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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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ReddZone’s top 10 things to know about George Mason

 ReddZones top 10 things to know about George Mason
ReddZone’s top 10 things to know about George Mason

ReddZone’s top 10 things to know about George Mason

In just over two weeks, George Mason has gone from surprise entrant to Final Four participant by beating Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut. In order, that is the 6, 3, 7, and 1 seeds in the region. Mason didn’t do it by fluke – they flat out beat each of those teams. They are the first mid-major program to make the Final Four since 1979, and here are the top 10 things to know about the Patriots.

The Namesake

George Mason is known as “the father of the bill of rights” for pushing for explicitly stated individual rights as part of the Constitution. Mason’s name does not appear on the document he was a leader in writing because the Constitution failed to abolish slavery.

The Coach

How, if you are a 56-year-old basketball coach, do you relate to the youth of American? For Jim Larranaga, it’s all about demanding that his kids have fun. His practices are intense sessions that rarely last more then an hour and a half before he reminds them of the thought of the day or breaks out some good-spirited event. His thought of the day before Connecticut was from the famed orator William Jennings Bryant: “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice.” His players bought it, and they love their coach.

The Recruiting Strategy

In his first week on the job, Larranaga drew a 150-mile circle around the campus in Fairfax, Va., that included the recruiting hotbeds of Washington. D.C., Baltimore and Northern Virginia, and stated bluntly that he wanted the best players in that radius. Although they don’t get the Blue Chip talent from that area, Mason is beating local major programs like Maryland, Georgetown and George Washington for the area talent, as all five of Larranaga’s starters hail from the original circle.

The Punch

Tony Skinn thought he had cost his team a chance at the Dance. In George Mason’s loss to Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic semifinals, Skinn punched Hofstra’s Loren Stokes in the balls. The incident was caught on camera, and Larranaga immediately pulled Skinn from the game and suspended him for the first game of whatever post-season tournament Mason played in. The Patriots sat on the bubble, and most experts figured the loss of their second leading scorer for what would probably be their only game would be enough to keep them out of the tournament. No one breathed a bigger sigh of relief then Skinn when the George Mason name flashed on the screen in the Washington, D.C. bracket, and his teammates ensured he would get another game by dispatching Michigan State 75-65 in the first round.

The Song

Have you ever seen a 56-year-old white male rap? I saw it on national television after the Patriots defeated Connecticut. Larranaga is evidently a fan of the Purple Ribbon All-Stars, because he played the song “Kryptonite” in his pre-game speech for the game against North Carolina as he told his team that they were the Tar Heels’ Kryptonite. The song has been played before every game since. My only question is if Larranaga knows the song is all about weed. My guess is no, but maybe he is cooler than I even think.

The Routine

Every Tuesday, the Patriots play indoor baseball at the end of an intense, short practice. This is mind boggling to most college coaches who (wrongly) believe that being serious and game-focused every minute of every day is the way to win. Not Larranaga, who lets his senior captains choose sides with him being the pitcher. George Mason’s relaxed attitude isn’t an act. Their coach has convinced them this is the time of their lives.

The Smile

Lamar Butler is having more fun then anyone I have ever seen in the NCAA tournament. His face is permanently set in an ear-to-ear smile that would make The Joker proud, but it covers the eyes of an assassin. Butler has shot 11-22 from three in the NCAA tournament and averaged 16 points a game, all while singing on the floor.

The Mantra

George Mason was the first team to receive an at-large bid from the Colonial Athletic Association since 1988, but the letters meant something very different on Sunday. In every timeout, Larranaga chanted “C-A-A” to his troops, because he truly believed they were the Connecticut Assassin’s Association. Corny, but effective.

The Truth

George Mason hasn’t needed any miracles to make it this far. In fact, the future NBA-Stars of Connecticut played their best game of the tournament (by far, actually) and still lost. The Huskies managed to shoot 47 percent from the field, turned the ball only nine times, woke up Rudy Gay from the semi-coma he’s usually in and got a huge performance from Jeff Adrien, who got 17 points and seven rebounds. The Huskies, who have at least seven future NBA draft picks, also got a miracle lay-up by Denhem Brown to send it to overtime and led by as many as 12 points. The Patriots just kept making huge shots, shooting 50 percent from the field and from three, by spreading the Huskies out with a 3-2 set that let Jai Lewis and Will Thomas score at will, slowly backing the Husky big-men down or kicking out for big threes from Butler, Skinn, and Falorin Campbell. They didn’t beat the Huskies, or any of their three other opponents, by being lucky or taking advantage of listless opponents – they beat them because they are that good.

The Hope

The Patriots carry the torch in this year of the mid-major. They represent the hopes of teams that face an uphill battle in terms of funding (Mason’s basketball budget is a fifth of UConn’s $5.6 million), scheduling (big time teams won’t play at mid-majors, and probably won’t schedule Mason, Bradley and Wichita State at all anymore because they see it as a losing proposition) and exposure (TV doesn’t get excited about teams lacking tradition like many mids). A Mason championship hopefully opens doors for many other teams to walk through. Don’t expect the Patriots to worry about that, though. They’re having too much fun to worry about pressure, dreams or expectations.

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