That was the best NCAA Final I’ve ever seen

It’s easy to be cynical about what College basketball has devolved into in recent years. All the obvious stuff regarding the early defection of major talent to the pro game is something that can’t be ignored. The simple math tells you that about 25-30 of the best players are leaving school after one or maybe two years, and it shows not only in the lack of star power, but in the overall quality of play. When you factor in the increasingly transparent sleaziness of not only the supposed “amateur” game, but the growing sense of displeasure for the NCAA’s totalitarian practices, well, it goes along way toward explaining why college hoops went from my absolute favorite sport to something I struggle to care about these days. In the last few years, more and more with each that has passed, I’ve found my indifference gaining momentum.

Until Monday night.

Last nights’ championship final was played in another stratusphere, and it featured two teams that were perfect for each other in the “styles makes fights” sense. Louisville overwhelms most teams with their full court press and Michigan was the one team in this tournament that is built to not only withstand said press, but shove it back up their proverbial asses. I knew going in that this was going to be a high-octane, back & forth war of attrition featuring at least half a dozen future NBA players, but what I didn’t know was that it was going to feature the quality of play you’d see if you played NBA 2k13 on the super easy level. How else to explain the the shit that was happening on the biggest stage, in front of 70,000 people in the Georgia Dome and millions more around the world after the extremely poorly played semi-finals we saw on saturday?

How then, to explain this?

Or this.

Or Chane Behanan’s Road Warrior routine?

Or Peyton Siva’s fucking dad.

It was just that kind of night. It was one of those special games where everyone was just a little better than usual (well, except for Russ Smith. He was fucking awful and forced every shot he took) and the crowd was at a fever pitch the entire night and got even louder as the game progressed. Fuck, even the announce team was a little better, a little less hackneyed than usual.

Spike Albrecht’s career high at Michigan was 7 points, and yet he had 17 before the first half was over. Luke Hancock had 20 points on Saturday and another 22 in the Final to become the only bench player to win Tournament Most Outstanding Player, or at least the only one I can remember. I’m telling you, something special was happening here.

It was just a brilliant night for basketball, and that’s what I mean when I say “the best Final I’ve ever seen”. It might not have been the best ending (a toss-up between 1999 Duke/UConn, 1987 Syracuse/Indiana and a few others) , or closest final (2010 Butler/Duke , 1989 Michigan/Seton Hall)  I’ve seen, but it was definitely the most electric, the most well-played, the most beautiful game I’ve seen in a Final, and I’ve seen every one since 1983.

Yeah, the refs might not have lived up to the environment, but isn’t it a bit unreasonable to expect three middle-aged men to keep pace with the holy shit track meet that was going down in Atlanta? Still, one could argue that the turning point of the game was the foul called on the Mona Lisa of tournament defensive plays.

Me, I think Louisville was the better team on this night, but it was a tough break for Michigan and Burke to suffer.

Anyway, such is life in sports, where there’s always a winner and a loser. It’s always gonna be a world of “what if’s” and “if only’s”, but that’s why they keep score, so that we know who won.

On this night, we were all treated to a fucking outstanding basketball game, one so good that it couldn’t even be ruined by the relentless exploitation of the Kevin Ware storyline. We got to see the reunion of the Michigan Fab Five and Jalen Rose in a goofy ass hat. Even after all the bitterness and animosity, Chris Webber was there, twenty years after his lowest moment in the sport. Most of all, we got the ultimate redemption for a decidedly lackluster college Basketball season. This was a game so good, I watched the entire thing over about 30 minutes after it ended. I’ll probably see it a few more times between now and the start of the season. What can I say, I love a great game, and my love is not diminished by the fact that i know the result.

Rick Pitino’s reaction to the game-ending fireworks was as brilliant a conclusion to the whole thing as anyone could have dreamed up.

The perfect ending to a sublime night. The absolute best game of the year saved for last, which is how it should be but almost never is.

Except this once.

-JH

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