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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/26/2006 09:25:00 PM

End Of The Chalk Era (Or, The Rise Of Mason)

Folarin Campbell
Folarin Campbell and the Patriots capped off a shocking run to the Final Four on Sunday.
John Biever/SI
The happiest people in the nation tonight -- other than the George Mason and Florida players, that is: The tiny group of GMU students and alums (and, perhaps, hoops-loving Freemasons) who blindly disregarded conventional thinking and picked the Patriots to win it all in their brackets. Those folks, who were probably welcomed into their pools with open arms and regarded as loons ("Ssssure dude, we'll take your ten bucks") are now going to be raking in cash if their scoring system multiplies seed-times-round.

Because by the time UConn and Villanova went down on Sunday, I'd estimate that at least 95 percent of pool sheets -- which were heavily swayed toward Duke and the two Big East powers -- were in effect, beheaded. Eleventh-seeded GMU, meanwhile, scored a potentially pool-clinching 77 points (33 for the Elite Eight and 44 for today's win, plus a Final Four bonus) this weekend.

If you were planning to roll into work on Monday morning and announce, "My bracket is ruined," hold your breath. Everyone else is in the same boat. Here are the three most telling stats in my world:

1. In our 328-team Tourney Blog Pool, only one entry, Dan Barton's "Danbo's Bubble Buster," had three of the four Final Four schools. No one had four. And apparently, our GMU/Masonic Lodge readership is nonexistent, because no one had Mason.*

2. No one in Sports Illustrated's 147-person pool had more than two Final Four teams -- and only six have a champ still alive (all UCLA). Again, no one had Mason.

3. This is the worst: My girlfriend, Emily, whose closest attachment to college hoops is deleting games from our TiVo on the sly, to clear space -- is leading my friends and family pool. But even she didn't have Mason.

The two-year Chalk Era, in which popular pre-tourney picks UConn and UNC rolled to the title, is over, and we have our first Final Four without a No. 1 seed since 1980. If any Mason-bracketeers out there want to share their stories, head straight for the comments.

(* If you're in contention to win the Tourney Blog pool -- meaning, you have LSU, UCLA or Florida winning it all -- send me an e-mail through this form as soon as possible. I'll try to profile some of the leaders in the blog before I depart for Indy.)

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3/26/2006 06:10:00 PM

'By George, The Dream Is Alive'

George Mason
George Mason? In the Final Four? Believe it.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rebounnnnd, UConn. Denham Brown. Three to go. Denham Brown, for three! NO GOOD! By George, the dream is alive!

Mason's Magic Carpet Ride is going to Indy. As CBS' Verne Lundquist dropped his "By George" in the postgame pandemonium, it didn't matter that the line seemed a tad scripted. Because what the nation was witnessing -- George freakin' Mason in the Final Four -- was the Greatest Cinderella Story In The History of College Hoops.

Twenty-seven years ago, two mid-majors -- No. 1-seeded Indiana State, with Larry Bird, and No. 9 Penn -- reached the Final Four, but what the Patriots did Sunday in Washington D.C., upsetting UConn 86-84, trumps anything that went down in 1979. Mason's Kryptonite Club, as a No. 11 seed, knocked off three teams that have won national titles in this decade, including the past two champs -- Michigan State (2000), UConn ('04) and North Carolina ('05).

Mason went 16-13 last season. It didn't have a single vote in the final regular-season AP Top 25 of '05-06. It had never won an NCAA tournament game prior to '06. And the prevailing wisdom surrounding its run through this weekend seemed to be, Nice ride, but they can't possibly keep going. UConn will waltz to Indianapolis.

The Patriots' party hasn't stopped -- and they've earned every one of their victories. Really, wouldn't we all have been better off with a 19-12 Cincinnati team in the dance instead?

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