Everyone’s looking under pumpkins for Cinderella, trying to find that double-digit NCAA seed that will capture everyone’s imagination by pulling off a string of upsets.
I don’t know why these people are spending so much time hunting for the surprise team of the tournament. The answer to the Cinderella question is the team that defined the term two years ago:
The George Mason University Patriots.
Yes, the team that pulled off the most improbable postseason run in sports history just two years ago is back and, in some ways, better than ever.
GMU has two mainstays returning from the team which vanquished three teams that had won titles in this decade (Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut) on the road to the Final Four.
Folarian Campbell is a 6'4" swingman who averaged 15.9 points per game and controls the flow of the Patriots offense. Entrenched in the middle is Will Thomas, who averaged a double-double (15.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg) this season.
Also back from that team are John Vaughn and Jordan Carter, who saw little action on the court during the magical run in 2006, but will be able to prepare their teammates for the experience of going up against national powers on the sport’s biggest stage.
The key returnee is head coach Jim Larranaga. He has the uncanny ability to get his team into the perfect Cinderella frame of mind for the tournament. Larranaga emphasizes having fun and enjoying the experience.
At the same time, he makes sure his players realize they are in it to win it. This loose but focused approach was the hallmark of the ’06 Patriots and that attitude will serve them well this time around.
Their first round opponent is another teams that dons the green and gold, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Thomas will have to slow down Notre Dame’s 6-foot-8-inch banger, Luke Harangody, who also sports a double-double average with 20.8 points and 10.2 boards per game.
The key will be Campbell controlling the flow.
The Irish prefer high-scoring affairs (80.5 ppg) while GMU would rather see a five or a six in front of each team’s final score. Campbell will dictate the pace to the Patriots’ liking and GMU will prevail in a low-scoring squeaker.
Larranaga will come up with an out-of-the-box spin for Friday’s practice, like he did in ’06 when the team engaged in a gymnasium version of baseball.
The Patriots' second round foe, either fourth-seeded Washington State or No. 13 Winthrop, will fall victim to Larranaga’s relaxed, confident crew.
It would be great to see the Patriots make another run to the Final Four, but the Tar Heel team they are likely to face in the Sweet 16 is more experienced than the one vanquished in 2006.
For the Patriots, the clock will strike midnight at that point.