What a difference a couple weeks can make.
Two weeks ago, I probably still would have told you that George Mason was some kid in my ninth grade algebra class.
Then, after hearing the Patriots’ story on Selection Sunday, they were now known to me as the team whose star player peter-tapped a Hofstra player.
A few days later, after it beat Michigan State, George Mason was then known as the team who gave me leverage to make fun of my Sparty friends.
But now, the Patriots are simply known as everyone’s new favorite team, a squad that over the past four games has shown us all that it’s for real.
Even the most diehard of George Mason fans (and yes, I realize how weird it sounds to hear the phrase George Mason fans and diehard in the same sentence) could not have expected this to happen. All of the analysts bragged about the parity in college basketball, but this brings parity to a new level.
As much as this whole parity angle was stressed leading up to the Big Dance, nearly all of the so-called experts had very No. 1 seed-heavy Final Fours.
But the two number ones that made it to Indianapolis for the Final Four both belong to George Mason – as in, their No. 11 seed.
And now, with Connecticut, Duke, Memphis and Villanova all watching the Final Four from home, it’s anybody’s tournament to win, and that includes George Mason.
Don’t be so sure that this will be like all of the other Cinderella stories from past NCAA Tournaments.
You know the formula: The upstart mid-major gets hot for two rounds – sometimes three, if they’re lucky – but inevitably runs out of steam and succumbs to a stronger team in the tourney’s later rounds.
But if this year’s Big Dance has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
Is it really that crazy for George Mason to pull off two more wins?
The Patriots have already taken down arguably the two best teams it will have to face: Connecticut and North Carolina. Sure, the other three teams are playing very well and deserve their spots in the Final Four, but we’re not talking about Tournament-tested foes here.
No team in the Final Four made it to the second week of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Florida was the lone team to even win a game.
And we’re not talking about veteran teams, either.
Each of the three teams standing in George Mason’s way of its improbable NCAA title hopes all boast star players who aren’t old enough to buy a sixer of Bud.
So maybe George Mason should steal the motto of Albany, Connecticut’s first-round opponent who wore shirts that stated, “Why not us?”
Why not the Patriots?
They seem to have taken the torch from Connecticut as this year’s team of destiny.
The Huskies came back from deficits against Albany, Washington and George Mason. In the latter two, it took buzzer-beaters to bring the game to overtime. I doubt any neutral observer of yesterday’s game between the Huskies and Patriots really thought deep down inside that George Mason would pull it out after Connecticut’s Denham Brown made that reverse lay-in as time expired.
But George Mason did win, and along with the game, it took the title of team of destiny.
There are conspiracy theorists out there who thought there would be no way that karma would allow Tony Skinn and his happy hands to win after his past sins, but that theory seemed to be dispelled yesterday when his missed free throw late in the game didn’t prove to be the Patriot’s undoing.
So consider this your last warning: If you haven’t hopped aboard now, act soon. The George Mason bandwagon is filling up and filling up fast. Jump on now, because it’s about ready to pull out.
And it’s not stopping until it reaches Indianapolis.