The U.S. men's college basketball national championship tournament is known as March Madness. The 65-team single elimination format brings together teams from second tier divisions with national powers, and sometimes that produces stunning early round upsets. But this year, one unexpected member of the Final Four teams has pulled off four remarkable victories to grab a share of the national spotlight. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the surprising George Mason Patriots from northern Virginia, near Washington D.C.
The popular television series Mission Impossible and subsequent movies thrilled viewers with a fictional team of government spies and specialists who completed assignments against tremendous odds. George Mason University basketball coach Jim Larranaga tried to use that to inspire his team to victory.
"I said 'we need to go out with guns a blazin' and be the giant killer that the media is making us out to be.' And then I started singing the Mission Impossible theme song," he said. "What I found out later is they [my players] did not even recognize it."
But his team did recognize how to win against the odds. Many observers questioned the inclusion of George Mason in the national championship tournament, which had never won a game in previous appearances. But the Patriots started by beating half of last year's Final Four with wins over Michigan State and defending champion North Carolina. After knocking off another tournament surprise, Wichita State, George Mason eliminated regional top seed Connecticut, the 2004 national champion. That led to front page coverage on major newspapers across the United States, not to mention widespread radio and television coverage.
Combined, the teams George Mason defeated had been to 25 Final Fours and had won eight national titles, including four of the last seven tournaments. But guard Tony Skinn says this George Mason team enjoys being an underdog.
"We were not supposed to be in the tournament. We got into it," he said. "We were not supposed to beat Michigan State. We beat them. We were not supposed to beat North Carolina. We beat them. We definitely were not supposed to beat Uconn. So I think we will stick to the script. We do not mind being a Cinderella."
Skinn has been part of George Mason's winning combination of three-point shooters, including Lamar Butler and Folarin Campbell. The team has consistent inside scoring from Will Thomas and Jai Lewis, while the team's overall relaxed attitude may be enough to carry it to an unprecedented national championship.