If there is anything this tournament should teach us is that this is an actual tournament. Throw the seeds and the regular season out the window...and just lace 'em up. How else can George Mason beat the defending champs last Sunday.....then the tournament favorites this Sunday????
Being a Final Four team usually means getting a few breaks, your role guys stepping up....and winning a close game somewhere. All these teams have done so.
When it looked as if there was a good shot that for the first time ever that ALL FOUR #1 seeds would meet up in the Final Four, turns out that ZERO of them made it. Duke lost on Thursday and the other three were toppled the past two days.
This marks just the 3rd time in the last 17 Final Fours that there is no ACC team present [in 4 of the previous 16 Final Fours, there were TWO ACC teams there]. There are no Big East teams....despite them getting 1/8 of the entire tournament's bids. The Big Ten didn't get out of the first weekend. Instead, there are two SEC teams [neither named Kentucky], a Pac-10 team and a Colonial Athletic team.
This is the first time since 1980 in which no #1 seeds were in the Final Four.
And there is some new blood up there. No Duke or North Carolina.....okay UCLA is there, but they've had one Final Four appearance in the last 25 years. We have our first real mid-major in the Final Four since Larry Bird led Indiana State against Magic's Michigan State squad [Penn was in that Final Four too]. Florida is technically the most experienced Final Four team, since their coach was there in 2000, the team that lost to Michigan State for the title.
Any one of these four teams can win it. Heck, all have beaten odds to get this far. And if anyone in November picked UCLA, LSU or George Mason to win the National Championship....you need to be in Vegas betting your house.
GEORGE MASON: I would pretty much guarantee that no single soul had them in the Final Four in their brackets. Maybe a coed who attends G-Mason....but no one else. We usually smile and give a pat on the back for these teams to get to the Sweet 16...but, people, this is the Final Four!!! A Final Four that was supposed to have Duke, UConn....maybe Texas in it. Not George Mason! Heck, Mason was a big time bubble team just a month ago. How did this happen? Luck? Nope, you cannot point to questionable officiating nor complete meltdowns by any of their opponents. Breaks along the road to the Final Four?? Nope. They had to beat Michigan State, who was deemed the "strongest #6 seed in a long time" by Billy Packer. They had to beat defending champion North Carolina. Sure, a Sweet 16 matchup with Wichita State was a bit of a step down...and they ran the Shockers out of the gym. And then they take care of UConn....many people's favorites, including mine, to win this whole thing. How's them apples?? What team in this tournament can boast that kind of damage to get here??
Think about all of that. They took out THREE of the last SIX National Championship programs. They took out Mike Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun in a matter of ten days. The first #11 seed since 1986 when LSU did it. And it wasn't like George Mason just happened to catch these guys on their worst games. The thing that impressed me most about this win was the fact that the let UConn back into the game late with that buzzer beating shot to send the game into overtime....yet still had the nads to not feel down but to re-finish off the Huskies.
LOUSIANA STATE: Defense wins championships, eh? Well, I've never subscribed to that theory....since I believe that good offensive teams can do pretty well for themselves too. But,when a good offensive team starts playing killer defense, well, this is what happens. LSU stopped a game Iona team....and then hit big shots against Texas A&M to get to Atlanta. There, LSU took out #1 seeded Duke and #2 seeded Texas. In both of those games, LSU did an outstanding job in pressuring the opponent's top gun. Against Duke, they forced Redick into a 3-for-18 game. Against Texas, they forced Aldridge into a 2-for-14 shooting night.
This marks the first Final Four appearance for the Tigers in 20 years. Amazing for a team and a school who has been in the front row of the whole Hurricane Katrina nightmare. This is a team that many felt were overrated a bit....winning the softer half of a weakened SEC and then not even getting the SEC title game. This was a program that were blitzed out of the first round of the last two tournaments they played in. Yet, LSU believed and shook up the Duke-Texas fight to go to Indy. Congrats Tigers!
UCLA: The Bruins have gotten this far by not being the Pac-10 norm. UCLA has been physical.....just as a 50-45 win in the Oakland Region title game would suggest. UCLA has the biggest route of the tournament, when they beat Belmont by 34 on the first night of the tourny. Since then, it's been nothing like that. UCLA escaped Alabama with a 3 pt win.....escaped Gonzaga in an unprobably comeback....and won an ugly regional final against Memphis.
This game was BY FAR the lowest scoring game in a Regional final during the shot clock era. But, this win ties UCLA with North Carolina for all-time Final Four appearances.....just their 2nd appearance in the last 25 years....and has them just two wins away from their record 12th title.
FLORIDA: I said after the first weekend that the Gators were the best looking team in the first two rounds. One week later, I can say the same thing. Of all the teams in the tournament, no one has been as "dominant" as Florida. In the first four rounds, they've had to adjust to different styled teams. The size of Georgetown; the quick guards of Villanova; the senoir laden Wis-Milwaukee team. Problem is that no one has been able to adjust to them.
For a team that started 17-0, Florida has been a bit disrespected after playing average in the last stretch of the season. They had a 3-game losing streak against Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas which exposed their inability to pull out close games. Call it youth, call it content.....which are both valid....but this team turned it back on with a strong SEC tournament championship run and now this Final Four appearance. They've won 9 straight games after that losing streak, and only Georgia and South Carolina [in the SEC title game] weren't tournament teams [and South Carolina is currently in the NIT's Final Four].
SO, WHO DO YOU PICK??? Who indeed. While LSU, Florida and UCLA were all respected as possible Final Four teams...most people kept the Duke, UConn, Villanova or Memphis/Gonzaga picks [I did]. If you took George Mason for the Final Four....well, I'd like to see your other Final Four picks too.
I run a 52-player tournament bracket, and only THREE people picked any of these four teams to win the title. And all three of them picked Florida [well, two of them are kids and the other one is a woman who picked NC State to play Florida in the title game]. So, to go with the children and the crazy lady.....I pick Florida over LSU for the title.