THIS DAY IN SPORTS: George Mason sets the Cinderella standard


This Day In Sports…April 1, 2006:

George Mason’s Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament ends with a 73-58 loss to eventual national champion Florida at the Final Four in Indianapolis. The suburban commuter school from Fairfax, VA, produced one of the great stories in the history of March Madness, knocking off Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wichita State to reach the Elite Eight. The 11th-seeded Patriots then stunned No. 1 seed Connecticut, 86-84 in overtime, to reach the Final Four. In December of that year, George Mason took out a full page ad in the Idaho Statesman wishing fellow Cinderella Boise State good luck against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. It worked out well.

It was the first great Final Four run by a mid-major program (Gonzaga was still 11 years away from its first Final Four, and by then, the Zags were not a Cinderella). As for George Mason, it was a crapshoot as to whether the Patriots would even make the NCAA Tournament after they lost in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals. They snagged an at-large berth, though, and the win over UConn in the Elite Eight still stands as one of the biggest singular upsets in March Madness history. The Huskies had four players who would go in the first round of the NBA Draft that spring. But Mason rallied from a nine-point second half deficit to pull it off.

There have been some legendary mid-major Cinderellas since. Butler made back-to-back national championship games in 2010 and 2011. VCU, a No. 11 seed, became the first team ever to go from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011. Florida Gulf Coast, in only its 11th season as a program, became the first 15-seed to reach the Final Four in 2013. Loyola Chicago, aided by some mojo from 98-year-old Sister Jean, made the Final Four in 2018 (the Ramblers had lost 87-54 to Boise State in Taco Bell Arena earlier that season).  

San Diego State was a No. 5 seed last year but deserves a mention after striking a note for the Mountain West with a run to the national championship game. And the team the Aztecs beat to get there, Florida Atlantic, earns a nod, too. The Owls were a 9-seed and motored all the way into the Final Four.

North Carolina State’s story qualifies this year. The Wolfpack are hardly a mid-major, but the NCAA Tournament wasn’t even in their sites until they won five games in five days to claim the ACC Tournament title. NC State has won four games since in the Big Dance, including Sunday’s 76-64 triumph over Duke, to make its first Final Four appearance since the Wolfpack won it all in 1983. That was another Cinderella story, as North Carolina State was a No. 6 seed and the late Jim Valvano led it to a takedown of Houston’s Phi Slamma Jama team for the title.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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