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February 16, 2011, 01:18 PM ET
“Just give me the damn field” 3: George Mason and Irish banks

by John Gasaway

In 25 days the NCAA tournament selection committee will announce this year’s field of 68 teams. And while George Mason might still have the proverbial work to do, I trust that when the time comes the Patriots will be judged worthy of an at-large bid. Barring an unforeseen collapse, they should be judged worthy of an at-large bid. We don’t need decimal points to make this case; common sense and precedent will suffice.

Jim Larranaga’s team is 22-5, and they haven’t lost a game since January 8. Colonial teams have won six more games than Clemson or a dead man over the last five tournaments even though the CAA’s received nothing higher than a 9-seed from the committee. In a rational college hoops world GMU will not only get a bid courtesy of common sense and precedent, they’ll also be seeded correctly thanks to a projection of their future performance.

Which brings me, naturally, to the Irish banking collapse of 2008.

If a writer as esteemed as Michael Lewis still has any use for business cards they must say “As Interesting as Malcolm Gladwell, But Open to Reality.” Like Orwell, Lewis tells us that simply using common sense is sufficient yet terribly difficult, because the people around us customarily will not be using theirs. He draws us into his confidence and says we understand things the same way. Lewis assures you that if you’d been the GM of the Oakland A’s in 2001, or the legal guardian of a preternaturally talented 18-year-old left tackle in Memphis in 2004, or an Irish bank regulator in 2006, you too would have been singular, correct, and possibly even heroic because you too have the common sense of Lewis and his protagonists.

That’s all well and good, but I can try to strike the same stance in my writing. Lewis, however, also happens to be one of the best reporters alive. His ability to pull Shavian wit and cogent epigrams out of regular folks is simply astounding. For instance in his current Vanity Fair piece on the Irish banking crisis, he gives the floor to an economics professor at University College in Dublin, one Colm McCarthy, who tells of a disastrous televised appearance made by the country’s chief financial regulator in late 2008. 

All Lewis has to do is stay out of McCarthy’s way:  

“What happened was that everyone in Ireland had the idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they’d ever seen this little man,” says McCarthy. “And then they saw him and said, Who the —- was that??? Is that the —-ing guy who’s in charge of the money??? That’s when everyone panicked.”

I am far from panicked, but I will admit that, purely as a piece of theater, it’ll be interesting to see what happens if one of the last institutions to use reality-based information about college basketball teams is the NCAA tournament selection committee. The march of that information has been much faster than I thought it would be. Now that I’ve witnessed said march I’m on the record as believing it can’t be stopped at the selection committee’s conference room door for much longer. Meantime we should be under no illusions that there’s a wise old man or woman somewhere in Indianapolis in charge of selection and seeding. Apparently there’s not, yet.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.  

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