Underdog stories in sports are a dime a dozen, but some just resonate with people and capture and audience unlike anyone else. Take, for example, the annual March Madness tournament to crown the NCAA Mens Basketball National Champion. This pits 64 teams against each other, and pretty much every year there is at least one lower seeded team that makes an unexpected run in the tourney. However, no team has captured the hearts and attention of the world quite like the George Mason Patriots did in 2006.
Coming into the season, the team was not even on the radar as a team to watch. They were a CAA team that had never even been ranked in the top 25 in school history. And even the start of their season wasn’t indicative of a historic season as the teams traded a few wins and losses early on in the season. But the coach and his players were a resilient bunch and kept fighting. The team made a few adjustments (such as moving players into different positions and giving them different roles) and the move worked.
George Mason finished the regular season at 22-6, which was good enough to create some conversation about a potential NCAA tournament bid. However, this talk slowed down to almost a halt when George Mason lost to Hofstra in the semi-finals of the CAA tournament. Yet, when selection Sunday came (when the bracket is created), George Mason heard their name called.
They had made the NCAA tournament and came in at an eleventh seed and had their first game against sixth seed Michigan state. Now, George Mason had never ever won a tournament game and thus no one thought they really had a shot. Not only this, many in the media were upset and felt George Mason didn’t even deserve a spot in the tournament. But boy, did they prove them wrong in a big way.
George Mason put on a show and actually beat the Spartans by 10 points, despite being fairly large underdogs. As mentioned, this was their first NCAA tournament win in the school’s history. In the second round, they were tasked with taking on the number three seed and the previous years champion, the North Carolina Tar Heels. After falling in a 16-2 hole early, many thought George Mason was finished. But instead, the team fought back and won 65-60, setting up an eventual match up with the number one seeded (and favorite to win the whole tournament) UConn Huskies.
What followed was one of the best games in NCAA tournament history as the Patriots went on to beat the Huskies 86-84 in overtime, in a game where they often found themselves behind by double digits. This is still seen as one of the biggest upsets ever and is stilled talked about, a decade later. Their Cinderella run eventually came to an end when they lost in the final four, but they became the first ever CAA team to reach the final four and the second ever to reach the final four as a double digit seed.