Another year, another ridiculously entertaining NCAA tournament. The last two years have been so good that next season is almost sure to be a let-down. Nonetheless, I'm pretty darn happy now, as is most of the basketball world. Thoughts from the weekend below:
1) Prior to this weekend, the only reference to George Mason that I heard this year was a radio interview with their coach a day or two after NCAA tournament bids went out. I remember him discussing his suspension of Tony Skinn for the first game of the tournament, and noting that Skinn was probably the happiest person on the team when George Mason got its bid, since he was worried about his absence giving the selection committee a reason to leave George Mason out. Given where we’re at now, I’d say the committee made a pretty good choice.
2) Even though I know next to nothing about George Mason, I do recognize the inherent coolness of the Patriots (yes, I had to look up their mascot–thank you Blue Ribbon) being in the Final Four. On a peripherally cool note now, though, I would have to assume that ESPN mid-major writer and friend of this blog, Kyle Whelliston, will be going to the Final Four on his company’s dime (and if he's not, then the Worldwide Leader should be ashamed of itself). Not too shabby for a guy who spends most of the year shuttling between tiny, cramped gyms watching lesser known teams play basketball. Let's just hope that Kyle isn't seduced by big-time basketball like Mid-Majority mascot Bally was this past summer.
3) Best thing about George Mason’s run to the Final Four? Look at who they beat. They’ve won four games so far, and three of those games came against Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut, three of college basketball’s most consistently powerful programs. Short of knocking off Duke as well, there’s not too many other big-name programs that the Patriots could have toppled. It’s neat that George Mason is at the Final Four, but it’s even neater when you consider that they had to knock off three teams that consider the Final Four almost an every-other-year trip.
4) Leaving George Mason aside, could anyone have predicted the other teams in the Final Four? LSU has been pretty good this year, but I don’t know that anyone expected them to be at this point (I sure didn’t, as I declared before the tournament that the winner of Duke vs. Texas would take the championship. LSU screwed that prediction up in about 400 ways.). I’ve seen UCLA a couple of times, and never came away all that impressed. Florida was sort of a hot team going into the tournament, so I suppose that they were pick-able, but I still can’t say that I know lots of people who thought they’d be there. In fact, if you’d asked me to pick the outcomes of each of the four occurred this past Saturday and Sunday, I would have been 0-4. That doesn’t upset me, though–I’m kind of intrigued to see the bizarro Final Four.
5) I’m not going to lie to you–if it was a non-descript Saturday afternoon during the regular season and I saw that ESPN had scheduled UCLA vs. LSU and Florida vs. George Mason as its games for the afternoon, I’d probably put down the remote, go outside, and build a snowman or something. But I’m excited to see these games now. See what March does to a guy?
6) There were few things that I stated as an absolute truth while picking tournament games, but the one thing I just flat out knew, and told to anyone that would listen, is that Connecticut would drop a game before the Final Four. I’ve never disagreed with people who love their talent, but I’ve seldom seen a non-NBA team with so much talent and so little heart. Frankly, the Huskies made me angry whenever I watched them play. The loss to George Mason was a long time coming, as none of their tournament games (not even the opening 1 vs. 16 matchup) were easy. The feeling of euphoria that I had when U-Conn’s last second three-pointer clanked off the rim at the buzzer was indescribable. Finally, the Huskies weren’t able to turn it on for 5 minutes and escape defeat.
7) Speaking of U-Conn pulling out games that they shouldn’t have won, Washington basically had them beat on Friday night, and I’m bitter that they couldn’t close out the game in the last minute. Last night I found myself debating what the least clutch moment of the weekend was: Mike Jensen fouling out and giving U-Conn a critical three-point play in the closing seconds of the Washington-Connecticut game, or Dustin losing his notebook on Knight School. In my mind, both events sealed the losses for Washington and Dustin, respectively. (Sorry if I spoiled the Knight School ending for anyone. Yeah, Tyler won.)
8) Hey, one gripe about tourney season. What ever happened to those half-hour summations of old Final Fours that ESPN would show during tourney season. I used to love those growing up. I’d head home from school, flip on the TV, and there was Bob Ley sending us to old footage of guys like Mike Gminski and Bill Walton trying to win championships (set to excellent narration, I might add). I haven’t seen one of these shows this year. I know a few years ago they did a few updated versions, replacing the Ley intros with Chris Fowler intros, but now they’re nowhere to be seen. Am I just missing these shows because I’m not getting home around 4pm like I was when I was in school, or did they inexplicably shelve the tapes in favor of some stupid-ass show like Speed Week?
So that's my weekend. Here's hoping that I think of something to write about as the week goes on...