The Washington Times - March 14, 2011, 05:37PM

Jim Larranaga, George Mason’s ever-quotable basketball coach, made some interesting statements Sunday night after his Patriots were admitted to the NCAA tournament. In the interest of accuracy – and to kill a few hours – I decided to ascertain their validity.

It’s “about a six-hour drive” to Cleveland.


True (more or less). According to MapQuest, the distance from the GMU campus to Quicken Loans Arena – site of the Patriots’ first game against Villanova – is 373.5 miles. Estimated travel time: 6 hours, 27 minutes. To get there in 6 hours, in other words, you’d have to average 62.25 mph.

Something tells me the Average Mason Undergrad could do it. Heck, something tells me the Mason mascot could do it – even with his enormous head sticking out of the sun roof, creating all kinds of drag. The key factors, of course, would be: (1.) fluid consumption and (2.) bathroom breaks.

This is only the fourth time in CAA history a team has received an at-large bid, and George Mason has gotten two of the four.

Correctomundo – at the time Larranaga said it, at least. At that point, the conference’s four at-large teams were Richmond in 1986, Old Dominion in 2007 and Mason in ’06 and this year. A short time later, though, Virginia Commonwealth became the fifth CAA team to earn an at-large bid when it popped up as the 11th seed in the Southwest. (The Rams have to get past Southern Cal in one of the four first-round play-in games to advance to the Field of 64.)

Mason will be the first CAA team to be seeded higher than its first opponent – and thus, the first to wear white uniforms.

Not quite. Twice in the early years of the conference, Navy – which now belongs to the Patriot League – was the higher seed in a first-round NCAA game. In 1986 it was a 7-seed in the East (and beat 10-seed Tulsa en route to the Elite Eight), and in ’87 it was an 8-seed, again in the East (and lost to 9-seed Michigan despite David Robinson’s 50 points).

This is the first time the CAA has had three teams in the tournament (Mason, ODU, VCU).

Right again (thanks to the field being expanded from 65 to 68 this year). The conference has received two bids three times – in 1986 (Navy/Richmond), 2006 (North Carolina-Wilmington/Mason and ’07 (ODU/VCU).

Here’s a “first” Larranaga might have brought up but understandably didn’t: Villanova has to be the first team in any conference to take a five-game losing streak into the NCAAs. In fact, the Wildcats dropped 10 of their last 15 in the brutal Big East (which earned a record 11 bids). This turned their 16-1 start – and No. 7 ranking – into a 21-11 mark going into the tournament.

Just out of curiosity, I looked at the worst teams ever to receive NCAA bids – and how they were playing heading into the tourney. My findings:

– 1954-55 Bradley Braves (7-19 pre-NCAAs, .269 winning percentage): Won their last two … to snap a 14-game losing streak.

– 1954-55 Oklahoma City Chiefs (9-17, .346): Went 4-5 in their last nine.

1960-61 George Washington Colonials (9-16, .360): Won four of their last six.

– 1994-95 Florida International Golden Panthers (11-18, .379): Won six of their last seven.

– 1995-96 Central Florida Golden Knights (11-18, .379): Won their last three and eight of their last 14.

– 1996-97 Fairfield Stags (11-18, .379): Won their last three and five of their last eight.

Obviously, none of these teams played in the Big East, but it’s interesting that all of them were on a better run – by far – than Villanova is right now. (Though that Bradley team – wow – how did they ever get an invite?)

Just thought you might want to know.