“You’re the best! Around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down.”
-Joe Esposito, “You’re The Best”
It has been a week. Are we okay now? Did the extraordinary finale of the NCAA Tournament finally settle in? The easy and manly answer is yes, but the reality is no. It will never settle in. Imagine if Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave went in during the 2010 title game instead of rolling off the rim? The hysteria would have been maddening for more than a lifetime! Has 1983 settled in? Of course not! If it had then you wouldn’t know off the bounce what that meant when I said (wrote) it. Okay, maybe you need a refresher, but the last time we as a nation, excuse the political tone of addressing, witnessed such an amazing feat as a buzzer-beater in a national championship match was when Lorenzo Charles dunked home the winning bucket as North Carolina State earned the monumental upset over the University of Houston and Phi Slama Jama here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I say,” here,” because that is where I currently reside and we will get into the relevance of that at the end (don’t skip ahead!).
Villanova didn’t just provide us with the rarest of heroics, the dream of every child in their respective imagination winning their respective sport and being adored for the rest of time, North Carolina also made the game unforgettable, and many thought we were going to be reminded of how boring a championship matchup can get before tip-off. However, it was different, but the madness was consistent throughout this year. Let’s recap since most stopped caring after Middle Tennessee State took down the mighty Spartans. We’ll start there and keep it short and sweet.
-MTSU vs. MSU (and other upsets that ruined everything): Damn you, Blue Raiders! I was out $20 at that moment.
-OVERTIMES: Not only multiple overtimes, but multiple multiple overtimes. Free basketball!
-BUZZER BEATERS: Amazing and plentiful.
-THOMAS WALKUP: People this hipster-looking shouldn’t be this unstoppable (or ripped).
-SYRACUSE: Not a 10-seed no matter what you say; it’s Syracuse! Give Boeheim one game, you’re in trouble, but three times against the same opponent isn’t as charming.
-VILLANOVA vs. UNC: Oh wait, we’re already talking about that.
We needed this game. We needed reminders of Michael Jordan’s classic jumper for the title in 1982 and Villanova’s 1985 championship run. Well, maybe not Georgetown fans (a.k.a. a majority of my family). Marcus Paige’s three to tie was an incredible feat of athleticism and focus, switching the momentum and making almost everyone believe the Tar Heels had forced overtime and would dominate during the extra minutes. Then the perfect play, the perfect decision, the perfect execution, and the most perfect of all endings happened.
Was it unexpected? Maybe, but maybe not. I have a Kansas friend who complained about how bad the Jayhawks played against Villanova. I know another Big 12 supporter who couldn’t believe how poorly Oklahoma played in their Final Four matchup with the Wildcats. Now, and if internet reporting is true, and without really any research, I saw a headline that there was a petition created by sore UNC alumni and supporters to overturn the results of the final due to poor officiating. Please! Excuses. Why can’t the defeated just admit that Villanova was the best team in the tournament? Even as a 2-seed they had little confidence from bracket experts. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me three times then you probably got something going here and credit is due where deserved.
The truth is that the Wildcats may have saved college basketball as a sport. The tournament was turning into a business: expanding the brackets, making sure the road is easy for the most marketable of teams (don’t research that), disbanding the Big East for bigger conferences (though I believe since that has happened Louisville, Connecticut, and now Villanova have proved it was a dumb idea), and using football stadiums to sell tickets for obscene prices for views where binoculars are required (another expense) instead of having games within the charm of a college arena like “The Pit” in 1983 (told you I would mention it). Do we really have to bring up the gambling aspect? We don’t, but we will. It is a money-making/-losing time of the year where everyone slacks off at work (guilty), people flip coins (guilty), base predictions off team colors or the ferocity of mascots and refer to it as valid reasoning, and attempt to earn bragging rights over family members and peers. It’s serious stuff; I thought I cursed Villanova decades ago when I put my faith in them and then they ruined my life (at the time, who cares what year; it was the primary reason why I never decided to pick them again). There is nothing wrong with that because it brings attention to the sport even for a month, but when Kris Jenkins’ shot went through the net, we all offered a communal cheer (except UNC supporters probably) and were reminded of how special the sport is and there is always the possibility of a brand new shining moment. We may have just witnessed the greatest college basketball game in history, so if it still hasn’t settled in, it’s okay.