This is it, sports fans. It is arguably the most exciting time of year.

Thousands upon thousands of collegiate athletes across the nation are gearing up for their respective conference tournaments in attempts to earn a ticket to the big dance. It’s refreshing, really. Thousands of young kids who don’t collect a seven-figure paycheck, but play the game they love because, well, they love it.

For all intents and purposes, season one is in the books. George Mason University blew through their first 30 games with an incredible 25-5 record, locking up the first seed in this weekend’s conference tournament and putting themselves in prime position to punch their ticket to March Madness. They’ve been great all season and haven’t lost a game in more than seven weeks now.

But none of that matters come March 5. Records are reset at 0-0 and each team has to work their way to the top yet again.

With the No. 1 seed in the tournament comes a first round bye in tournament play. They’ll stand by on Friday evening as UNC-Wilmington takes on Georgia State to determine who is (un)lucky enough to stand toe-to-toe with the Patriots in round two.

My guess is that UNC-Wilmington will run away with their first round match-up. Neither team is playing .500 basketball in the CAA this season and, regardless, will likely end their tournament with a 1-1 record in a best-case scenario. They don’t have nearly enough firepower to take down Mason in the second round.

As the No. 4 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will likely win their second round match-up with either Drexel or Towson. (I am pretty confident that Drexel will beat Towson on Friday because the Tigers have yet to win a conference game this season.) But Drexel will not be able to compete with VCU in what is virtually a home game for the Rams.

If everything goes as planned, that puts Mason in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal game with the Rams. Yes, the Patriots just went to Richmond a few weeks ago and stoot-slapped the horns off our southern rivals. But, like I said before, regular season results don’t matter when tournament time rolls around.

VCU has a lot more to play for than Mason does at this point. Without a tournament victory, the Rams will likely miss the big dance and leave Mason and Old Dominion as the only teams from the conference participating in the biggest spectacle in all of sports.

Unfortunately for the Rams, nobody in Fairfax really cares a whole lot about their NCAA tournament chances. We want to see the beloved members of our Green & Gold Nation standing tall on Monday night, cutting down the nets in the Coliseum.

And that, my friends, is why the Patriots come out hard on Sunday and deliver a left-right combination to the cheek of the host team, leaving them dazed and confused. And, most importantly, crushing their dreams of returning to the NCAA tournament.

After Old Dominion finishes off James Madison in their side of Sunday’s semifinals, the Patriots and Monarchs will meet for the third time this season. With both teams collecting one victory on the season — each at their home arena — the third and final matchup of their season will fall in the conference finals at a neutral site: the Richmond Coliseum.

Both Old Dominion and George Mason typically have very strong turnouts as far as fanbase in the conference tournament so the arena will be rocking for 40 minutes of CAA basketball.

Though the Patriots dethroned the Monarchs at the Patriot Center a few weeks ago, both teams are evenly matched. Mason holds a distinct advantage in the backcourt as Long, Cornelius, Hancock and Tate provide for a potent punch. Those four are the catalysts for Mason’s season and have played an outstanding brand of basketball over the last two months.

Underneath the basket, however, the Monarchs hold a slight advantage as they fill the paint with big bodies. Ryan Pearson, though, has come on strong this season and will not be denied by anybody in the nation. He’s too big and too strong for anyone to stop him. Your best bet is to try to slow him down. But, again, good luck with that.

Monday night’s match-up will be competitive. It won’t be a 20-point victory for the Patriots like it was a few weeks ago.

But, ultimately, Cam Long is the difference maker and will lead the way as George Mason as they take the tournament championship and move on to the tournament on the heels of an 18-game winning streak.

Bet your farms, or your estates, or whatever it is ya’ll folk have on this one. Mason wins the tournament by a final score of 63-57 in Richmond.