George who?

March 28, 2006

To the list of all-time greatest underdogs, from the Old Testament's David to horse racing's Seabiscuit, let us add another: George Mason University's men's basketball team. The Patriots may be the biggest long shot to ever make an NCAA Final Four appearance thanks to their inspired 86-84 overtime victory over the heavily favored University of Connecticut on Sunday in Washington.

George Mason wasn't expected to survive the first round. It barely earned an invitation to the 65-team field. The team from Fairfax, Va., was far from dominant during the regular season. Long Island's Hofstra University beat the Patriots twice. Twice! No basketball team from George Mason had ever won a single NCAA tournament game before this year, let alone string together four - including a 65-60 upset of the defending champion University of North Carolina Tarheels.

The unlikely run may have surprised "bracketologists" and crushed a lot of office-pool entries, but it's hard not to love such overachievers. And, with all due respect to the folks on the other side of the Potomac River, it was a bunch of Maryland players who got them there. Mount St. Joseph's Will Thomas and Aberdeen's Jai Lewis were George Mason's 1-2 front court punch to the end, scoring 8 of the team's 12 overtime points in the Connecticut game. In all, George Mason has seven players from Maryland. That's half the squad. Only one team member, freshman forward Chris Fleming, hails from Virginia.

What would the "Father of the Bill of Rights" make of his namesake school's success? No doubt Mr. Mason, who opposed a too-strong federal government, would have been delighted to see power wielded by a lowly 11th seed. "We came equals into this world," he wrote 231 years ago, "and equals shall we go out of it." No fan of basketball upsets could put it any better.

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