Archive for Monday, March 27, 2006

Commentary: Everybody’s an underdog at Final 4

UCLA has highest seed, but doesn’t resemble typical bully as survivors head to Indianapolis

March 27, 2006

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— George Mason is going to the Final Four. Three weeks ago, if somebody said that, you might have responded, "Really? What team is he on?"

The Patriots beat top-seed Connecticut twice Sunday - once in regulation, then again in overtime after UConn's standard ridiculous comeback. Now George Mason is two wins away from a national championship - that's the same George Mason that snuck into the tournament as a No. 11 seed and was supposed to lose in the first round to Michigan State.

Do the Spartans feel at least a little bit better now?

"I was thinking about that as every game went by," MSU coach Tom Izzo said Sunday night. "I feel better in one way, but I feel worse that it kind of makes you madder (because of) where you could have gone. Maybe we're not quite the dogs we think we are up here."

Speaking of dogs: Welcome to the first Final Four where everybody is an underdog. George Mason, Louisiana State, UCLA, Florida ... honestly, who can pick a favorite with a straight face? UCLA has the highest seed (No. 2), but the Bruins won their last three games by a total of 10 points. Does that say "bully" to you?

For the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, no No. 1 seed made the Final Four. If these teams unload the cliche truck later this week, we can actually believe them - this year, everybody is truly "just happy to be here."

In the preseason AP poll, UCLA was 19th. LSU was seventh - among "others receiving votes." That translates to No. 32. Florida was No. 41, which basically means the Gators were even money just to make the tournament. And George Mason, of course, was nowhere to be found.

Two weeks ago, Billy Packer mocked the selection committee for giving at-large bids to mid-major schools; Packer said the committee should have looked at past NCAA performance. Sunday night on the air, that same Packer said "reputation means nothing." And this all brings up another, somewhat irrelevant point: Who came up with the term "mid-major," anyway? What does that mean? When you order a cup of coffee, do you ask for a mid-large? And would that really be any sillier than "Venti?"

George Mason did the world a favor by beating Connecticut. This UConn team led the tournament in both talent and indifference. It will forever be remembered for the moment when CBS play-by-play guy Verne Lundquist said star Rudy Gay had been called lackadaisical, and Gay immediately yawned. Who yawns on the court in the middle of an NCAA Tournament game?

George Mason was counted out so many times this month. First the Patriots were supposed to be in the NIT. Then they were supposed to lose to Michigan State, partly because point guard Tony Skinn was suspended. Then they were supposed to lose to defending champion North Carolina. And, finally, after UConn stunned everybody by forcing overtime, George Mason figured to fold.

If there is a lesson here, it's this: Anybody can make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but everybody needs a little luck.

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