by Robert Ferringo - 03/31/2006
There were exactly 65,536 possible combinations of teams that could have met in Indianapolis for the Final Four. My guess is that the permutation we've gotten - Louisiana State, UCLA, Florida, and George Mason - was right around No. 60,187. The main culprit is obviously the 11th-seeded Patriots, a team from the outer rings of the college basketball universe.
Interestingly enough, I've been on the George Mason campus. I was there for an out-of-control concert a few years ago, and my two lasting memories were: 1. drinking a bottle of rum at half court while soaking in Chevelle's set, and 2. ending the night at a Waffle House trying to restrain a friend who was shirtless and provoking a nice Asian girl with some bacon and a salt shaker.
But now, like the rest of the American Sports World, I have another story about George Mason. They were the team that crashed the NCAA Tournament, beating anyone and everyone on their way to the most shocking Final Four appearance in the history of the Big Dance.
The No. 11 Patriots will attempt to prolong their mythical run at 6:07 p.m. EST on Saturday at the RCA Dome. They will square off with No. 3 Florida for a slot in the NCAA Title Game on Monday. Florida began as a 6-point favorite, but the line has since shifted to the Gators -6.5.
The game pits two of the most profitable clubs in college basketball this year against one another. George Mason is 19-9-2 against the spread, including a 7-3 run. Florida, which started the tournament at +2500 to win it all, has been 19-11-1 ATS and 6-1-1 recently.
By now everyone knows the particulars of George Mason's run to the Final Four. Yet the Patriots still face the same question - can they actually beat Florida? And of course, that question is ridiculous. The fact alone that the number was set at six, even if it is moving in the opposite direction, is proof enough that the books think the Patriots can win this one outright.
As expected, a majority of the money is going on the Gators, though public sentiment is clearly with the Patriots.
The Patriots have been playing out of their minds for two weeks. I don't think they missed a shot against Connecticut, and they have been hitting 49 percent of their attempts in the tournament. They are holding their opponents to just 38 percent shooting, and are currently in the top 20 in the nation in field-goal defense (38.6), scoring defense (59.1), personal fouls (15 per game) and scoring margin (+10.4).
If George Mason has an advantage over Florida, it may be an experience edge. Sort of. The Patriots start three seniors, led by point guard Tony "Watch Your Nuts" Skinn (12.8 ppg) and Jai "Alai" Lewis (14.0 ppg). The Gators have just one senior on their roster.
Also, George Mason is 7-1 against other tournament teams this season. In fact, the only schools to have beaten them in 2006 are Hofstra and UNC-Wilmington.
But I think Florida is a tad better than Hofstra and Wilmington.
Florida's studs have been hardened by a full season in the underrated SEC, and is clearly the most balanced team remaining. Streaky, scoring point guard: Taureen Green. Token white shooter: Lee Humphrey. Defensive stopper with a ghetto streak: Corey Brewer. Extremely buff forward: Al Horford. Wannabe star: Joakim Noah. The Gators have a little bit of everything.
The Gators have been feasting on opponents over the past four weeks. They are on a nine-game winning streak, which includes the SEC Tournament championship and the Minnesota Regional championship. They've won those games by an average of 12 points, and have had only one victory (Georgetown, by four) in the NCAA Tournament by less than 13.
But let's get one thing straight here. If the Gators are going to win, it will not be a direct result of the play of Noah. The 6-feet-10 forward is currently the most overrated player in basketball. I understand that he's a good story because of the hair and the famous father. But besides his impressive run at Alonzo Mourning's record for "Most Screams After Grabbing An Uncontested Rebound" the kid has not showed me much past a dunk and a drop step. If he leaves now he has first-round bust written all over him.
But maybe I'm wrong about Noah. And Florida for that matter. Yes they've played the 70th rated schedule in the country. Yes George Mason will be the third mid-major school they've faced this tournament. Yes they only beat Villanova because the Wildcats had the worst shooting day of their lives.
But hey, the Gators still win. They've survived - much like the Patriots - and it doesn't matter how they've gotten where they are. It just matters that they're still playing.
But George Mason has proven itself worthy over the last four games. I know this sounds crazy, but maybe Florida is the Cinderella team.
Proceed into this game with extreme caution, and bet hard on whichever team your gut tells you to take. But remember, in the game of life women are the rake. Cinderella is no different. That disease-infested wench is destined to break your heart, and our best defense against her enchanting allure may just be some bacon and a salt shaker.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.