A week ago, East Central Illinois' interest in the NCAA basketball tournament was waning. Not only had the Illini been eliminated, but so had every other Big Ten team. The only school from our region remaining was the Bradley Braves of Peoria. And soon they were knocked out as well.
But the most remarkable thing occurred this weekend when George Mason University – a small public school in Fairfax, Va. – somehow beat Wichita State and Connecticut and advanced to college basketball's coveted Final Four. It's a place where so-called "mid-majors" never go, or at least haven't gone for more than 25 years.
No one thought George Mason would be there. The Patriots, after all, were an 11 seed, meaning they were thought to be about the 45th-best team in the tournament. Las Vegas had accorded them 500-1 odds. They won neither the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament nor its regular season. They had never won an NCAA tournament game before.
But on Saturday they'll be playing in the tournament semifinals. And they'll be playing in Indianapolis. And if you believe in fate, recall that Indianapolis is where the Hickory High School Huskers won the Indiana high school basketball championship in the movie "Hoosiers." (It's also the city where the Milan Indians, a real small-town team, won the Indiana high school championship over Muncie Central in 1954). Life imitates art all the time, but seldom on such a grand stage.