NCAA

The Big Twenty: George Mason's Final Four run changed the college hoops world

The Big Twenty: George Mason's Final Four run changed the college hoops world

NBC Sports Washington is rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 8.

When March Madness circles around every year there is always one question on everyone’s mind: Who is going to be the next Cinderella story? 

Or before these fairytale runs became more frequent: Which team is going to be the next George Mason? 

In 2006 the George Mason Patriots from Fairfax, Va made their improbable run to the Final Four, taking down behemoths of the sport in the process. The Patriots toppled Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to become the CAA’s first-ever representative in the Final Four. Each upset more far-fetched than the last.

Their accomplishment was nothing ever seen before from a non-traditional program.

Loyola Marymount’s 1990 push to the Elite Eight was the furthest any program of its kind had reached.  A mid-major going to the Final Four? That was inconceivable. George Mason did it, and they did against the best in college basketball. They battled through a sea of bluebloods, capturing America’s heart in the process.   

They also indirectly stole my heart and changed how the rest of my life would transpire. 

Seeing Lamar Butler grab the lose rebound at the buzzer and skipping over to the corner of the court after beating one of Jim Calhoun’s dominant Connecticut teams is one of my earliest sports memories. A point to the crowd and a couple of Butler’s body-controlled fist-pumps are all I prominently have stored in my memory bank from that contest. Shameful, really, for how much the game likely transformed the rest my life.

I watched the game from afar and like any middle schooler of the time had my newspaper bracket nearby. The result had no bearing on how I did, I had North Carolina – who Mason beat two rounds prior – in the Final Four. Little did I know that less than 15 years later that school, and perhaps that moment, had such a huge bearing in my life. 

George Mason was the lone in-state, public university I applied for during my senior year of high school. As a courtesy to my parents, I sent in an application to the suburban-D.C. institution simply because I knew of their famous flash-in-the-pan Final Four run. 

Well, it all worked out and I became a Patriot. I’m a two-time graduate of the school (2016, BA; 2019 MA). They gave me my first post-graduate job while also paying for my second degree. Spending a better-part of a decade at the school, I also met my fiancé there. By George, that school gave me a lot and who knows what would have happened had Denham Brown’s three went in for UConn that day. 

George Mason is the ultimate Cinderella Story. Sure, Jim Valvano’s 1983 N.C. State squad won a title as a No. 6 seed along with several other underdog programs. N.C. State, though, is far different than George Mason. Outside the state of Virginia, no one knew who the Patriots were and that all changed in March of 2006.

My story is not the only one. After Mason’s historic feat, it soon became less of a rarity. Butler, VCU and Loyola-Chicago all have all since followed with magical runs of their own. The Patriots blazed the trail for future mid-majors and each year we will all be looking for another to follow in their footsteps. 

But it all started with the Patriots and ever since the dream has been alive.  
 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE BIG TWENTY

Did Anthony Cowan deserve the technical foul that ended his night vs. Ohio State?

Did Anthony Cowan deserve the technical foul that ended his night vs. Ohio State?

Anthony Cowan was handed a technical foul late in the second half of Maryland's matchup with Ohio State that resulted in his disqualification.

Cowan, with four personal fouls at the time, was hammered on a layup attempt with 3:54 left in the contest against the Buckeyes. He had cut the Buckeyes' lead to 64-59 and thought he was headed to the free-throw line for an and-1. He was not. 

After no whistle was blown, Cowan reacted, kicking his foot in the air in disbelief. He was then given the technical. which was his fifth and final foul. Maryland didn't have its star point guard for the final 3:54 of a tight game. 

Cowan had picked up his third foul with 7:08 left in the game and then No. 4 exactly two minutes later. 

Twitter lit into the officiating that played a major factor in a very important conference game between the two squads.

Maryland ended up losing the matchup to the Buckeyes 79-72, but it didn't lose ground in the conference standings.

Penn State lost Sunday afternoon, too, so Maryland (22-5, 12-4 conference) didn't lose any ground in its quest to win the Big 10 regular-season championship for the first time. With four games to go, the Terps still hold a two-game lead over the Nittany Lions, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin in the conference standings. Those teams are all tied at 10-6. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE NCAA NEWS:

Cassius Stanley shoots Duke past Hokies

Cassius Stanley shoots Duke past Hokies

DURHAM, N.C. -- Cassius Stanley scored 21 points and made a season-high five 3-pointers to help No. 6 Duke beat Virginia Tech 88-64 on Saturday night.

Matthew Hurt added 16 points and a season-high 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils (23-4, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who never trailed.

Duke opened the game with an 11-2 spurt that featured three 3-pointers in the first three minutes. The Blue Devils scored on 10 of their first 12 possessions and later delivered a 19-4 run on their way to a 51-25 lead at halftime.

Duke improved to 21-1 all time at home against the Hokies.

Vernon Carey Jr. scored 16 points and Tre Jones had 14 points for the Blue Devils.

Tyrece Radford scored 16 points to lead Virginia Tech (15-12, 6-10), which shot 37% from the field. Isaiah Wilkins added 11 points, and Hunter Cattoor had all 10 of his points in the second half for the Hokies.

Landers Nolley II, who entered the game averaging a team-best 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, had three points and one rebound for Virginia Tech.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia Tech: The Hokies continued their slide. They were one of college basketball's feel-good stories early on with a win over Michigan State and then seven victories in an eight-game stretch through mid-January, but they have dropped eight of 10 games since then.

Duke: The Blue Devils bounced back after getting thumped 88-66 at N.C. State on Wednesday night, winning for the eighth time in their last nine games. They remain a half game behind No. 11 Louisville for first place in the ACC as they pursue another top seed for the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Virginia, which beat the Hokies 65-39 on Jan. 4, visits Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

Duke: The Blue Devils travel on Tuesday night to Wake Forest, a team they beat 90-59 on Jan. 11.

MORE NCAA NEWS: