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Final Four!

George Mason's stunning, amazing run through the tournament continues. We have now knocked out the last two champs and the winners of 3 of the last 6. Stunning, breathtaking results, and magical games. Yesterday was probably still the first chance most of the country had to see us play, as from what I read, CBS has been broadcasting out games to a minuscule portion of the country. There's plenty of room on the bandwagon still, so welcome aboard (I'm proud to say that I've been a season-ticket holder for a few years now).

A few quick observations for those who haven't seen GMU much this year:

1. Team: I love that this team is a real team. These guys have absolute faith and confidence in each other and they play selflessly and with full faith and respect for each other. In four games, Jai Lewis's 20 yesterday was the first game in the tournament where one of our guys scored 20 or more (and he only had 2 points on Friday night). These are five starters, all with above-average ability whose skills and personalities complement each other well. On any given night, any of the starters can lead the team (in the four games in the tournament, three different guys have been the top game scorers). Any of the five starters can take (and make) the big shot and each player has confidence in each other that they will make it. On Friday the guards carried GMU because Wichita State collapsed on the big men; yesterday the big men carried GMU because UConn pressured the guards. Everybody plays defense and works hard on the boards. It is pretty darn rare in modern sports to see such a well-balanced and selfless team, but it sure has worked. In comparison, at one point this weekend I actually heard John Calipari complimenting Carney for being willing to share the ball even though he was auditioning for a lottery pick. He gets credit for passing the ball to his teammates?

2. Coach L: What can you say about Larranaga? A brilliant coach and obviously a remarkable man. My wife insists that this is all karma for him being willing to do the right thing with Tony Skinn in that first game. Regardless of what it is, it is clear that his players respect and listen to him. Plus, he is a brilliant game coach. Listening to him after the game yesterday, I was dazzled by his game plan--he observed that on Friday Wichita was going to collapse inside and so the guards would get open three-point looks, which they did. Then he (and his sons) figured out that Sunday UConn would not collapse, but would pressure the guards and play behind our big guys, so that the guards should throw it inside and let Lewis and Thomas decide what to do with the ball. And his players are well-coached to stick with and execute the game plan, rather than breaking down. As far as what I could tell, and judging by Calhoun's comments at halftime, UConn's strategy for dealing with out big men was "block their shots" (Calhoun said at halftime his big guys said "What should we do with these guys" and Calhoun said "Block their shots"). At some point I would've thought there would be a Plan B.

3. Confidence: I mentioned to Steve Teles in an email the other day that I had never seen a team in George Mason's position appear so composed and confident going into this weekend's game. Even when we were down by double-digits to UNC and UConn we didn't panic and after the heart-breaking tie at the end of regulation last night we didn't collapse, but came right out in OT, stopped them, and then scored the first basket of overtime. This is obviously a combination of Coach Larranaga, the character of the kids he has recruited, and the way that they have developed. The Tony Skinn suspension really showed a lot about how this team wants to win. They don't preen or talk trash. They haven't boasted about being an upset or cinderella. They've just gone out and had faith in themselves, their teammates, and their system. One thing I love about these kids is that there is no chest-thumping or "look at me" behaviour, but just pure, unbridled joy of playing and winning. And the amazing thing is that in three of four games it is only because we have missed free throws down the stretch that there was even suspense at the ends of these games.

4. Surprised: To me, the win yesterday was a surprise but not a shock. Josh Wright and I went to the game Friday night and watched us dismantle Wichita State and UConn struggle with Washington (and need some timely help from the refs). Watching those games, it was clear to us that had we played UConn on Friday night, we would have beaten them, as we would have hit the open shots that Washington missed and we wouldn't have made the mental errors that Washington made. So while I was surprised, I wasn't shocked. Unfortunately our local CBS affiliate cut away from CBS's Fla-Nova halftime report, so I didn't get to see Seth Davis, who was awfully confident before the game that UConn would win. As for Mr. Billy Packer, it looked to me like he had just eaten a raw onion when he first mentioned this game.

5. Karma: What a year this has been for me--first, the Steelers win the Superbowl (as a #6 seed) and now this. I joked during the playoffs that my daughter Claire was the Steelers' secret weapon. But to have Mason make the Final Four too--apparently her powers are beyond the realm of human comprehension! And I already mentiond Larranaga and the karma there. And now Mason goes to Indianapolis for the Final Four, the home of Hoosiers.

What a ride!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Final Four ticket application to fax in.

dunno:
As a Pitt-Big East fan, I was one of the ones griping that "if a school like GMU can make it, there's no reason Cincinnatti shouldn't be in the tournament. GMU couldn't play in the same building as most of the Big East."

Boy, am I eating crow.

(I will say, however, that the four-night structure of the Big East tourney just took it all out of the teams that played in it, accounting for the absurdly early NCAA exit of teams like Syracuse and Pitt, and the sub-par play throughout March Madness of teams like UConn (though SUNY ties made the first round UConn-Albany game a real pleasure). The Big East has to do something about its tourney, if it wants to keep producing national champions. Right now, it's forcing its best teams to run sprints an hour before the marathon).

None of that takes away from the Patriots' accomplishments, of course. Good luck George Mason (go Bruins).
3.27.2006 7:44am
Elliot (mail):
I've been rooting for George Mason during the whole tournament mainly because so many of you guys are over there teaching. I gotta pull for a school that gives libertarians an equal chance for tenured law professions.

Well, that and Stanford/Northwestern never made the tournament and Ohio State/Kent State were gone by the second round. But still i wouldn't be pulling for GMU if it weren't for the excellent writers at prof. volokh's blog.
3.27.2006 7:53am
great unknown (mail):
Wasn't George Mason on the winning side of the Rumsfield-FAIR decision? Karma indeed.
3.27.2006 8:19am
fro:
I thank our esteemed Big East colleague for the kudos, but how does the Big East Tourney impact UConn last night? Firstly, they played over two weeks ago, and have had plenty of days to recover. Secondly, and more importantly, UConn got bounced in th first round, meaning that they did not in fact play a four-day tounrnament, but a one-day one.

Syracuse (the only BE team to play four games in four days) obviously got hurt by conf toruney, but not UConn.
3.27.2006 8:30am
Devin McCullen (mail):
Todd, how much would it cost to get you to cheer for the Mets this season?
3.27.2006 8:47am
Trent McBride (mail) (www):
Actually, it's 4 of the last 7: (UConn in 99 and 04, UNC in 05, MSU in 00). Even better.
3.27.2006 8:54am
dunno:
fro:
You're right. Sour grapes on my part. But there were two teams that played on the fourth day of the Big East tourney (that's why they were able to hold a game).
3.27.2006 9:48am
Sam (mail):
CBS has all the games available free (have to register though) on streaming video, live and archival,subject to regional blackout, over here:
http://www.ncaasports.com/mmod/welcome

(I don't know why archival games are subject to regional blackout.)
3.27.2006 10:40am
Consigliere (mail):
I'm on the bandwagon. Anybody know what the oddsmakers set for GMU pre-tourney?
3.27.2006 11:03am
BobH (mail):
What an exciting game it was!
3.27.2006 11:16am
Jim Hu:
I was proud that I picked GMU to win their first round game, but I was not prepared for their subsequent wins. I'm totally on the bandwagon, even though I, like many others, had picked UConn to win it all. That was before I realized that UConn had some karmic baggage too.

http://dimer.tamu.edu/simplog/archive.php?blogid=3&pid=3414

I was rooting against my own pick yesterday. The pleasure of seeing the upset was much greater than the pleasure of being the best prognosticator in the office pool.

GMU has to be an early leader for Sportsman of the Year, and will be hard to top unless the Cubs win the WS.

The conference tourney excuse doesn't wash with me, esp. for UConn, as pointed out above. In general, maybe for round one, or if there are critical injuries during the tourney. Note that UCLA won their conference tourney, and that in other cases the sports pundits will say a team lost because they were rusty from the idleness of not playing a conference tourney, or going out early. The bottom line is that 64 teams will not win it all, which means that the vast majority of teams that did or did not play in a postseason tourney will get bounced at some point.
3.27.2006 11:30am
The Human Fund (mail):
Put me in the camp of not buying the conference tournament argument. The SEC has two final four teams, and plays a 3 - 4 game conference tourney the weekend before the NCAAT starts.
3.27.2006 11:37am
Gordo:
I'm sure UCLA will beat George Mason if they can get past LSU and George Mason beats Florida. Eugene Volokh would agree with that prediction, right?

If UCLA is beaten by the bayou Bengals, it's go George Mason!

By the way, I heard a lot of trash talk this year about how the Pac-10 is an overrated conference. (Not on this site, of course) We have one team in the final four, and George Mason would have had to face another one if it weren't for blind refs. "I'll buy those pencils!"
3.27.2006 11:47am
KevinM:
I attribute it to GM's recruiting conservative ball players who are undervalued in the liberal academic marketplace.
3.27.2006 11:47am
dunno:
I am sorry for introducing the argument into the thread, I am, but some of these rebuttals are just ridiculous. This takes nothing away from LSU or Florida, they deserve everything they've gotten, but come on. The SEC tourney is not comparable to the Big East's. It is not as wide open and competitive, and therefore not as draining. As a result, the teams in the SEC final won't be as disadvantaged as their counterparts in the Big East.
3.27.2006 12:14pm
The Human Fund (mail):
I think what you mean to say is that you don't think that the SEC tournament is as wide open and competitive as the Big East tournament. It may or may not be, but I don't think it's obvious that one is any tougher than the other. If I'm wrong, could you please give some sort of evidence to support your view?
3.27.2006 12:17pm
Mikeyes (mail):
Todd,

Now you've gone and done it! Don't you know nothin' about sports superstitions? GMU is sure to lose, just when they were going to prove that trial by combat will show that GMU was correct in FAIR v Rumsfeld. Now the sports gods will turn the other way (the sports gods being the most numerous and therefore the most influential in these Trial by Combat affairs.)

At least now the coach can to to the McDonalds 100 camp and tell his prospects that "we were missing one player, you, and if you come we will win it all." ;~)
3.27.2006 12:21pm
Tocqueville:
Prediction: Florida takes the whole thing without a struggle.
3.27.2006 12:31pm
gab:
"...we wouldn't have made the mental errors that Washington made..."

How about the shot that (I believe it was Jai Lewis) took near the end of regulation that was blocked? GMU was up 4 with a minute and change left. I was telling my kids before the play, GMU needs to run the whole shot clock. They really don't even need to take a shot, and they force U Conn to foul. Instead, Lewis (again not completely sure it was he) takes a shot, gets it blocked, Marcus Williams hits the three that eventually puts the game into o.t.

That was a HUGE mental error, and easily could have cost them the game.
3.27.2006 12:39pm
tarheel79 (mail):
Todd, great point about Coach L's work on the bench. After GMU defeated my Tar Heels, Roy Williams paid tribute to the Patriots, noting that Larranaga's team first outrebounded the school (MSU) that has the reputation for being the one of the best rebounding programs in the nation; two days later, it held a high-octane offense to 60 points (after giving up 16 points in the first five or so minutes, it should be noted). Mason's senior leadership is also shining as well. Tip your hats to GMU. They're making this tournament unforgettable.
3.27.2006 12:54pm
Perry (mail):
That was a great game by GMU - but I wish that players would get more work in on the free throw line. Three seperate sets of free throws, each of which could have frozen out UConn , and all three times at least 1 was missed.

GMU was lucky that the Huskies shots weren't falling at the end, though in the body language that UConn had, there was little doubt who wanted to win more.

However, the buck stops here. The Gators are playing hard nosed team basketball. Horford has the strength to keep Lewis out of the post, and Noah has the length to contest anything that comes from dribble penetration from the guards. IF Florida doesn't overlook GMU and brings its A game, it can beat GMU's A game.

Of course, if they do win, I'll be the first to cheer Mason against LSU or UCLA..
3.27.2006 1:50pm
jgshapiro (mail):
Anything can happen in a one-loss-and-you're-out tournament. These tournaments don't measure the best team so much as who has the best night. But GMU's big weapon was being underestimated by their opponents, and now that they have taken out a #1 seed, they won't have that in their pocket anymore (or the home crowd in Indiana for the final four).

Prediction: LSU over Florida in the final.

(Of course, it will be amusing to wath the smack-talk from the VC contributors if it ends up being GMU and UCLA in the final.)
3.27.2006 1:59pm
Neema (mail):
I believe pre-tourney oddsmakers had GMU at 400-1.
3.27.2006 2:42pm
John M (mail):
I think you might be surprised about the crowd support, jgshapiro. Every neutral fan in the dome will be rooting for GMU. As an Indianapolis resident, I will be interested to see how the crowd shakes out. The Final Four includes two southern schools better known for football, an upstart with a small fan base, and one traditional basketball power, albeit without the reputation of "traveling well" like other traditional powers such as Kentucky, Indiana, or UNC. There may be quite a few more "neutrals" in the crowd than at a typical Final Four, and I would bet they will all be cheering for GMU.

And GMU is playing in the right city. The most famous high school basketball upset of all time (Milan over Muncie Central in 1954, the inspiration for "Hoosiers") occurred in Indianapolis, and Princeton's upset of defending champ UCLA in 1996, one of the most famous early-round upsets, happened in the RCA Dome. Why not add the biggest final four upset of all time to the list?
3.27.2006 3:09pm
keatssycamore (mail) (www):
I was personally gratified that the groin puncher missed that front end of the one and one and almost cost his team the game. He deserves nothing. Not credit and not forgiveness just our DISGUST. What he did was unforgivable.

Dunno, so if the Big East is so much better and more competitive than the SEC why are there 2 SEC teams in the Final Four and none from the Big East. The Big East had 2 good teams. Not good like Florida and LSU good, but good. The rest of league is just like any other major conference except there's more mediocrity because there are more teams.
3.27.2006 3:21pm
Elliot123 (mail):
jgshapiro,

Best night? The reason the night is best is because the team makes it that way. They don't draw lots for a good or bad night.
3.27.2006 3:21pm
BossPup (mail):

I was personally gratified that the groin puncher missed that front end of the one and one and almost cost his team the game. He deserves nothing. Not credit and not forgiveness just our DISGUST. What he did was unforgivable.


You're kidding, right? He is a twenty-year-old kid who did something dumb. So long as he sincerely apoligized for his actions, served his suspension, and promises not to do it in the future, I am not sure why I should view him with disgust. And I definitely don't see what is so horrific about hitting someone in the groin that it should be considered an unforgivable act.
3.27.2006 3:30pm
keatssycamore (mail) (www):
No, nothing wrong with punching another player in the crotch at the end of a close game while you think the ref isn't watching. He's a real stand up guy for admitting to it after it was caught on tape.

You are a foolish apologist who apparently has as much difficulty understanding the concept of sportsmanship as Mr. Skinn.
3.27.2006 3:42pm
Clifton Smalls:
Not to drag dunno's name further through the mud, but I haven't seen it pointed out yet that a Big East team won the National Championship in 2003 and 2004. Why didn't the Big East Tournament destroy Syracuse and UConn's chances those years?

??
3.27.2006 3:45pm
jgshapiro (mail):
Best night? The reason the night is best is because the team makes it that way.

In a Best-of-5 or Best-of-7 tournament, the better team wins.

In a Best-of-1 tournament, luck, foul calls, crowd support, and a host of other factors that wash out over a longer series can easily make the difference. That's the nature of this tournament, but it explains why you see cindarella upsets so frequently in the NCAA tournament and far less often in the pro's.

Every neutral fan in the dome will be rooting for GMU.

How many neutral fans watch the final four? I've only been to one, but my experience is that there aren't that many. Maybe there will be more with a Cindarella there, but the street resale price is so high for the F4 that if you don't have a dog in the fight, it can be hard to rationalize not selling your tickets and watching the game on TV or in a bar. Especially for the fans of the 2 teams knocked out on Saturday.

Imagine you are a Florida college student that came to watch your team lose on Saturday. Would you pass up several thousand dollars to root for GMU in the final? Or would you sell your tickets to the UCLA alum in the parking lot and use the proceeds to fund your spring break trip to Cancun?

Also, I think you underestimate the number of fans from 'football' schools that become rabid hoops fans when their team makes the Final Four.
3.27.2006 4:47pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
George Masons baseball team swept their series this weekend...!!!! Omaha here we come
3.27.2006 5:08pm
John M (mail):
jgshaprio, I have been to only one Final Four. In was in 2002 in Atlanta with three "basketball schools" (Maryland, Indiana, Kansas) and one "football school" (Oklahoma). The three basketball schools were very well-represented. Oklahoma was not. I realize that is a small sample, but that's my experience. There are plenty of corporate tickets, people there for the coaches' convention, etc., but even if you don't believe there are any neutral fans at the Final Four, keep in mind that the fans there to root for late game participants UCLA and LSU will be vociferously pulling for George Mason.
3.27.2006 5:52pm
Bruce J (mail) (www):
and judging by Calhoun's comments at halftime, UConn's strategy for dealing with out [sic] big men was "block their shots" (Calhoun said at halftime his big guys said "What should we do with these guys" and Calhoun said "Block their shots"). At some point I would've thought there would be a Plan B.

Maybe I'm misreading this, but I hope it's not just a cheap shot at a great coach. (UConn was nothing before they got Calhoun, and over the last 15 years has become 'the other' premiere team alongside Duke) Do notice that Calhoun's comments were AT HALFTIME (though apparently referring to some earlier point), when his team was leading by 9 pts! BEFORE GMU's 3-point shooters hit a hot streak (6 of 7), when UConn was shooting 57% and GM was shooting something like 37%...

Also gratuitous are the remarks about UConn's needing "timely help" from the officials in the Washington game, esp. if you're not willing to look at how GMU benefited from some key nickel-and-dime and missed calls late in regulation and overtime (just let them play!) [I don't claim I can't be wrong or biased, but I would suggest bias affects your perception of these things too... so better, perhaps, to just leave the comment out, don't you think?]

Don't mean for this to sound like sour grapes. (I offer as an excuse that all my kids were born in CT, and though we left the state 12 yrs ago, UConn basketball remains the one team we ALL root for.) I DO think UConn has often failed to play to its talent level this year, and GMU certainly has played hard, as a team and with a lot of heart (and I WILL be rooting for them to win it all). But I don't see the need for belittling the team that narrowly lost (unlike the other teams GMU faced!), unless there's some egregious misbehavior on their part. There's something to be said for being a gracious WINNER (sorry if I'm misreading you here)
3.28.2006 11:24am