Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, the much-maligned NCAA Tournament selection committee chair, stood up to observe George Mason's on-court celebration Sunday afternoon and said, "Maybe we seeded them too low."
He was kidding. But even if George Mason was a single-digit seed instead of a No. 11, that probably wouldn't matter for historical purposes. This was the greatest run ever to the Final Four. End of discussion.
It's hard to gauge what this historic win has done for this university located just 20 miles from here, one that is named after one of the founders of the U.S. Constitution, an idealist who refused to sign the document because he wanted the abolishment of slavery included (history lesson courtesy of head coach Jim Larranaga). Given that history, though, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the basketball team that bears George Mason's name would have plenty of passion.
The Patriots were one of the last five at-large teams to make the field, and all they did was knock off three of the last six national champs: Michigan State (2000) in round one (without suspended second-leading scorer Tony Skinn), North Carolina (2005) in round two and Connecticut (2004) at the Verizon Center in overtime in the Elite Eight. Wedged in there was Missouri Valley champ Wichita State in the Sweet 16.
Let's go over this again: The Patriots took out Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun, the latter a Hall of Fame member and the first two likely to be enshrined some day.
"I don't know if I've ever seen anything as remarkable," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said as he watched Larranaga, his good friend, cut down the nets at the expense of his league's best team. "Connecticut played well but George Mason played out of [its] mind. It reminded me of the night Villanova beat Georgetown [in 1985 to win the national title]."
"They had to take on Michigan State, Carolina, a really good Wichita State team and the University of Connecticut in overtime," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said afterward. "I feel very, very positive for Jimmy, who is a friend of mine. I wish them well and they will really enjoy the Final Four."
Littlepage said discussion of the Patriots as an at-large ended a day before Selection Sunday, so this was a late decision but not one that was made at the last minute.
"This is about a good basketball team that went largely unnoticed throughout the year," said Littlepage, although the Patriots did surface at No. 25 for one week near the end of February.
When the bracket came out, though, George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor -- a member of the selection committee who had to excuse himself when GMU was discussed -- said he didn't think very much of his school's path to the Final Four.
"I didn't, because quite frankly, I didn't think we'd be here," he said.
Now the Patriots will play Florida in the first of two national semifinals Saturday in Indianapolis at the RCA Dome (6:07 p.m. EST). UCLA plays LSU in the second game.
But how did GMU pull this off? Believe it or not, the Patriots thought the bracket was perfect for them, even if O'Connor had his doubts.
The Patriots saw they had a power game inside with 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior Jai Lewis and 6-7, 220-pound sophomore Will Thomas. They knew they also had shooters in Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler and a tweener in Folarin Campbell.