Monday, March 27, 2006
Keep Dancing, Cinderella!
I have a feeling that except for the partisans of Billy Donovan's Florida Gator men's basketball team, most of the country is preparing to root for George Mason in the upcoming Final Four weekend. The madness of this year's March Madness has been wonderfully, intoxicatingly mad, with upsets galore.
Of course, there are reasons why, for the first time since the NCAA men's tournament went to a 64-team format, that no number one seeds are still dancing. There's the dispersion of basketball talent stemming from scholarship limits. There's also the departure of underclassmen for the NBA. (Where they play a brand of basketball I consider inferior to that of the college game, by the way.)
But whatever the reason, the fact is that George Mason's Patriots are a very good team and deserving of their spot in the Final Four. They're so good, in fact, that some are claiming that the Cinderella designation doesn't apply any more.
That may be. But when an eleventh-seeded team whose inclusion in the tournament roused complaints from basketball experts knocks off one college powerhouse after another, it's a most unlikely, Cinderella-like scenario. And should the Patriots win the national championship one week from tonight, who could deny them not only the trophy, but also a glass-basketball shoe?
George Mason guard Tony Skinn said after yesterday's upset win over Connecticut, the team I projected to win this thing from the beginning, "I think it's been working for us, calling us Cinderella...We were not supposed to get into the tournament, we got into it. We were not supposed to beat Michigan State and we beat them. Weren't supposed to beat North Carolina and we beat them. We definitely weren't supposed to beat UConn. ... We don't mind being the Cinderella.''
Of course, the appeal of George Mason's 2006 odyssey is the same as the appeal of Cinderella, Hoosiers, Rudy, Rocky, or any Horatio Alger story. We all identify with the underdogs for the simple reason that all of us, in one way or many, are underdogs most of our lives. We derive hope from seeing people who are counted out and may actually be on the mat, like the Patriots were several times in yesterday's game, get to their feet and achieve their goals.
Dance on, Patriots! Win or lose against Florida's very tough Gator team, you've already won the hearts of most of the basketball world this March.