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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.
4/01/2006 09:10:00 PM

Mason's Last Dance

Joakim Noah
Florida had four blocks on the night -- all by sophomore forward Joakim Noah.
John Biever/SI

INDIANAPOLIS -- As Florida sprinted out of the RCA Dome tunnel for the final time before tipoff on Saturday night, it was greeted by the sound of the George Mason band, belting out Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer -- the unofficial theme song of the Patriots' Cinderella run to the Final Four.

The song had legs, having accompanied Mason in upsets of Michigan State, North Carolina, and UConn. And as the Patriots' student section, a dense strip of yellow shirts rising up behind the band, belted out the chorus -- Whoaoh, we're halfway there -- there was almost a feeling that the Gators, no matter whom they had trampled to reach Indy, were up against some unstoppable force.

That was, until the Gators showed Mason that it had no prayer against their unmatched group of athletes, and cruised to a 73-58 victory and a berth in Monday's title game. The amazing ride that made the Pats the first mid-major Final Four team since Indiana State and Penn in 1979 finally derailed; not because Mason didn't deserve to be here, but simply because it ran into the most dominant, least-vulnerable team in entire NCAA tournament: Florida.

The Pats knocked down 9-of-18 3s en route to stunning the No. 1-seeded Huskies in Washington D.C. last Sunday; on Saturday against UF's perimeter defense of Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green, Mason hit zero treys in the first half, and just 2-of-11 in the game. That Gators trio, meanwhile, combined to light up GMU's previously stout D for 12 3s and a total of 53 points.

Patriots forwards Will Thomas and Jai Lewis took advantage of UConn's lackadaisical post men, Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone, in the Elite Eight, backing them into the paint and outscoring them 39-14, and outrebounding them 19-11. Facing the tourney's hyper-active breakout star, the Gators' Joakim Noah, however, was another story.

Noah, who initially skipped out onto the floor and shouted, "Let's get pumped!" over the GMU band, overwhelmed Thomas and Lewis with his high-intensity game. After a Humphrey 3-pointer put the Gators up 34-26 just 15 seconds into the second half, Noah came down on the defensive end and swatted Lewis, and Mason proceeded to go into an 0-of-6 funk to start the second half, falling behind 47-30 in the 13th minute. Noah and power forward Al Horford outrebounded Thomas and Lewis 21-14, and as a team, Florida outboarded Mason 40-27. For the first time of the entire dance, the Patriots looked like a mid-major -- a CAA team facing the best of the SEC.

No one in the Mason camp was willing to play the "We're just happy to be here" card earlier in the week, and rightfully so: They had earned their way to Indy with lock-down D and lights-out shooting from the perimeter, and as coach Jim Larranaga said, they "captured the hearts of a lot of Americans" in the process. While the Patriots went out with a thud more appropriate of their band's second song on Saturday -- the Ramones' I Wanna Be Sedated -- they should by no means be dejected. Mason probably just lost to the eventual national champion. And this was one case where, just by making it to Saturday night -- no matter what happened against the Gators -- an underdog had already etched its place in history.

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4/01/2006 05:36:00 PM

The Final Minutes (Before Tip)

We begin Saturday night with a blank slate:

scoreboard
Luke Winn/SI

There was a sign in the George Mason section that read, "Gator Massacre Unit," but Florida seemed unfazed:

florida
Luke Winn/SI

Our main man Seth Davis is now an autograph-signing celeb -- at the Finish Line in the Indy mall.

Seth Signing
Luke Winn/SI

These two LSU fans drove from Baton Rouge to deliver a message to UCLA:

LSU fans
Luke Winn/SI

Readers, discuss the games amongst yourselves, and the blog will hit you back later on in the evening ...
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4/01/2006 02:35:00 PM

Street Market In Indy Redux (The Below-Face Edition)

Scalpers Corner
A look down a busy Indy street corner where some scalpers were peddling Final Four tickets on Friday afternoon.
Luke Winn/SI

This is the second in the Blog's series of "scalper walks" -- informal attempts to gauge the Final Four ticket market on the street in Indy. The following dialogue occurred between 1-1:30 p.m. on Saturday. For reference, "books" are packages of tickets for both Saturday and Monday. My main conclusion from walk No. 2: that while lower-deck seats may still command a decent (above-face) sum, one can now get into the upper level for a song (below face).

Scalper No. 5, near the corner of North Illinois and West Ohio Streets:

No. 5, looking desperate, holding up the tickets in his hand: Yo, you need tickets?
Me: I think so.
No. 5: What do you need? Two? (Sort of thrusting them into my hand)
Me: Hold on, what are they?
No. 5: 300s. Singles for tonight. I'll do $100. ($85 is face.)
Me, sensing that this is more than the going rate: I might give you $100 for two.
No. 5: (After consorting with a crony for a few seconds) OK. Two for $100. (Thrusting them at me again)
Me: Never mind. I'm gonna go look for better seats.
No. 5: What? Nothin' wrong with these!

Scalper No. 6, on West Ohio and Capital Avenue:

Me: You selling?
No. 6: How many do you need?
Me: Two lowers.
No. 6: I have two uppers. $250 a book ($170 is face).
Me: Are you throwing in binoculars? 'Cause a guy down the block just offered me uppers for way below face.
No. 6: I'm not selling below face. F--- that. You're lying anyway.
Me: Alright man, good luck then.

Scalper No. 7, on West Washington and North Illinois:

No. 7: You need tickets?
Me: Yeah, lowers. Two.
No. 7: I only have upper books together. Make me an offer, I'm negotiable.
Me: Uh, under face? I'm morally against paying over face value.
No. 7: Under face? (Flashing an incredulous look)
Me: Yeah, I'll give you $300 for two books (a $340 face value).
No. 7: Give me $320.
Me: All I have is $300. That's close enough, right?
No. 7: Fine, $300.
Me: I'll come back with your money.
No. 7: I'll be here, but the tickets won't.
Me: Right.

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4/01/2006 11:00:00 AM

Blog Pool Final Four Update

Jordan Farmar
Will Jordan Farmar and the Bruins make one of their school's alums a happy man in the Blog Pool?
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- I was scouring through the Blog brackets -- of which there were 328 in total -- and came to the realization that, as a whole, we sucked. Too many people followed my (misguided) lead and took UConn as the national champ.

Our current leader, Curtis Calwell, who appropriately named his team "Look Out Luke Winn," hails from Windsor, Ontario, and e-mailed me to say he was "proving that Canadians know their college ball." U.S. readers, do you care that you were soundly out-picked by a dude from North of the border (or, more specifically, the most popular legal drinking and gambling vacation destination for 19- and 20-year-old Midwestern Americans)?

The highly unofficial scenarios (estimated by my browsing of the brackets) for the Tourney Blog Pool champ and grand-prize winner:

If LSU makes the title game:
1st: "Look Out Luke Winn," owned by the aforementioned Curtis Calwell
2nd: "Aureo's Semi-Smart Picks," owned by Aurelien Windenberger of Fairfield, Iowa

If UCLA makes the title game and loses (the all-Scott scenario):
1st: "Overrated?!!!," owned by Scott Michie, presumably a defender of Gerry McNamara
2nd: "Team Pearson," owned by Scott Pearson

If UCLA wins it all:
1st: "Bruins are looking good," owned by UCLA grad and diehard Bruin fan Eric Miller, of Lancaster, Calif.
2nd: "Overrated?!!!," owned by Scott Michie

Those are our only scenarios. Everything is dependent on the left side of the bracket, since 1) no one in this pool had George Mason in the Final Four and 2) the only person who I could find with Florida as the champ, Bradley White of South Bend, Ind., is so far down in the standings that (I think) he's out of the running. If you were wondering about my bracket, "Old Hoss Radbourn," I'm in 63rd place. Pathetic, but it's at least in the top 25 percent.

We'll do slightly more in-depth profiles of our final two leaders on Monday; Misters Calwell, Windenberger and Miller have already been in touch with me, but I'm putting out an A.P.B. for Scott Michie and Scott Pearson to e-mail the Blog through this form ASAP with their contact info. Scotts, please come out of hiding.

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4/01/2006 10:54:00 AM

Stars And Stars

RedMo Cover

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2005 Final Four turned out to be a star-studded event: His Airness was there to watch his alma mater win the title, looking on from a luxury box at Edward Jones Dome. Bill Murray, an Illinois guy, was in the stands, as were Jay-Z and Beyonce. John Edwards came to St. Louis to support his employer, UNC. And most of the attendees at last year's Friday-night CBS party were looking for some excuse to start a conversation with Vince Vaughn (but didn't actually do it).

The 2006 Final Four, on the other hand, may not be sexy enough to draw a crowd of celebs. Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman mentioned college hoops in his acceptance speech -- thanking his mom in part because "she stayed up with me and watched the NCAA Final Four" -- this year, but the only movie industry figure I've seen thus far (I think, from a distance) is Spike Lee, who was in the stands watching Florida practice on Friday at the RCA Dome.

In a weekend where basketball takes center stage, the biggest non-participant celebs may actually be Gonzaga's Adam Morrison and Duke's J.J. Redick. Both are here in Indy to accept various player of the year awards, and the duo split the U.S. Basketball Writers' Association honor on Friday. I make the "celebs" comment based on observations from Thursday night's Intersport party (that's the organization that runs the college 3-point and slam dunk contest), which was held at a restaurant/club called Lulu's.

The contest participants -- well-known guys like West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle, Marquette's Steve Novak, Michigan State's Maurice Ager and Illinois' Dee Brown -- were able to mingle amongst the crowd, but when Redick and Morrison, the dual SI cover boys, walked in, you could see heads turning all over the club. And while Redick may be winning more hardware -- including today's AP Player Of The Year award -- people treated Morrison like more of a rock star, giving him those awkward, star-stalking stares and stopping him to pose for all kinds of cell-phone pictures. I sent a one-word text message to SI's Grant Wahl, who authored the cover story on the two stars, and wasn't at the club yet: "RedMo." (If you've read the story, you'll get that. TomKat. Brangelina. RedMo.) I think it expedited his arrival.

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