I remain mystified that Seattle sports fans could be screwed by the refs twice in two months. Is there a conspiracy?

UConn: Apparently not. The excruciating loss to George Mason is a nice karma payback for the UW win, letting Marcus Williams play and more.

Villanova: For a while, it looked like that 4-guard offense might start a national trend. But now length is the new hotness.

Gonzaga: I'd like to think that Adam Morrison starting to cry before the game was over hurts his NBA draft stock just a little bit.

Duke: Coach K was outcoached in the NCAAs for the 5th straight year, but it's his own fault (overreliance on overmatched stars, thin bench, few noticeable adjustments) that beg the question of whether our Olympic team is in the right hands.

Memphis: (Umm ... told you so?)

Random NCAA Thoughts
Why can't I find a George Mason jersey to buy, and which apparel company is missing out on this golden opportunity to cash in on the mania?

My worst call of the tourney wasn't picking Oral Roberts over Memphis; it was doubting GMU's bid-worthiness after Skinn was suspended. Mason culpa!

Who else thinks it is totally ludicrous to name a college hoops player of the year but not count performances in the NCAA Tournament?

Don't forget, college kids: Transfer applications to George Mason are due no later than April 1! (Wonder if they'll see an increase?)

Most random FF ever? Combined seed total of this year's Final Four is the third lowest total in tournament history (behind '00 and '80).

You can't argue that there's a playoff system anywhere more exciting than college hoops'. And this year's is arguably the best yet. Why?

If George Mason alone doesn't do it, the fact that none of the No. 1 seeds made the Final Four should remind us all that we know nothing.

Tourney Challenge
Here's where we stand heading into the Final Four in the 10,000-fan strong Daily Quickie Readers group:

This is a must-read: Four entries total picked the Final Four of LSU, UCLA, Florida and George Mason. But 1,853 entries had GMU in the Final Four. 66 percent of all brackets had zero Final Four teams.

L. Delong is in first, but that could be short-lived: The entry is only 20 points ahead of A. Finken and B. Daniel, who both have 400 possible points remaining. (Delong only has 120 PPR.)

Meanwhile, my own entry is in the 62nd percentile. Eh! (Mrs. Quickie's entry has me beat handily: 87th pct, which combined with her Gainesville roots gives her a decided advantage in the house right now.)

And the National Bracket is only outperforming 58 percent of all individual entries, well off last year's pace of 90 percent. But that's what the absence of all four No. 1 seeds will do to popular wisdom.

Marcus Williams:
How fitting that a season that started with him being punished for palming a laptop ends with him palming away a loss in one of the great upsets in college hoops history.
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Tournament Challenge
Page 2 Index
 
Saluting GMU's
Starting 5!
Jai Lewis
Game-high 22 pts, 6 reb
 
Lamar Butler
19 pts, 4/6 3-pt FG
 
Will Thomas
17 pts, game-high 10 reb
 
Folarin Campbell
15 pts, team-high 4 ast
 
Tony Skinn
10 pts, 3 rb, 3 ast, 2 st
 

NCAA Women: Tennessee marches on in the "Group of Death," fending off Rutgers, with overall top seed UNC next in the regional final. Whew!

Bonds Watch: Barry might sit out the rest of spring training until the team's season opener on 4/3. Is he resting up or just ducking the media?

Great move by Missouri to bring in UAB's Mike Anderson. Let's hope he keeps his "40 Minutes of Hell" system in place in the Big 12.

NFL '06: The regular-season opener, which has become an event unto itself, will reportedly be the defending champ Steelers and the rising Dolphins.

NFL Draft: Dolphins bringing in Vince Young for a workout. He can't possibly slip to No. 16; are the Fins eyeing a draft-day trade-up?

NBA: Nets win 8th straight impressively, beating the Pistons in Detroit (Detroit's only home loss of the season in regulation).

Condolences to family, friends and fans of Paul Dana, the IRL driver who died Sunday in a crash. I knew Paul in college. Utterly tragic. More Tuesday.



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