- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Three previous NCAA tournament appearances all resulted in first-round defeats for the George Mason men’s basketball team. But this year has been different: Mason lodged its first victory, followed by its second, third and fourth. After upsetting Michigan State in the first round, the Patriots showed their meddle by defeating the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, the defending national champions. With the Patriots on their way back to play before a hometown crowd in Washington, the George Mason bandwagon was rolling at full steam.

Against the University of Connecticut Huskies — both the most talented team in the tournament, with five legitimate NBA prospects, and the consensus favorite to win the championship — the Patriots overcame a big first-half deficit with hard play and tenacity, and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college basketball.

The overtime win has the scrappy team in Indianapolis today to face the formidable Florida Gators. Despite being undersized and overshadowed, the Patriots have an unintimidated style of play that makes them competitive with any team in the country. Watching Mason play, it’s clear that, in the words of Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun, “They don’t measure heart by inches.”

The trip to the Final Four will certainly help the basketball team, but the national exposure can benefit the university as well. The George Mason Law School, now ranked solidly in the top 50 in the country, has attracted a bright, conservative faculty, and was the only law school to file a brief supporting military recruiters on campus. With two Nobel laureates in economics and a growing research program in cancer biology and neuroscience, Mason is a regional school that clearly deserves a higher profile.

College basketball in Washington usually means Georgetown, Maryland and George Washington, but the NCAA tournament success of the George Mason Patriots makes it a quartet. That Florida is favored in today’s game shouldn’t matter much to George Mason at this point; the Patriots already have proven what it takes.

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