|This story originally published on FrankHoops.com|
OK, anyone out there who had George Mason reaching the Final Four when you made out your NCAA Tournament bracket sheets, feel free to take a bow.
Yeah, sure you did!
In the first 10 days of the tournament, a new-found respect was gained across the country for the "mid-major" teams.
On the 11th day, a team
from a school located in
In fact, it should be stricken from college basketball jargon altogether.
And there will never be better support for that notion that in what the George Mason Patriots – members of the Colonial Athletic Association – have as part of their collective agenda this week:
They're bound for
Repeat after me: George Mason is in the Final Four.
It boggles the mind, doesn't it?
The Patriots' 86-84 overtime victory over Connecticut Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C., secured their airfare to Indianapolis and made them the only the second double-digit seed to play on the final weekend of the season, joining another No. 11 seed (LSU, 20 years ago) to pull off the trick.
They clearly outplayed the nation's most talented team (aka, "Connecticut") in the second half and the only reason the Huskies were able to put the game into overtime (well, besides the sensational play of Marcus Williams) was the reverse layup by Denham Brown during which the ball bounced three times on the iron as the buzzer sounded before falling in.
And Jim Calhoun's team – which needed a couple of miscues by Washington and a 3-pointer by Rashad Anderson to put its Friday night game into overtime before prevailing – nearly advanced to the Final Four that most everyone had it as a lock for all season.
But Brown's 3-pointer from the left corner, just in front of his bench, was just-this-much-long as the buzzer sounded, setting off the Patriots' "lets rip off our jerseys and leap on the press tables" celebration.
The Patriots, with the possible
Coach Jim Larranaga's team demonstrated that it is a legitimate threat to win the national title seven days before knocking off the Huskies Sunday.
That's when the Patriots beat
They'll be the underdogs against Florida next Saturday night in the RCA Dome – the Gators, in fact, will likely be the consensus choice of the "expert" set to cut down nets on April 3.
But nothing the Patriots might do
And we should have a pretty good
notion as to which team that those without a rooting interest in or emotional
In the other regional final Sunday
The Gators exploited, time and again, the smaller Wildcats with the frontcourt play of sophomores Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer (a collective 44 points and 33 rebounds) during a 75-62 victory that eliminated the final top seed in the field. That means that the Final Four will be without a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1980.
Defensively, Billy Donovan's team – anchored by the shot-blocking ability of Noah and Horford – was able to pressure Villanova's jump shooters and still negate the Wildcats' guards' ability to penetrate off the dribble.
Villanova's starters were a combined 15 of 63 – 23.8 percent – from the field.
That kind of defense (or "bad shooting", if you prefer) is why the last of the four finals was the only one without any real suspense as to the eventual winner down the stretch.
Scout.com's All-Regional teams
MVP: Marcus Williams (Connecticut)
MVP: Joakim Noah
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the