Monday, March 27, 2006

Here's a Shocker ... another sports-related post

I would be remiss if I didn't at least throw a bone towards the biggest sports event of March (i.e. March Madness, or the NCAA basketball tournament). This weekend marked success for the "underdogs" of college basketball. As the calendar turns from March to April, this tournament draws to a close. The tournament begins with 64 hopefuls (realistically, at least 25% know they have no chance in the world), but the field is whittled with each progressive day (and round of play). The event has names for seemingly everything, from the "Field of 64" to the "Sweet 16" to the "Elite Eight." Well, we have now reached the echelon plateau of the tourney by composing the "Final Four" heading to Indianapolis this coming weekend. It may seem like April Fool's Day when George Mason, the true Cinderella of this whole show as a #11 seed, will match-up against #3 seed Florida. The other side of the bracket, with #2 seed UCLA matching up with #4 seed LSU, is a pairing of much more likely contenders than Mason is in the grouping. Considering that this is one of very few events in tournament history to have no #1 seeds make the Final Four (three of the four (Memphis, Villanova, and Connecticut) were knocked out over the weekend, the other (Duke) didn't make the Elite Eight).

Most of the "experts" were picking UConn to win the whole thing. George Mason knocked them off in the early game on Sunday afternoon. Villanova was a serious contender for the first time in years, but Florida did the same to them on Sunday as well. Memphis couldn't muster offense against UCLA (in a 50-45 game), but UCLA was at least expected to be here by some. LSU is a bit of a surprise, having knocked out Duke on Thursday, but they might be finding themselves when it counts most. Their last loss was to fellow SEC team and Final Four member Florida.

Picking the Championship Game out of these four is probably a shot in the dark. Nobody would have picked George Mason to have gone this far already (maybe even beyond the second round), so who's to say they won't win again and make the finale? Florida is probably likely to succeed, but it depends if they take GM seriously. UCLA *should* beat LSU, but they lost twice to Washington during the regular season, who in turn lost to UConn in the tournament, who inevitably lost to GM two days later. Can GM beat UCLA by virtue of this sequence of (flawed) logic? Maybe or maybe not ... depends if LSU gets there first. I think a UCLA versus GM final would be best for ratings -- the winningest college team of the past versus the never-won-anything team of the here-and-now. John Wooden made UCLA a powerhouse back in the day (1960's and early 70's), and the school also won the championship as recently as 1995. Except for UCLA, none of these teams is a past champion.

If history repeats itself, UCLA will win yet another championship, but wouldn't it be a great surprise to see George Mason win it all?

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