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FINAL FOUR PREVIEW: GEORGE MASON vs FLORIDA
March 30, 2006

A LOOK AT THE PATRIOTSSCS.com

How they got here

In stunning fashion, that is how the Patriots got here. This team has put together one of the most impressive runs in NCAA Tournament history, beginning with a first round victory over Michigan State. That upset was followed with a second one in round two. This time the victim was the defending national champion, North Carolina. The Patriots trailed by seven at the half but outscored UNC by a dozen in the second half to move into the Sweet Sixteen. An eight-point win over Wichita State was followed by yet another upset, this time over the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies. GMU again trailed at halftime, this time by 9, but rallied in the second half to force overtime and then finished off UConn in the extra period to advance to the Final Four.

Player to watch

By now, we know about the starting five. Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn, Lamar Butler, Will Thomas, and Folarin Campbell combine to score about 60 points per game while playing more than 30 minutes each. The only other Patriot to average more than a dozen minutes per game is guard/forward Gabe Norwood. The junior is the sixth man off the bench for GMU and has averaged 3 points, 2 boards, and 2 assists in about 20 minutes of action during the season. Any production he can give the team is an added bonus, so if you hear his name called often, that's probably a good sign for GMU

Why they'll go down on Saturday

The team plays just six players on a regular basis, and they actually like to stick with the starting five once it gets to crunch time. If the big man Lewis - or any other Patriot, for that matter - were to get in foul trouble, it could spell doom for George Mason. The Gators are athletic and like to run the court, so GMU's limited squad could get worn down late in the game.

Why they'll advance to Monday's title game

Worn down late? The Patriots have done exactly the opposite in the Tournament thus far, generally doing their dirty work in the second half and finishing off the opposition in the final minutes. Their players are used to playing the whole game, so fatigue shouldn't be that big of a factor. If the Patriots can play close to even with UF in the first half, they should have all the confidence they need to come out and get the job done in the second half, just as they've done over the past two weeks.

A LOOK AT THE GATORSSCS.com

How they got here

Billy Donovan's squad eased past South Alabama in round one and then slammed upset-minded Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. A hard-fought, four-point victory over Georgetown followed, moving the Gators into the Elite Eight. Next up was top-seeded Villanova. UF took a five-point lead into the locker room, and though the Wildcats made rally after rally in the second half, Florida answered everytime and eventually cruised to a 13-point victory.

Player to watch

If you knew who Joakim Noah was before the season, raise your hand. No one? Didn't think so. But if you're a true college hoops fan, you know Mr. Noah very well these days. The sophomore averaged 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 assists per game during the regular season but has improved those numbers to 17, 10, 5, and 3 during the team's NCAA Tournament run. If he continues his dominance down low, the Gators will be hard to beat.

Why they'll go down on Saturday

Four sophomores lead the team in scoring, while the Patriots' top two scorers are both seniors. In addition, UF has played just one Tournament game that was really close down the stretch, so how will the squad respond if GMU hangs around and makes their usual second half run? The Patriots have shown they can win the close ones, which is not good news for Florida.

Why they'll advance to Monday's title game

There's a reason the Patriots were seeded 11 when the bracket was released nearly three weeks ago. While they have certainly proven they deserved a much better seed, the fact still remains that Florida was a three-seed and came into the Tournament just days after coming away with a SEC Tournament championship. UF is one of the more athletic teams in the country and should be able to wear down the Patriots as the game progresses on their way to a national title game appearance.

STAFF PREDICTIONS
BEN CORTNEY DAVID JEFF JONATHAN REED
Florida GMU GMU Florida Florida GMU

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