Part two: Florida vs. George Mason

point counterpoint

The hopes of Florida Gators fans everywhere rest on the rather Herculean shoulders of two sophomore players: the 6’11”, 227-lb Joakim Noah and the 6’8”, 235-lb Al Horford. I don’t expect them to disappoint.

The Gators, ranked third in their bracket, will tip off against the Cinderella-story George Mason Patriots for a berth in the national championship game.

This time, size will matter.

The Patriots have few players who can match the size and agility of Florida’s top forwards. Jai Lewis has the size but not the agility. Will Thomas has the agility, but lacks the size to really control Noah.

The undersized Villanova Wildcats never looked like they had a chance against Florida, and George Mason—who needed a miracle to get by UConn—may as well shelve the Nike Shox and don some glass slippers for this one: they’ll be riding home in a pumpkin, which will be ironically similar in colour to Gator orange.

I can’t get on the George Mason bandwagon, especially after listening to a commentator describe Patriot Tony Skinn’s tale of punching a player in the groin, being suspended and returning to continue action as an “uplifting human story.” I realize that this is the team that can do no wrong for a lot of people. But that’s about to come crashing down.

Florida got where they are without a lot of hype, emerging quietly from the tough Minneapolis bracket. Maybe that’s because they weren’t on the highlights making any buzzer-beaters. Maybe that’s because they’ve won their four games thus far by an average of 13.75 points per game. I like a team that’s in control.

I also like a team that can win games in the trenches—or the swamp, as the case may be—and there is every indication that Florida can. Noah and Horford together collected a whopping 506 rebounds in 36 games this season. The team has only three viable three-point shooters, so this game won’t be won from the outside. I would love to quote similar stats from Mason, but apparently until this tournament nobody cared enough about them to put such stats on their website.

LSU has a couple of players with the size to face up against Florida, but they’re all freshmen. Florida also won both head-to-head meetings this season with ease, including an 81-65 drubbing of the Tigers just five days before the tournament began.

The UCLA Bruins pose a bigger problem, boasting two seven-foot seniors. But the boys from California haven’t looked really dominant—or even particularly comfortable—since their laugher of an opener against Belmont.

When all’s said and done and 43,500 people pack the RCA Dome on April 3, expect to see the boys from Gainsville, Florida bite the Bruins for basketball supremacy.

--James Bradshaw

I cried the first two times I watched the 1986 cinematic masterpiece Hoosiers—and I have no regrets. That said, it should be no surprise that my loyalty—nay, my soul—lies in the hands of the George Mason Patriots this weekend. If for some disturbing reason you don’t feel the same, I say shame on you.

Most of us didn’t know much about the 11th-seeded Patriots before they de-clawed the 6th-seeded Michigan Wolverines 75-65. It was a nice story, but we figured their moment in the limelight would fade away when they faced the North Carolina Tarheels—last year’s national champions—in the second round.

Ah, but the Patriots’ rebellion was just beginning. “They’re superman, we’re kryptonite,” said head coach Jim Larranaga before his loyal soldiers prepared to battle Michael Jordan’s alma mater. It was a cute and inspiring metaphor—the kind that works nicely with a classic “well, we had a good run” follow-up. But the consoling back-pats never came for George Mason.

Someone had forgotten to tell them they were supposed to lose—this was Superman issue #75, and the glowing green Patriots had just unleashed a little 65-60 Doomsday on the Tarheels’ superhero ass.

It was a mere fluke of course. Cinderella never gets to stay out past midnight. But the Patriots slipped past the 7th-seeded Wichita State in the sweet sixteen and all of a sudden the clock was striking one and the pumpkin was still a carriage.

Now we were paying attention. Mason was the feel-good story of the year—an unlikely pick who toppled the toughest teams in the nation and headed to the elite eight.

The Patriots took down UNC, but were they any match for the UConn Huskies—seeded first in the Washington bracket and a perennial contender for the title?

The Patriots held their own—out-rebounding the larger team, hitting nine of 18 three-pointers and overcoming a 12-point deficit in the first half. After a waltz in overtime the Patriots shocked fans with an 86-84 victory.

En route to being only the second 11th seed in history—the lowest seed ever—to make it to the Final Four, they had to prevail over the two previous national champs. They have out-rebounded larger teams, and shot the lights out in Washington, D.C. In their O.T. win over the Huskies, they proved they are capable of playing their best under pressure.

If the Tarheels and the Huskies were unable to dismantle the Mason miracle machine, you can be sure the overrated Florida Gators will be nothing more than a new pair of loafers and a warm-up for the final dance.

Get ready—history is about to be made. The green-glowing Patriots will win the title, and finally Cinderella will get to dance with the morning sun.

--Dan Robson

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