March 30, 2006
I gave a standing ovation to George Mason during my appearance on ESPNEWS on Sunday. The Patriots making the Final Four is the greatest surprise and achievement I have seen in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, I know another No. 11 seed made it, but the 1986 LSU team was in a major conference and had a star in John Williams.
Jimmy Valvano and NC State shocked everyone by winning the national championship in 1983 -- and people forget that NC State had to beat North Carolina with Michael Jordan and Virginia with Ralph Sampson to win the ACC just to get into the NCAA Tournament. I don't think anyone in his wildest imagination could have thought George Mason would beat the likes of Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut.
I rate this as big as when the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Russians in 1980 en route to the gold medal. It is an upset on that level. It is an amazing story.
I spoke to George Mason coach Jimmy Larranaga, and he told me to pick Florida. OK, since I already picked against George Mason every time out, I should do it again.
Larranaga has spent the last 20 years at Bowling Green and George Mason, and I am so thrilled to see him get his moment in the spotlight. He has worked so hard, going back further to his days as an assistant at Virginia under Terry Holland. Larranaga is a first-class person, a winner in the game of life.
I've always been impressed with his drive, his basketball knowledge and his competitive edge. I thought he would be at a higher-profile school by now. He is a great communicator, and he's now the toast of the Washington, D.C. area!
Let's also realize that his team has talent and balance. All five starters scored in double figures against Connecticut. Tony Skinn, Lamar Butler, Jai Lewis, Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas can flat-out play, my friends.
I ask one simple question ... how many of those kids were recruited by Michigan State, North Carolina or Connecticut? Get serious. That shows you that there are so many kids out there who just want the chance, that opportunity to succeed. Now they have the incredible chance of a lifetime to become the lowest seed to win the championship. Villanova was a No. 8 seed in 1985 when it had its incredible run -- beating a good Dayton team, No. 1 seed Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, Memphis State and then Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in Lexington, Ky., for the title.
This is big for the little guy. In the future, this will help the selection committee pick a mid-major, seeing that magical things can happen.
For the dreamers in the world, having desires and goals, this team has given new meaning to the word hope. You have to believe that your dream can come true if you have that special desire. The underdogs in life have a team to root for. The Patriots proved they would not be denied ... the mid-majors can play!
Now George Mason faces a Florida club that was a surprise in its own right. Before the season started, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Coach Billy Donovan is back at a Final Four in Indianapolis, as the Gators were in 2000.
Guess what. With Joakim Noah and Al Horford tough inside, and with Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey shooting 3s, I give the slightest of edges to the Gators.
Corey Brewer is Mr. Versatility, and Florida has an advantage off the bench with the likes of Chris Richard, Adrian Moss, David Huertas and Walter Hodge.
We'll see if Cinderella can survive and advance to Monday's championship game.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.