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Strategy payshandsomely for Larranaga
Second round of the men's NCAA Tournament

 George Mason's Sammy Hernandez proudly shows off his jersey after yesterday's win.
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Date published: 3/20/2006

By STEVE DeSHAZO

DAYTON, Ohio--He never raised his voice, Jim Larranaga insisted, even though his George Mason Patriots were fortunate to crawl into the locker room trailing North Carolina by just seven points.

"I sat like I am right now, speaking like I am right now," Larranaga said. "More like a teacher talking to his students about an upcoming test."

In the week since his team's inclusion in the NCAA tournament drew a not-so-unanimous reaction, Larranaga has assumed the role of a guest lecturer about the merits of the so-called mid-major conferences.

He's been more impassioned when discussing RPIs and strengths of schedules than diagramming traps and backdoor cuts.

But talk is cheap. The best way to change opinion is through action. And boy, did Larranaga's Patriots put on a clinic this weekend.

Take away North Carolina's 16-2 start, when the Patriots looked like a jittery JV team, and George Mason outscored the Tar Heels 63-42. That's what we call dominance--no matter what name is on the uniforms.

Within 48 hours, the Patriots ousted recent national champions from the Big Ten (Michigan State) and Atlantic Coast Conference (UNC). Combine that result with Butler's upsets of Kansas and Pittsburgh and Wichita State's shockers over Seton Hall and Tennessee, and should we really be surprised anymore?

"I read something in the paper today," Larranaga said. "I'm not sure who said it. I can't remember now but they said, 'In this tournament, there are no upsets. There are just good teams playing hard, playing well.' I would like to think that's true because the college game has changed dramatically over the years."

Larranaga should know. He's not some hotshot young coach angling for a lucrative job in one of the marquee leagues he's helped humble. He was an assistant coach under Terry Holland at Virginia when the Cavaliers had Ralph Sampson and were ranked No. 1.

So he's seen both sides of the coin. He understood the scrutiny Roy Williams and his players felt yesterday as prohibitive favorites.

"Coach told us when we got into the tournament that teams like that--Michigan State, North Carolina--they're supposed to beat us," George Mason guard Tony Skinn said. "That is a lot of pressure on them. They have to make shots."


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