"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com
Hatboro, PA (Sports Network) --
Regardless of what is being reported by ESPN, or anyone else, I cannot possibly believe that someone, except a dart thrower with no knowledge of college basketball whatsoever, had George Mason coming this far in the 2006 NCAA Division l Men?s Basketball Tournament. Puhleeeeze!!!
Let?s keep the all important anticipated score differentials in mind ? spoken in English, that means the point spreads put forth by Las Vegas as well as the off-shore gaming establishments that watch all of sports with more than a keen eye. That watchful attentiveness is also being exercised by the fans that are compelled to invest a few quid in predicting the final outcome of each of the games. Florida is a seeming solid 6 point favorite over George Mason, the persistent Patriots that do not want to go home. The tough kids of the Bayou from LSU are 2-2 ? over UCLA and their degree laden aggregation ? strength versus smarts. Ought to be interesting. And, after Saturday?s confrontations we will be down to a precious two.
Funny that the remaining teams are The Final Four but that the next two are just The Final, no acronym or words that rhyme, like The Terrible Two, The Survivors (great name for a TV show), Two and Done, Terminal Two or Just Two.
OK, replay time. Quickly, I had Duke and Florida in the championship game so the Gators are still alive and so is my bracket. And, I had UCLA losing to Duke tomorrow but they might end up losing to LSU.
The Colonial Athletic Conference. It sounds like a gathering of people waiting for the British to try and retake the Colonies. That is where George Mason competes and they do not arrive with muskets in hand but lots of heart and talent on the hardwoods, choreographed by its coach, Jim Larranaga, not exactly a household word in the collegiate basketball ranks. They were 11th seeded and, in succession, have bested, and ousted, Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut, teams with eight national championships among them ? not, of course, these teams precisely, but the schools. Still? impressive. They did not belong here, so many said. Really? Giving them their due, the Gators of Florida have also watched the GM wins, they have seen the game films, they know what to expect and they are as young, talented and aggressive as the upstarts, only more so.
Florida coach Billy Donovan knows what to expect and should be able to counter whatever comes his way tomorrow. Containing Joakim Noah, the 6?11? son of a French tennis great, Yannick Noah, will be akin to catching the wind in a bottle. You cannot get into the area near the basket, as George Mason would like to do, without encountering a forest of humanity. Villanova, with some of the best guards in the college ranks?maybe the best?learned that and finally headed home to Philadelphia to become spectators. Put Noah with forward Al Horford and it is volleyball under the net.
No number one seed in the Final Four for the first time since 1980 and this tournament is one of the best in recent memory for sheer excitement and heart thumping finishes. But, there will not be an 11th seed playing for the championship either.
Enter LSU with its frontline bench pressing the bus that takes them to the arena before heading inside to take on the UCLA Bruins. How does anyone get in the face of Glen ?Big Baby? Davis (310 pounds of proficiency) and his freshman aircraft carrier buddy, Tyrus Thomas, an alliteration that is as tough to say as it is to stop when battling for a rebound? Also, let us not forget Darnell Lazare, often lost in the limelight shining on Davis and Thomas. These guys held Duke to a season-low 27.7 shooting in the regional semifinal. Are you kidding me? There was more coverage there than the tarp you just threw on your new car this morning. Even Ben Howland, coach of the Bruins, refers to Thomas and Davis as ?human fly swatting machines.? And, that was not said to prepare his troops or with a wink towards his own locker room. He is recognizing fact.
One must keep in mind that this team lost to UConn 67-66 on January 7th and then reeled off seven straight wins. Nice, very nice.
UCLA has not won in the classic manner. Truth be told, each victory has been sweet for them but ugly in the eyes of anyone with knowledge about basketball. They beat Memphis on 4-for-17 shooting in the second half, 20 for 39 from the foul line and 17 turnovers. Memphis had to puke its guts out after the game and being told of these stats. It was the lowest scoring regional final since the shot clock was initiated in the tournament in 1986.
With a 31-6 record, UCLA has now won 11 straight and only one of its opponents has scored more than 60 points. They will slow this one down to a crawl. Count on it. The 7-foot Ryan Hollins will not offset the physical presence of LSU and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will have his hands full trying to do the work of two. Plodding will not help here as the Tigers just wear their opponents down. Ugly no longer works although it was great at a bar in ?Coyote Ugly.?
Make it Florida and LSU in the Finale and I would lay the points both times while a host of handicappers will be encouraging their callers to stay with George Mason down to the wire. What about the Patriots in that tease, adding 6 more points to the total, and doing the same with UCLA? Now you are getting crazy. If you want to do that, take Florida even and LSU plus 4 instead of minus 2. Hey, if we really knew would any of us have day jobs? Shall we look ahead to Monday? Are you kidding me?