I've had no real rooting interest in this year's tournament -- my Orange got bounced in the first round and this is the first year since I was, oh, about 11 that I don't have any money on the line -- save one: local boys done good, the Patriots of George Mason University.
What a hell of a run. What a hell of a team. What sheer, unadulterated bliss to watch coach Jim Larranaga's face after having just beat the number one team in the country, securing his little-school-that could a berth in Indianapolis, beaming a smile that made him look like maybe he's retarded or on the verge of a seizure.
THIS is why I love college basketball.
Having seen the team a few times this year, I expected them to make some noise, but I'd be completely disingenuous if I claimed I foresaw this. To even get the chance to pull off what they did this afternoon -- only the greatest upset in tournament history -- they had to defeat half of last year's Final Four, including the defending national champion. It just didn't seem feasible, an assessment shared even by some notorious basketball-loving faculty members.
A few days back, Sportsline.com's senior b-ball writer Gregg Doyel may have been the first pundit to ponder the unthinkable...namely, that " George Mason could win this thing because George Mason is national-championship good. Period. But George Mason isn't good enough to beat Connecticut." Now that he's been proven wrong on what would have been the least controversial part of his assessment, Doyel is forced to eat his words:
Shame on me, and shame on anyone else who saw George Mason beat Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State and doubt the Patriots had enough game to beat UConn. While every available number insists this was an upset -- from the Top 25 to the NCAA Tournament seedings to the recruiting ranking of each player on both rosters -- the eyeballs tell you something else. George Mason beat UConn because George Mason was better than UConn. End of story.
Next Sunday, I'll be back up in the homestead in Jersey to take part in the annual draft day for my regular rotiserrie league, the Walter Reeger Fantasy Baseball League. On Monday, myself, my little bro, and my pops will all play hooky from work and head out to Shea for opening day of the new-look Mets. All in all, a spectacular sports weekend, no matter what.
But the real capper would be to see the guys in the green jerseys cutting down those nets Sunday night, and bringing a national championship -- yes, a national championship -- back home to that sleepy commuter school in Fairfax.