Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 27, 2006
The mid-major Declaration of Rights
(With apologies to George Mason (1725-1792), author of the original.)

A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the Representatives of the millions of good people who attend or attended MID-MAJORS (so-called), assembled in full and free Convention in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.; which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of present gloating and future schedule-making.

Article 1
That all D-I teams are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of tournament, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of irrevocably destroying conventional wisdom, with the means of acquiring and possessing wins, and pursuing and obtaining Final Four happiness and fame.

Article 2
That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the actual performance on the court and not in the number of times your team's games have been done by Dick Vitale.

Article 3
That the game of college hoops is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit and happiness all fans, whether or not Billy Packer believes their team "belongs" in the tournament.

Adopted unanimously March 26, 2006
Verizon Center Convention of Mid-Majors

"George: G-E-O-R-G-E." Now how hard was that?
There's disdain and then there's disconnect: Connecticut, apparently, can't even spell the name of the opponent they lost to yesterday. No matter. They have the offseason to brush up on their spelling. [Update: they fixed it. But it took a while.]

George Mason (the team) beat the Huskies 86-84 in OT yesterday to become the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They won for a simple reason: they were the best team on the floor. Big bad prohibitive favorite 1-seed UConn was, late in regulation, reduced to playing the role of the scrappy underdog.

True, there was one span of a few minutes late in the first half where Connecticut was having its way and the Patriots, for a few seconds, trailed by 12. But with that singular exception, the notable aspect of yesterday was how the visual grammar was all wrong: it was George Mason that had a clear edge on the boards (posting offensive and defensive rebounding percentages of 43 and 61, respectively). It was George Mason that, "incredibly," was methodically feeding the post and getting scores from their bigs, especially Will Thomas. And it was Connecticut, a team whose name is synonymous with post defense, that was substituting frantically in a futile attempt to find someone who could stop Thomas. ("We got beat in the post, which we really haven't all year, and we got beat good in the post," said Jim Calhoun afterward.) Just to force OT the Huskies needed three missed free throws from the Patriots in the final 60 seconds of regulation and an amazing and improbable last-second lay-in by Denham Brown that bounced on the rim for what seemed like an eternity.

No matter. The Patriots, playing the same five players for much of the day against Calhoun's cast of thousands, closed the deal in OT, thanks in large part to a Kobe-esque jump-stop fadeaway jumper by Folarin Campbell. (And yet still another missed free throw gave the Huskies a last chance. But a three by Brown at the buzzer that would have won the game for UConn skidded off the rim.) Start the celebration and rewrite the history. (Box score.)

What now?
George Mason looks like a legitimate threat to put together six wins in the tournament because they've already won four games in a number of different ways. This is not a team where shutting down one Carmelo-sized offensive threat is "the key." Nor are Jim Larranaga's men riding a Providence-in-'87-brand wave of precociously hot outside shooting. (They're hitting about 42 percent of their threes in the tournament which, of course, is very good. But only about 29 percent of their shots in their four wins have been threes.) Consider....

The Patriots beat Michigan State with superior rebounding and outstanding interior offense. Then, on a day when they were beaten on the boards and their threes weren't falling (4-of-16), George Mason beat North Carolina by taking care of the ball and getting to the line. Against Wichita State, the men from Fairfax, VA, relied on excellent defense--more specifically, outstanding field goal defense.

And then yesterday: the Patriots won this game not because they stopped UConn but because UConn couldn't stop the Patriots. George Mason scored 86 points on just 69 possessions, netting out to a robust 1.25 points per possession. They did it with a run of hot outside shooting early in the second half and, as mentioned above, a late run of strong interior play. (One constant: this team isn't commiting turnovers. The Patriots have given the ball away to their opponents on only 16 percent of their tournament possessions.)

Proficient Patriot polymaths of George Mason, I salute you!

Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon says George Mason-over-Connecticut is probably "the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history." Ken Pomeroy says no, it's not: "UConn, while having a bunch of players with 'upside,' was a team that never distanced itself from the field. The thing to learn from this is that when a team doesn’t play up to its alleged potential for 33 games, why should we expect them to do so in game number 34?" At, Andy Katz thinks what the Patriots have done merits repeating: "Let's go over this again: The Patriots took out Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun, the latter a Hall of Fame member and the first two likely to be enshrined some day." Katz's colleague Gene Wojciechowski says the win against Connecticut is "more than an upset, it's history." Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News agrees ("historic"). And at cbs.sportsline, Gregg Doyel says "George Mason beat UConn because George Mason was better than UConn. End of story."

Best headline
Can't link to it because it's already long gone but for a brief time right after the game yesterday ESPN had this on its main page: "This One Goes to 11." Perfect.

And while no one was watching....
Pity 3-seed Florida, winners of what will go down as the most overlooked and little-remembered regional final in a long while, their 75-62 victory over 1-seed Villanova. The Gators rebounded over 57 percent of their own misses (Al Horford alone had eight offensive boards) while limiting the Wildcats to a level of shooting futility (27.4 effective FG pct.) even lower than that inflicted upon Memphis by UCLA Saturday night. Joakim Noah posted a 21-15 dub-dub for the victors while teammate Horford notched the rare ascending-numbers version of the same (12-15). Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and Mike Nardi shot 22 threes and missed 18 of them. Yes, 26 offensive boards sounds impressive for 'Nova--but keep in mind they missed 55 shots. Jay Wright would gladly have traded in a few offensive boards for a few threes. (Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
With each passing day it looks more and more likely that Iowa coach Steve Alford will stay right where he is. Yesterday Missouri named UAB coach Mike Anderson as their new head coach.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few has not talked to Indiana about their vacancy.

Minnesota guard Rico Tucker is reportedly mulling a transfer to another program. "He just needs to go somewhere where they press," says his father, Terry. "That's what he's best at."

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Blatant double-standard?

I know your blog is about celebrating college basketball. I know your site isn't about whining and I know your site isn't about creating an "us against the world attitude" with respect to Big Ten basketball.

But the next time the national media denigrates Big Ten basketball, and my Badgers in particular, about a "grinding" style of play, please remember the following games, scores, and headlines:

"A Beautiful Grind" - regarding the UCLA/Memphis 50-45 final.

Villanova 60, BC 59 (in OT, no less).

Florida 57, Georgetown 53.

I won't direct you to the box scores. I won't direct you to the stats. I won't direct you to the multitude of tales regarding the great "athleticism" of the players on these teams. I'll just sit here and tell myself that the name on the front of the jersey makes no difference in how a game or team is perceived by fans and spun by the media.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have cows to milk and a cheesehead hat that needs repair.

Sandon K.

Not a bad point, Sandon. Though I, for one, would lift the Villanova-BC game well above the rim-denting brick fest that was UCLA-Memphis or the 56-possession still-life known as Florida-Georgetown.

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