Final Four Shaped by Four Moments

Saturday night, Florida faces George Mason and UCLA takes on LSU in the Final Four semi-finals in the RCA Dome. But, if four plays hadn't taken place in the NCAA Tournament, there might be four different teams playing in Indianapolis this weekend....

INDIANAPOLIS -- Consider, if you will, how erasing just four plays might completely revamp the look of the Final Four semifinals that will take place in the RCA Dome Saturday night:

 

*If sophomore Corey Brewer doesn't hit an awkward layup, while being fouled, and convert the ensuing free throw with 27.5 seconds to go, maybe Florida doesn't go on to beat Georgetown, 57-53, in a Sweet 16 game in Minneapolis on March 24.

 

*If Denham Brown's 3-pointer from the left corner goes in at the buzzer, Connecticut would have beaten George Mason Sunday in Washington, D.C.

 

*If Gonzaga had made just one more shot or committed one fewer turnover in the final three minutes of its Sweet 16 game with UCLA in Oakland on March 23, the Bulldogs or Memphis would be playing tonight.

 

*If Darrel Mitchell had missed that 3-pointer against Texas A&M with 3.9 seconds to go on March 18, someone other than LSU would have earned a trip to Indy this weekend.

 

Of course, as Jim Harrick – when he was the UCLA coach and before the Bruins won that national title in their last Final Four appearance (1995) – once told me, ``Burlison, if `ifs' and `buts' were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas."

 

Coach Harrick: He's one of a kind but actually pretty profound at times.

 

But there was much to be said (and written) about the Final Four field we were left with, even if it doesn't include that dream matchup of Duke vs. Gonzaga – J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison; I assume you remember them – that actually was pretty close to taking place, all things considered.

 

There's no Duke or Connecticut, teams that, in November, most everyone who pays the slightest attention to college hoops (and you count yourself in that group, no doubt) took for granted would be playing on April 1 in Indianapolis.

 

Well, the joke was on us.

 

Both, though most of us couldn't identify or chose to overlook for much of the season, had what ultimately proved to be tournament-eliminating flaws, depth and a lack of scoring options for the Blue Devils and (seemingly) chemistry and sub-par half-court defense for the Huskies.

 

Florida, LSU and UCLA?

 

Back in early November, they were all looked upon as "talented but young" and, in all likelihood, a good year a way from being threats to make deep NCAA Tournament runs.

 

Well, the first observation proved correct, anyway.

 

And what of George Mason?

 

Well, as a national basketball prognosticator, you don't spend a lot of time in the spring and summer trying to figuring where a program that had never won a NCAA Tournament game figures in the national championship picture the following season.

 

And yet, George Mason – not George Washington, not James Madison; not even James Mason or Dolly Madison – is, after reeling off victories over Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut, two wins away from bagging a national championship Monday night.

 

Let that one simmer for a while:

 

George Mason, national champion.

 

Far out, isn't it?

 

A look at the games:

All times Eastern

Game 1

No. 2 Florida (31-6) vs. No. 11 George Mason (27-7), 6:07 p.m.

The Road To Indy: Florida – South Alabama, 76-50; Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 82-60; Georgetown, 57-53; Villanova, 75-62. George Mason – Michigan State, 75-65; North Carolina, 65-60; Wichita State, 63-55; Connecticut, 86-84, ot.

Records vs. tournament field: Florida, 11-4; George Mason, 6-1.

Things to consider: The Gators played dominant basketball, from near start to finish, in three of their four tournament games. The game with Georgetown was the only one in which the outcome didn't seem pretty well in hand early in the second half. Joakim Noah, a 6-11 sophomore who seems capable of guarding any player of any size, is the most dynamic player who'll be suiting up tonight. You should be surprised that George Mason is playing tonight only if you didn't watch the Patriots play in the tournament. They have the best offensive cohesiveness and inside-outside balance.

Frank's Spin: If the Patriots were playing either UCLA or LSU, you'd like their chances of advancing to Monday night's game a lot better. This will be the night in which they are finally knocked off by a team that plays just as well together but possesses too much size up front. Florida moves within a win of a national title.

 

Game 2

No. 1 UCLA (31-6) vs. No. 4 LSU (27-8), 8:47 p.m.

The Road To Indy: UCLA – Belmont, 78-44; Alabama, 62-59; Gonzaga, 73-71; Memphis, 50-45. LSU – Iona, 80-64; Texas A&M, 58-57; Duke, 62-54; Texas, 70-60, ot.

Records vs. tournament field: UCLA, 11-5; LSU, 10-6.

Things to consider: The Bruins have played exceptional defense during their 11-game winning streak. But scoring has come with almost as much difficulty for them as it has their opponents over the past three tourney wins. Sophomore guards Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo have struggled with their jump shots recently for the Bruins. Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas have bordered on overwhelming inside the paint for the Tigers.

Frank's Spin: Not to make this too simple but the winner will be determined by whichever teams can knock in the most jump shots. Here's saying it will be UCLA, with the Bruins earning a Monday night game with Florida as a result.


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