- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

The second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas have plenty of reasons to think they could make a significant run in the NCAA tournament.

They have won 15 of their last 16 games, they have the multidimensions of Jeff Green and the size of Roy Hibbert and overwhelmed Pittsburgh 65-42 to claim the Big East championship.

But this is the NCAA tournament, where conventional wisdom is often in error and the difference between the so-called strong and weak is a picture-perfect jump shot as time expires.

Coaches live by the axiom that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and that goes double for the coaches of the tournament.

As good as the Hoyas are, they are destined to have a game that challenges their nerve and verve, just as the Notre Dame game did in the conference tournament. The Hoyas defeated the Irish 84-82 on Green’s jumper with 13 seconds left but would have fallen if Russell Carter had converted his 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

Such is the joy and misery of March, when the better team is not necessarily the winning team.

George Mason certainly was not one of the top four teams in the nation in the traditional sense last season. Yet the Patriots made a stirring run to the Final Four.

It was a run aided considerably by the single-elimination format. How many games would the Patriots have won against North Carolina or Connecticut in a best-of-seven series? Probably just one.

But once is enough in the increasingly egalitarian tournament, which lacks the strict hierarchy of yesteryear, when even someone as celebrated as Michael Jordan stayed three years at North Carolina before jumping to the NBA.

The major college programs function as no more than layover terminals of the gifted, which allows teams from the mid-major conferences to close the talent gap with the poise and experience of upper classmen.

The Hoyas stand as an exception to this dynamic with Green and Hibbert, a pair of juniors who are popping up on NBA’s mock drafts. They are coming off a Sweet 16 run last season, a valuable experience going into the tournament.

The Hoyas are in a more commanding position than Maryland or George Washington.

The Terrapins reclaimed their season after falling to 3-6 in the ACC. They went on a seven-game winning streak before losing to Miami in the opening round of the conference tournament, an unsettling development.

Yet Gary Williams, the fiery coach who often is a rumpled mess soon after the opening tip, can find comfort in leading the Terps back into the tournament after a two-season absence.

The Colonials, with an RPI of 71, would have been earmarked for the NIT if they had not won the Atlantic 10 tournament.

But here they are, and all the numbers, formulas and projections are so much hot air until the teams get down to deciding who is better in a given 40 minutes.

The Colonials can be excused if they shout, “Remember George Mason.”

That mantra is certain to be employed with regularity in the weeks ahead.

The national press has been on an exhaustive search to find the “next George Mason” in the last few weeks, as if the special quality of George Mason can be easily duplicated.

It is not that the Patriots upset one opponent in the tournament. Upsets abound in the tournament. Upsets are the staple of the event.

But the Patriots upset three opponents from major conferences in Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut and defeated a team they had beaten in the regular season, Wichita State.

The prospects of that achievement being duplicated any time soon are faint.

But George Washington-like programs of the tournament can dream.

That, too, is part of the event’s appeal.

With a few bounces and calls going their way, the dreamers can be as formidable as the traditional powers in any given game.

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