For most of the three weekends of play it was a basketball tournament of upsets. UCLA and Gonzaga were bounced early. Harvard got their first NCAA win. LaSalle and Florida-Gulf Coast picked up two wins each, and advanced into the Sweet 16. Wichita State got all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta. But starting with 68 teams, and after 67 games, it was the top-ranked team in the whole tournament that won it. Louisville defeated Michigan 82-76 Monday night.
The game started out like the tourney was going to end with an upset, too. Michigan, the fourth seed out of the South Region, built a 12-point lead with three minutes to go in the first half. Louisville countered with a 14-1 run, took the lead briefly, but went into the locker room trailing 38-37. Michigan freshman Spike Albrecht, who doesn't play much, was lights out from three-point range, and had 17 points. Luke Hancock led Louisville with 16, but it seemed like things were leaning toward the Wolverines.
In the second half, the game was close most of the way, but Louisville gained an early lead, and maintained it for the entire half. The six-point margin of victory seemed like more, and the Cardinals celebrated. Hancock was named Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, and finished the game with 22 points. It's Louisville's third title in school history.
I have to admit I wasn't completely into the tournament this year, though. I'm not sure if that's because of baseball (which usually starts on the same day as the NCAA Finals), Gonzaga being knocked out early (I picked them to win it all), or what (maybe it's because I have a job now), but I did catch most of the action. I should also say that I am fortunate to work in a place where having the games on TV was encouraged. Gotta love that, even if my brackets were a total disaster in a matter of hours. We'll get 'em next year.
March Musings: The game was played before an announced crowd of 74,326 at the Georgia Dome—the largest in the 75-year history of the tournament. Speaking of 75, and this, the 75th year, CBS' Jim Nantz pointed out that the halftime score was 38-37. Yes, friends, that adds up to 75.
Louisville's title is their first since 1986, when the Cardinals were led by a freshman named Pervis Ellison, who would later become the number one overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, Ellison didn't go on to be a big NBA star, but stayed all four years at Louisville had a good college career.
Michigan has plenty to celebrate, even though they have to settle for runner-up in the post-season. Trey Burke won the Naismith Trophy as college basketball's Player of the Year (If your name is Trey, don't you have to wear number three? Burke does), and all of the “Fab Five” were in the stands in Atlanta. The quintet of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson got to the finals in 1992 and '93, but didn't win a title.
I don't know how you feel about Rick Pitino, but can anyone in any business anywhere have a better day than he had Monday? In the morning, he found out he was named to basketball's Hall of Fame. In the afternoon, his son Richard was officially named head coach at Minnesota, and in the evening, he became the first coach to win NCAA championships at two different schools (Kentucky was the other).So what's next? Pitino revealed after the game that he promised his players he would get a tattoo if they won the championship.
Does the NCAA have something against the city of Arlington? On the court and on TV, the site of the South regional was listed as North Texas, with the games played at Cowboys Stadium. No mention of Arlington, or even Dallas. It's almost like the Olympics treat Taiwan—refusing to recognize that name, and instead going with Chinese Taipei. Arlington (North Texas), incidentally, is also the site of next year's Final Four and Championship.
Louisville's Kevin Ware, who broke his leg going for a lose ball against Oregon, was the last player to cut down the net. They lowered the basket stantion for him to do it. Ware also did a David Letterman Top Ten list last week, and the number one thing going through his mind the moment he broke his leg? “At least my bracket wasn't busted.”
Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of North Carolina State's win over Houston in the 1983 Championship Game. The long shot by Dereck Whittenburg that missed, but Lorenzo Charles putting in the rebound and Jim Valvano going nuts, trying to find someone to hug. I marked that occasion by watching the game. You can see the entire game (minus commercials and halftime show) on youtube, and I recommend it. I still maintain that all Akeem Abdul Olajuwon (as he was known then) had to do was jump, and there's no way that final shot would have gone in. Olajuwon had a monster game, with something like 17 rebounds and 7 blocks before halftime. No shot clock or three-point line then, either. Check it out.