Despite the exclusion of (recent) perennial contenders nor recent Cinderella faves, tonight’s Flordia/UCLA contest to determine the NCAA Men’s basketball champion might actually be an interesting game. The Baltimore Sun’s David Steele, however, is already bored, hours before tip-off.

The college basketball world was back to normal yesterday, and that’s not a compliment. It’s not the fault of the two teams playing tonight for the national championship, but it will be hard to embrace them as much as the team that flew back to Fairfax, Va., yesterday.

Yesterday, no fewer than two players for Florida – Southeastern Conference tournament champions, the third seed in its regional, near-unanimously recognized as the Final Four’s most talented team and favored to beat UCLA for the title – said, out loud, that they weren’t getting enough respect.

“It’s the same as it’s been all year. Nobody’s ever really given us a chance to win the national championship,” Corey Brewer said.

You didn’t miss that tired, phony ploy the past three weeks, did you? Not with a real, honest-to-goodness underdog around, a team that nobody even knew enough about to disrespect.

At courtside early in George Mason’s semifinal Saturday, someone had asked if anyone “had seen them play a lot.” Before last weekend, the reply came, when everyone else in America started watching them? No.

George Mason became a national phenomenon, among other reasons, because the Patriots were different. They weren’t jaded by excessive attention. They hadn’t learned the cliches, hadn’t been told that interviews and public appearances were a burden, hadn’t grown weary of reciting the same stories churned out in so many other places for too long a time.

“They’ve probably opened up the eyes of many people, including myself, that you don’t have to have 7-footers on your team, or be the biggest and strongest team, to have a great basketball team,” Jim Larranaga said.

If only such a spirit could have stayed in town when he and his team left.

Even the most engaging player remaining, Florida’s Joakim Noah (above), couldn’t avoid referring yesterday to the “distractions” of the day off. “This is what I have to do,” he said, “talking to the media.”

Poor, tortured soul. There’s a dozen or so players in green and gold who would give up their meal money to be in your place.