The ball is tipped, and we are all George Mason Patriots.
Not the patriot that helped found the country. No, we are all George Mason, the school, the one that isn't dancing this season, but made dancing special.
Murray State has begun the quest for all of the little guys, taking on the Mountain West's Colorado State -- a major conference team, whether ESPN deems it one or not.
Later Loyola of Maryland will continue the task, Davidson, BYU, South Dakota State and more will follow.
This is what the tournament is about. It is about the little guy, the team that shouldn't have a chance and succeeds anyway.It is about the teams that some analysts would rather didn't get an automatic bid. It is about the teams that some former analysts would rather didn't get looked at for at-large consideration (Billy Packer).
It is now that we all become George Mason, the little school that guy so much gruff for its mere inclusion in the tournament almost 10 years ago. Now we all look for that school who could become George Mason on our brackets. We look for that upset, that game that gives someone, anyone a chance over that dreaded big conference school that wins every season.
Don't deny it, fans of North Carolina, or Kansas, or Kentucky. You become George Mason at this time of the year too.
You may not root for your team to lose, but you want the small school to win just as much as everyone else who didn't attend your institution of higher learning. You want the upsets too. You just don't want to make the face.
If you have ever seen a fan of a big name team go out in the first round to one of these small schools, you know the face. There is a look of disbelief, trying to figure out what went wrong. Trying to re-game plan as if the fan were to the coach or the point guard. As if they could have made one more jumper.
The next hour, or day, that fan too becomes George Mason. They root for the underdog, they want everyone else to make the face.
And they want the stories to come alive.
All year long we were inundated with stories of Anthony Davis, or Thomas Robinson, or Fab Melo.
We maybe got a sniff of a few small school stories.
There was a feature on Murray State's Ed Daniel's hair, because how can there not be? But there are stories like that at every school.
What about Davidson, which has five scorers averaging in double figures this season, none a senior? Think about how big a game this is for them, to prove that the school can still play without Stephen Curry. At worst, they gain experience for next year, when they could be a dominant small team. At best, they make Louisville a loser in the first round for the second year in a row, busting brackets across the country.
What about South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, who is doing his best Stephen Curry impression this season, albeit without the 3-pointers. The junior is averaging 21.3 points per game, good for ninth in the country. He adds six assists a game too. He is more of a D.J. Cooper than Coop.
Do you think he isn't a name to watch this NCAA Tournament? He could make so much noise that the 6-4 guard could suddenly become an NBA prospect (thank you, Jeremy Lin). Facing Baylor doesn't help him, but what if he gets hot?
He could be the next Jimmer, the guy who improved his draft stock with a single month. And he is doing it for a team that made the NCAA Tournament after being eligible for just four seasons. Ask those schools who have made the transition to Division 1 just how difficult that is.
Yes, we are all South Dakota State. We are all Davidson. We are all Murray State (and Ed's Hair).
We are all George Mason.
Enjoy MAC-less Thursday at the Tournament. Go Be George Mason.