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Notebook Sports

The shoe fits at the big dance


The shoe fits at the big dance

Cinderella teams are supposed to exit in the Sweet 16.

This is not what college basketball meant by a Cinderella story. Cinderella teams are supposed to exit in the Sweet 16. Tell that to George Mason University-perhaps the most unlikely Final Four team ever. Like LSU in 1986, the Patriots of George Mason advanced through the big dance to the Final Four as an 11th seed.

But even then, LSU wasn't an unknown. Prior to this year's NCAA tournament, the George Mason basketball team was an unknown even on the campus of the Fairfax, Va., commuter school. "I didn't even know they had a basketball team," said Mar'esha Farrish, a Hopewell, Va., freshman, thinking back to last year before she enrolled.

College basketball fooled a lot more people than just George Mason students this year. In a massive contest run by ESPN, just .0001 percent of the participants correctly guessed a Final Four with Florida, George Mason, LSU, and UCLA. The difference this year, compared to previous, less eventful big dances? Basketball analysts point to parity.

Every year, big schools with elite programs deal with attrition losses to the NBA when key players choose bucks over books and declare for the draft. It's less of a problem for smaller, lesser-known schools that are less likely to attract future NBA talent. George Mason's three leading scorers during the regular season were seniors. And the youth of the large schools makes them harder to handicap, meaning teams (like LSU this season) can catch lightning in a bottle if their talent gels at the right time. It means that nearly any team can be Cinderella, if the shoe fits.

Around the Horn

Judging by the new champion, catching rattlesnakes isn't a young man's game. James Wells, a 73-year-old Roscoe, Texas, resident, took first prize at the 2006 Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas, when he turned in 1,200 pounds of rattlesnakes during the four-day event. "It gets in your blood," said Mr. Wells, speaking of the excitement, not the venom.

Considering troubled-as-talented wide receiver Terrell Owens' relationship with his previous quarterbacks, one might expect his new quarterback, Dallas signal caller Drew Bledsoe, to be a bit apprehensive. "We'll spend some time together in the locker room, maybe go out to dinner," Mr. Bledsoe said after the Cowboys signed Mr. Owens to a three-year, $25 million deal. "But ultimately, it's going to be a relationship built on mutual respect on the field." Mr. Owens called his last quarterback a "houseboy" and implied his previous quarterback was gay.

Basketball fans might not know 41-year-old contractor John Green, but they might know what he helped to start. Mr. Green was found guilty on March 27 of throwing a punch at former Indiana Pacers guard Ron Artest during a 2004 brawl in Detroit that became an embarrassing black eye for the NBA. Mr. Green was not found guilty of inciting the mass fight, convincing the jury that the cup full of beer he threw that hit Mr. Artest was actually thrown at no one in particular. He could face up to 93 days in jail.