Spectacular UNC junior All-American racks up 20 points, 9 assists and 4 steals, leading UNC over Tennessee and into the Final Four in Boston.
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As the week leading up to the Final Four continues to be a celebration of Cinderella (this is Day 3 in the Quickie), it begs a larger question:
Is George Mason an anomaly?
Or does the Patriots' Final Four appearance signal a breakthrough for double-digit-seeded mid-majors that will mean more of them crashing future NCAA Tournaments?
Consider GMU a perfect storm of a Cinderella: Despite the fact that it has been 27 years since a mid-major crashed the Final Four and 20 years since an 11-seed made it this far, the novelty of the experience will keep the Mason Miracle unique.
But let's break apart the components of what made Mason a Cinderella:
Will more mid-majors make the Final Four? Yes. They have been knocking on the door for years. The great equalizer is senior experience, combined with the increasing competitiveness of their league play.
One X factor on future teams like George Mason is the impact of the new NBA age minimum: Given how youth-dominated the other three Final Four teams are this year, an NBA-ready freshman (for example, Carmelo) at a power school can be the difference between a trip to the Final Four and falling victim to a Cinderella.
Will more double-digit seeds make the Final Four? Less likely. Maneuvering a road of four straight wins that include seeds almost guaranteed to include at least two of the top 4 (if not more) is improbable.
The upshot, then, is that future mid-majors that do make the Final Four will almost surely be single-digit seeds: On paper, a better team with an easier path.
Take a look at the Patriots' path to the top of this tournament: beating Michigan St., UNC, Wichita St. and UConn en route, arguably the toughest four-game path a Final Four team has ever hurdled.
George Mason likely has opened the door for more mid-majors to enjoy the kind of breakthrough the Patriots are experiencing (and more likely to earn better seeding). But the way George Mason did it likely will never be replicated.
Women's Final Four
ACC Rules: With UNC and Duke joining Maryland, the ACC puts three teams in the Final Four, sparking memories of 1985 on the men's side, when the Big East got Georgetown, St. John's and Nova in.
UNC wins "Region of Death": In beating back Vandy, Purdue and now Tennessee, UNC can arguably claim to have won the toughest region in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament.
(And it keeps getting tougher: The next team on UNC's path, Maryland, was the only team to beat the Tar Heels this season. Motivated much?)
Is UConn Era Over? If you're a more casual fan of women's college hoops, you might need an update: The era of UConn as dominating powerhouse is over, and Tuesday night's loss to Duke was simply confirmation.
(The irony is that on the men's side, many fans last weekend thought of UConn as "the new Duke," simply taking over as America's most disliked team. Now on the women's side, Duke is the new UConn.)
Duke LaX Scandal
Duke takes the brunt of a lot of fan mockery, but this men's lacrosse alleged rape scandal couldn't be more serious.
The season has been suspended for the nation's No. 2-ranked team pending "clearer resolution" of a rape allegation involving several team members. Three lacrosse players were allegedly involved in the attack on a dancer, who claims she was hired for a private party at an off-campus home; DNA samples have been taken from 46 team members as the district attorney investigates.
And so it begs the question of why a "Blue Devil wall of silence" has emerged around the team. The players aren't talking to investigators.
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If players are withholding information about teammates who may have been involved, that's as bad as the original allegations.
Already, the situation has led to five protests in four days and threatens to split the campus.
No charges have been filed. So far, there remain only allegations. Yet the frustrating silence from the team makes it harder and harder for public sentiment to do anything but hold it in contempt.
Sampson to Indiana
What a catch for the Hoosiers: Kelvin Sampson is as experienced and successful as any coach they could have brought in:
(1) Proven winner: He's produced in a power conference. He was 279-109 in 12 seasons in the Big 12.
(2) Recruiting whiz: If he was able to recruit top-flight players to a football factory, what will he be able to do at a school that is all about basketball? (Although he does leave OU amid a fog of possible recruiting violations, reportedly related to excessive phone calls.)
(3) Final Four cred: He has the all-important "Final Four coach" cachet, having taken OU there in 2002. (Never mind the irony that it was Mike Davis' Hoosiers who bounced him out.)
(4) Not a Hoosier: Forget the conventional wisdom that it takes someone with ties to the IU family to coach the Hoosiers. They need a great coach immune to (but respectful of) the program's legacy.
This is a huge win for IU.
Pistons Beat Mavs
If you were looking at last night's Detroit-Dallas game as a potential NBA Finals preview, I think you got a fair picture:
While Dallas won at home in November, the Pistons beat the Mavs back in Detroit Tuesday night, behind (guess who?) Chauncey Billups (31 pts, 8 in 4th).
What's the upshot? As long as the Pistons maintain home-court advantage over the Mavs (and the win last night puts them two games ahead with a dozen to play), Detroit remains the title favorite.
NIT "Final Four"
As a college hoops fan, here's an interesting not-so-hypothetical dilemma for you:
Would you rather be a fan of Kansas, which has been humiliatingly bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the first round over the last two years?
Or would you rather be a fan of South Carolina, which is poised to become the first back-to-back champ of the NIT since the 1940s?
On Kansas' side, it is still the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, isn't it almost more crushing to get such a good seed and blow it year after year than it is to not get an invite at all?
On South Carolina's side, the Gamecocks were never in contention for an NCAA bid to begin with. But they've made the best of it. (As opposed to, say, pouty Maryland.)
At least the Gamecocks could be the champ of something. And not just champs: Repeat champs.
That inspires a follow-up question for you: Is "NIT Dynasty" a good thing or a punch line?
Courtney Paris Rules
I didn't name-check the Oklahoma women's hoops freshman sensation all season long, but here's my chance:
Kudos to Paris for becoming the first freshman ever to be named a first-team All-American.
33 double-doubles: She averaged 21.4 ppg, led the nation in rebounding (15.1 rpg) and became the first women's player ever to have 700 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks.
Given her age, experience and overall domination, I'd make her my pick for women's college hoops player of the year, even over UNC's sublime Ivory Latta or LSU's Seimone Augustus.
(It's nearly impossible for freshmen to win overall player of the year in women's college hoops, since star players stay all four years. I also think Paris suffered from the "Shaq Effect": She's so dominating, she could win MVP every/any year.)
Paris is also a terrific reminder why an age limit in the WNBA is ludicrous. She would be the No. 1 overall pick this year as a freshman. She should have the chance to go if she wanted to (though I'm sure she doesn't).
The battle next year for POY between Paris, fellow 1st-teamer Latta (UNC) and 2nd-team freshman sensation Candace Parker (Tennessee) should be absolutely must-track.
(And next year I promise I won't wait until the end of the season to have something to say about it.)
Zbikowski to Box
Here's a sign of the stagnant situation in boxing right now: The most intriguing fighter in the sport doesn't even box.
Tom Zbikowski, the telegenic Notre Dame safety, will make his pro debut on June 10 at Madison Square Garden. As an ESPN.com headline put it, talk about "Fighting Irish."
He was a successful amateur fighter, but is anyone else a little curious why Charlie Weis would sign off on this? Some college football coaches won't even let their players play pickup basketball.
I guess you can't tear an ACL when you're bashing someone in the head. (Concussion? Another story.) Tom Z. will retain his college eligibility by not accepting sponsorships.
(Of course, who knows how much money the promoter will make thanks to the publicity that Zbikowski's name will create.)
Eric Neel has UCLA '68. I'm sticking with East top seed '84 Georgetown.
ESPN Classic has a must-see show tonight at 8 p.m. ET, unveiling the results of the "All-Time Greatest College Basketball Tournament," a 64-team bracket of the best hoops teams of all time.
Over the course of the show, fan voting will update the bracket, until an eventual all-time champ is crowned.
(I wouldn't suggest an office pool, but, hey, if you're jonesing for a bracket to fill out, I won't stop you.)
Sidelined for more knee rehab. I was too quick to declare the Suns with Amare as the West's team to beat. Just like PHX was too quick to bring him back.
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|Page 2 Index|
|Ranking All-Time College Hoops Teams|
|First of 7 straight champs|
|My pick to win it all|
|Most hated team ever?|
|Last to go unbeaten|
|'56 San Fran|
|Can't doubt Bill Russell|
Bonds Watch: Darren Rovell reports that MLB is planning to celebrate Bonds passing Hank Aaron in career HRs, if he gets there. He deserves it.|
More Bonds: Says he'll be ready for the season opener, but sticks to Bonnie Franklin-style cliché: "I'm taking it one day at a time." (via Caple)
Randy Johnson has been "Smoking Gunned": Investigative Web site produced docs shedding light on a dispute over a daughter he fathered 16 years ago.
From Joey Palooka to Joeypalooza: Disgraced ex-Lions starter Joey Harrington becomes sought-after backup QB. Suitors: Miami, Cincy, Dallas, K.C., Oakland, Denver, Seattle.
Mike Holmgren said he thought Brett Favre was going retire after the season, but with the wait, he's upgraded that to the decisive "50-50."
Bud Selig reportedly will announce a new investigation into MLB and steroids, spurred by the Bonds book. Tracking ... (via NY Times)