- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

Karl Hobbs bit his lower lip. Danilo Pinnock shook his head. Pops Mensah-Bonsu sat motionless, along with most of his teammates.

There were few cheers when George Washington’s berth in the NCAA tournament was announced yesterday, only a stunned sense of disbelief among the players and several hundred fans who gathered on campus at the Marvin Center.

The Colonials, who were ranked sixth in country before getting upset in last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, drew the eighth seed in the Atlanta Region. They will travel to Greensboro, N.C., to play ninth-seeded UNC Wilmington in the first round, with the winner likely to face the tournament’s overall top seed, ACC champion Duke.

“I am not that excited right now,” said Pinnock, a guard whose team posted the best record in the country at 26-2 and went 16-0 in the conference during the regular season. “I am not that happy right now.”

George Washington was among three local teams to reach the tournament, along with Georgetown and George Mason. Maryland failed to earn an NCAA bid for the second straight season after making it the previous 11.

In addition to Duke, Connecticut (Washington, D.C. Region), Villanova (Minneapolis) and Memphis (Oakland) earned No. 1 seeds. The Final Four will be April 1-3 in Indianapolis.

The Hoyas returned to the tournament for the first time since 2001 and drew about the position they expected. They are the No. 7 seed in the Minneapolis Region and will face No. 10 Northern Iowa Friday in Dayton, with second-seed Ohio State looming in the next round.

The Colonials clearly were disappointed, but the atmosphere could not have been more different in Fairfax, where the George Mason team gathered at the house of coach Jim Larranaga. The Patriots (23-7) surprised many by coming off the bubble and into the big pond.

“I was just ecstatic,” Larranaga said of his team’s first appearance in five seasons. “As much as you feel you are deserving, you know there are a lot of teams that feel that way. What separates these teams is minuscule.”

George Mason holds the No. 11 seed in the Washington, D.C., Region and will meet No. 6 Michigan State on Friday in Dayton, Ohio. The winner likely will face third-seeded North Carolina in the second round.

George Mason earned a bid even though it will play its first game without star guard Tony Skinn, who was suspended by Larranaga for throwing a low blow in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinal loss to Hofstra.

The Patriots, who earned a spot in the coaches’ top 25 poll at No. 25 two weeks ago, also became the first CAA team to earn an at-large bid in 20 seasons.

“I told our team, ‘You just became the best George Mason team,’” Larranaga said.

Georgetown’s bid was merely a formality. The Hoyas (21-8) have experienced a renaissance under coach John Thompson III, who brings the program back to the NCAA tournament in his second season. Georgetown had not received a bid in the four seasons since former coach Craig Esherick took the Hoyas to the Sweet 16 in 2001.

The Hoyas no doubt improved their seeding with an impressive showing last week at the Big East tournament. They won two games to reach the semifinals, where they fell 58-57 to eventual champion Syracuse.

“We are in uncharted waters for all these guys,” Thompson said. “So it is extremely special, and they are very excited. As far as Northern Iowa, I have only looked at 15 minutes of film so far. But before sun up, I hope to have a pretty good handle on them.”

Just getting in was no surprise for the Hoyas, but getting a better seed than GW certainly was.

The Colonials were hurt by their weak nonconference schedule: Their victory over 14th-seeded Xavier is their only win over an NCAA tournament team.

They also were hurt by the loss of Mensah-Bonsu, who suffered a slight tear in the meniscus of his left knee on Feb. 22, underwent surgery and has not played since. He is, however, expected to play in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s getting better every day,” said Mensah-Bonsu, who hopes to practice with the team later this week in North Carolina.

Mensah-Bonsu said his first reaction to seeing his team as a No. 8 seed was “shock.” Point guard Carl Elliott felt the early loss in the A-10 tournament to Temple cost the Colonials.

“You always have to prove yourself coming out of these small conferences, especially if you don’t win the conference tournament,” he said. “It happens.”

Hobbs was not taking it as a snub — at least not publicly. The coach expressed disappointment at his team’s seeding last season, when the Colonials were a No. 12. He bit his tongue when GW’s name was called last night and did the same later while talking to reporters.

“Not at all,” Hobbs said when asked whether getting the seed was odd. “I don’t think so. What I have said all along is we are George Washington University. I make no bones about being realistic about who we are and what we are. Those things never really concern me.”

• Staff writer Barker Davis contributed to this article.

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