George Mason Patriots
George Mason University, also known as GMU or simply Mason, is a large public university in the United States. It is located in Northern Virginia, with its main campus in Fairfax and additional campuses in Arlington and Prince William County. The university is also in the process of opening two more campuses by 2009, one in Loudoun County, and another in Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.
Named after American revolutionary, patriot and founding father George Mason, the university was founded as a branch of the University of Virginia in 1957 and became an independent institution in 1972.
The school's sports teams are called the Patriots. The university's men's and women's basketball teams participate in the NCAA's Division I, and are members of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), of which they were a founding member in 1985. The school's colors are green and gold. Their mascot is Gunston the Patriot, a furry creature who is seen mostly in basketball games wearing a George Mason jersey and a three-sided hat. He is named after Gunston Hall, the home of Founding Father and school namesake George Mason.
The men's and women's basketball teams have played at the Patriot Center since 1985 and played the prior years in the PE Building on the west side of the Fairfax Campus.
While many of the school's athletic programs have had historical seasons, the men's basketball program remains the flagship sport at the University. The men's basketball team has made the NCAA tournament four times (1989, 1999, 2001, 2006) and the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) three times (1986, 2002 and 2004). The Patriot basketball team is most famous for its 2006 NCAA run to the Final Four. GMU beat perennial powers UNC, Connecticut, and Michigan State, as well as a highly ranked Wichita State team, before losing to eventual National Champion Florida in the Final Four.
The best-known player in Patriots history is George Evans, a Gulf War veteran who played from 1997-01 and was a CAA player of year three consecutive seasons. He shares the CAA record with NBA legend David Robinson for winning the award three straight times. Other Patriot standouts include Andre Gaddy, Carlos Yates, Kenny Sanders, Curtis McCants, Nate Langley, Robert Dykes, Robert Rose, Ric Wilson, Jason Miskiri, Jai Lewis, Lamar Butler, Tony Skinn, Folarin Campbell, and Will Thomas. Former head coaches include Rick Barnes, Paul Westhead, and former Lefty Driesell assistant Joe Harrington.
The Patriots enjoyed their best season in 2006 when they won a school-record 23 games in the regular season, and for one week were even ranked in the USA Today/ESPN Poll top 25 for the first time. Head coach Jim Larranaga, who began his stint at George Mason in 1997, also became the CAA's all-time leader in coaching victories and was named the winner of the 2006 Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award, and the Virginia Coach of the Year on June 26, 2006, the same day he was nominated for an ESPY award. Although the team lost to Hofstra during the CAA tournament, the Patriots were still able to grab an at-large bid in the 2006 NCAA tournament. This marks the first time in which the Patriots earned an at-large bid and the first time in 20 years in which the CAA sent two teams to the tournament (the other being conference tournament winner UNC Wilmington).
The at-large selection of teams from mid-major conferences (which includes George Mason) to the NCAA tournament was criticized by media personalities, most notably Billy Packer. In the case of George Mason, this was possibly because of the absence of Tony Skinn, who was suspended for one game by the Patriots for punching Hofstra guard Loren Stokes in the groin during the CAA tournament semifinal loss. Moreover, many believed that Hofstra, which didn't get invited to the tournament despite of the fact that they beat the Patriots twice in a span of ten days, deserved to get in instead of them. Nevertheless, the Patriots entered the tournament as an 11th seed and defeated the 6th seeded Michigan State Spartans.
In their second round matchup against the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels, the Patriots were once again unbelievable underdogs. After falling into a 16-2 hole early in the game, the team bounced back to win the game, 65-60. Their next game was against another mid-major, the Wichita State Shockers. George Mason jumped out to a big early lead, and the Shockers were unable to overcome. The Patriots won, 63-55.
Their Elite Eight matchup found themselves facing the Connecticut Huskies, a team that many viewed as the favorite to win it all. The Patriots defeated the top-seeded Huskies, 86-84 in overtime, in what is called one of the most memorable games in tournament history.
The Patriots were the first CAA team to reach the Final Four. They also became the second team to reach it as a two-digit (11th) seed (the other being the LSU Tigers in 1986, also an 11th seed). Finally, they became the first mid-major team to reach the Final Four since 1979, when both the University of Pennsylvania (#9 seed) and the Larry Bird-led Indiana State University (#1 seed) advanced that far.
George Mason's Cinderella story ended in Indianapolis, when the eventual National Champion Florida Gators defeated them 73-58 on April 1, 2006. Despite their loss, many sports analysts consider their performance in the 2006 tourney to be the best run by a mid-major in tournament history. In the final rankings of 2005-2006 season, the USA Today/ESPN poll ranked the Patriots eighth in the nation—their highest rank to date.
George Mason suffered through a mediocre 2006-07 campaign, having lost three of their starters from the Final Four team. The Patriots failed to beat the top four teams in the CAA during the regular season and sat in the middle of the conference for the majority of the season, finishing 6th with a record of 15-14.
However, George Mason rebounded in the CAA Tournament, defeating James Madison and league powers Hofstra and Old Dominion on its way to the conference championship game against VCU. Although they had a 57-51 lead late in the game, George Mason ended up losing the game to the Rams, 65-59, ending their chances of an NCAA tournament invitation.
In the 2007-08 season George Mason compiled a 23-11 record, winning the CAA tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Mason lost in the first round to Notre Dame, 68-50, in the first-ever meeting of the schools. Senior Will Thomas led the Patriots with 25 points and 7 rebounds in his final game.