Inside the College Game
By Adi Joseph
Eric Maynor has stolen George Mason’s heart.
As Maynor had two crucial steals at the end of the game to seal the deal and give Virginia Commonwealth the Colonial Athletic Association championship, George Mason fans were left in the realization that last year was likely just a one time thing for the school.
However, for a second consecutive year an underdog George Mason team captured the imaginations of college basketball fans, to a much smaller scale. Just imagine if Mason were to have held onto their late lead over the Rams only to wind up playing a team like…say… North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
I’m going to save the “this year’s George Mason could have been George Mason” jokes, because it’s all been proven irrelevant. Honestly, this Championship Week has been relatively devoid of major upsets - a few two seeds here or there, but nothing really worth a water cooler conversation.
However, with the major conferences getting ready to begin their conference tournaments, it’s important to remember what a crazy year it has been for the Power Six. Ohio State has been the only consistent team this year, seemingly, and when it comes time to figure out the bracket no one will agree on who will win it all.
All this should make for an extremely exciting edition of March Madness, regardless of whether or not there is a George Mason this year. Because I’m getting ready a grand scale NCAA Tournament preview, I’ll keep this week’s edition short. Besides - no team should be flying under your radar at this point anyway.
Let’s get on with the show.
Give’em The Rock
[img_assist|nid=4003|title=Kevin Durant and Acie Law IV - AP Photo: Eric Gay|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=262]The End of Game Kings
In March, the games are so passionately played, so hard fought, that nearly every team has to scrap through a close game or two if they want to land themselves a spot in Atlanta. And with the game on the line, leadership takes over. Here are a few of the players that may wind up being x-factors with their late game heroics.
1. Acie Law, Texas A&M Point Guard
This section absolutely had to begin with Mr. Law. Above anyone else in the country, Acie Law IV carries his team when they need him the most. The Aggies are very talented, but Law pushes them over the edge from being a good team to being a true championship contender. He’s drained some amazing clutch shots, and in the last ten minutes there isn’t a player in the country you’d rather have. Full disclosure: Texas A&M is currently my pick for National Champion - and without Acie Law, they wouldn‘t be getting much consideration.
2. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State Point Guard
If you’ve been reading my column all season, you know how much I love this guy. He’s the definition of a gutsy baller. He’ll have a slow first half, but then spring to life and take over in the second half, scoring at will when his team needs it the most. He’’s carried the Spartans this year and qualifies as the most valuable player in the nation. With his instincts and heart, Michigan State could very well find themselves surprising the nation and digging deep into March, and maybe even April.
Lofton is the best shooter in the nation. He’s also the best clutch shooter. He’’s got no conscience, and he’ll fire up a perfect-form jump shot from 30 feet out with the same undaunted confidence he has from the free throw line. Lofton hit an absolute miracle three with time expiring last year to pull the Vol’s over Winthrop. Now he’s going to try to lift this season’’s squad to higher levels than just the second round.
I know you’re probably tired of hearing and reading about how great Kevin Durant is. The truth of the matter, get used to it because he really is that good. Durant began the year as a passive freshman. In fact, A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin were relied on heavily in crunch time for the Horns. However, as the season has progressed so has Durant - more mentally than physically. He’s demanding the ball, and if you’re his teammate, why say no?
Brooks, unlike the quarterback by the same name, plays with true passion for the game. He’’s a relentless worker with a knack for getting to the hole, which is the most valuable skill a player can have late in a game. He doesn’t have the jumper of the previous four players mentioned, but his tireless drives and cutthroat mentality have been the difference that has lifted Oregon to one of the best teams in the country.
Game Notes: Great final for the Southern Conference. Charleston played their hearts out, but Davidson is simply too talented. I love Stephen Curry - I had only seen him once before, but he really impressed me in this tournament… Gonzaga is officially back in the tournament. This year, I was almost rooting for them. There is so much anti-Gonzagaism in college basketball because they became the non-major major… I’m very conflicted in my opinion of Butler at this point. I feel as though they don’t deserve any higher than a seven seed if they don’t win the Horizon League, but at the same time they probably have enough quality wins to insure it. Doesn’t it seem like Butler just happened to get hot at the right time - we wouldn’t even be discussing them as an at-large if they had lost to Notre Dame or Indiana… Herbert Hill is developing into one of my favorite players in the country. He’s a really great late bloomer story, and it‘s a shame he won‘t finish his career with a tournament appearance… Kansas may be coming together at the right time. I’d watch out for the three main Big 12 teams in the tournament - they all have a lot going for them… Xavier deserves an at-large regardless of the A10 tournament. They’ve beaten enough good teams that it shouldn’t be much of a question… See you next week with the Tournament preview.