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SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE
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Slam Dunks No. 5
Friday, April 7, 2006

By Denny O'Brien

Mason Mania likely to have short shelf life

©2006 Bonesville.net

Gonzaga East certainly has a catchy ring. If youíre attaching that trendy label to George Mason, just donít bank on it sticking.

The instant love affair between the Mason Miracles and the fans and media has launched speculation that the next Gonzaga-like ascension up the basketball ranks could take place in the suburbs of D.C.

The thinking by many is that Masonís access to high school talent in the D.C. metropolitan area should help it build on the momentum of this yearís Final Four appearance.

But that scenario is unlikely.

As odd as it may sound, geography is more favorable for Gonzaga than George Mason. While the Zags compete in their own state with only Washington for local players and media attention, the Patriots must share with heavyweights Maryland, Georgetown, and to a lesser extent, George Washington.

And donít think for a minute that Mason will ever find itself among the top two in that group.

Other factors that supposedly work in George Masonís favor are its status as Virginiaís largest school and an adequate facility that seats 10,000. However, an overwhelming majority of the schoolís student population commutes to campus, and youíll rarely find the Patriot Center 75 percent full.

For the Patriots to become a consistent Top 25 program there must be greater financial and emotional buy-in from both students and alumni. Otherwise, donít expect Mason to win many battles with local heavyweights over prized recruits who want to stay home.

Then thereís Jim Larranaga, whose name has been connected with several high-profile coaching searches. The probability of his return is no better than 50-50 at this stage, and his exodus would be a major blow to the Patriots. That's yet another factor with which Gonzaga does not contend.

About the only similarity between the Zags and Patriots is their common existence outside of a so-called major conference. Otherwise, Gonzaga and Mason couldnít be farther apart on the hoops spectrum.

Now Memphis, on the other hand, is a different story.

Final bore

Good thing the first two weeks of the NCAA Tournament sparked some excitement. Because the Grand Finale sure didnít.

The anticipated tip-off between Florida and George Mason proved to be one of the more memorable moments. From there, Masonís novelty quickly evaporated and the Final Four became a sure-fire cure for the most restless insomniac. (Take it from someone who regularly sleeps no more than six hours ó but twice nodded off during the title game despite maximum efforts to remain attentive.)

Had it not been for the presence of Joakim Noah ó and crowd shots of his papa, Yannick ó the cast list in Indianapolis would have rivaled a B-list movie. And aside from the Gators, this yearís Final Four failed to produce a Napoleon Dynamite-like performance.

Fowler or fouler?

How would you like to walk a mile in Lee Fowlerís shoes? Given the challenge facing the N.C. State athletics director, I sure wouldnít.

With the exodus of underappreciated coach Herb Sendek to Arizona State, Fowler has the opportunity to make a statement hire. Anything other than the luring of a brand name coach to West Raleigh could put the Wolfpack AD on the hot seat with the schoolís most vocal faction.

Texas coach Rick Barnes has been the object of most State fansí affection for years ó and for good reason. He offers instant credibility, an ego the size of the Lone Star state, the ability to sign Blue Chip talent as well as discover hidden gems, and the type of fire to match Ol' Roy and Coach K.

However, reports out of Austin indicate that Barnes is staying put.

Even so, with two heavy hitters within jogging distance, Fowler still must swing for the fence in his first major hiring task. Delivering a grand slam is the only way to ensure that Sendekís departure is a win-win for all.

Blunder by the Sea

Speaking of AD's, UNCWís Mike Capaccio has done very little to enhance his reputation in recent weeks. That much was evident by the announcement that basketball coach Brad Brownell was leaving forÖ Wright State.

If something smells fishy about an up-and-coming coach taking a step down in prestige, there is. The fact is, Brownell didnít want to leave Wilmington.

According to one source close to the situation, all Brownell wanted from the administration was a raise for his assistants and a five-year contract for himself, pretty much the norm in the business. But Brownell was denied because, according to the source, the AD wants to put his own stamp on the schoolís flagship program.

Among the top candidates is current Kansas assistant Joe Dooley, who knows his way around the CAA from his days at East Carolina, even though he never made a serious run at the title. Brownell, on the other hand, made banner-raising a ritual at Trask Coliseum during a period in which the CAA experienced its most success.

Trade a coach with championship pedigree for someone who isnít a proven winner. Now that makes perfect sense.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

Click here to dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 02:03:00 AM

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