DAYTON, Ohio -- Long after the game had ended, after he'd fulfilled his press conference obligations and done a series of one-on-one television interviews, a hoarse but still jubilant Jim Larranaga, George Mason's gregarious 56-year-old head coach, stood outside the entrance to his team's locker room -- and started dancing.
Larranaga was recounting the scene inside the locker room just prior to the Patriots' second-round clash against mighty North Carolina, when, just before delivering his final words to the team, Larranaga -- proving to be hip beyond his years -- had one of his managers blare the song Kryptonite (I'm On It) by Purple Ribbon All-Stars. As the players began dancing to the lyrics "I be on 'dat kryptonite, straight up on 'dat kryptonite," Larranaga issued the following proclamation:
"Fans that love teams like North Carolina know how good they are. They think they're Superman. Well, we're going to be their kryptonite."
Two hours later, the 11th-seeded Patriots -- having knocked out one of college basketball's other glamour teams, Michigan State, just two days earlier -- proved fatal indeed to the defending national champions, scoring a 65-60 upset that left senior guard Tony Skinn in a state of disbelief.
"If you had told me two weeks ago we'd be in the Sweet 16," said Skinn, "I would have said, 'What's wrong with you?'"
Believe it, Tony. Even if the rest of the nation can't.
By the time North Carolina and George Mason tipped off their second-round clash here Sunday, Wichita State and Bradley had already advanced to the Sweet 16, Bucknell had won an NCAA tournament game without eliciting a bit of surprise and Northwestern State and Montana were still basking in the glow of their respective first-round victories.
The most telling sign yet of the rapidly changing face of college basketball, however, came here in UD Arena, where the Patriots -- they of the unsightly green-and-yellow jerseys more commonly seen at a high school sectional playoff, and the marginally creepy mascot more suited for a PBS children's show -- took on one of the sport's regal kings, with their familiar baby-blue trim and celebrated coach. It was the house that Dean Smith built going against a school that hadn't yet been built when Smith began coaching.
In fact the game started out much the way it might have in 1982 or '93, with UNC racing to a 16-2 lead and the seemingly outclassed Patriots bricking one shot after another. It would be the high point of the Tar Heels' day. After Larranaga broke out a zone defense the team hadn't even used before the tournament, the Patriots were able to clip the deficit to 27-20 by halftime. Larranaga, however, wasn't pleased and let them know in the locker room.
"I was like a teacher talking to his students about an upcoming test," he said. "I told them, 'You're prepared for this, you've been doing it so well for so long, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do it again.'"