By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Many spent Tuesday saying, writing or commenting that Monday night's NCAA Championship game was one of the tournament's best finals ever, and I completely agree.
Some, however, see only a stat sheet that shows both Butler and Duke shot poorly from the field, that neither side scored often down the stretch, thereby making it a mediocre game at best.
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I learned how to cover sports 20 years ago, as a student at the University of Cincinnati, so I heard Bob Huggins ask short-changing reporters many times, "Don't you think maybe our defense had something to do with their poor shooting?"
I've seen games where teams shot atrociously, but I've seen far fewer games that were played the way Monday night's Instant Classic went down. Rarely did we see open shooters put up brick after brick. Heck, rarely did we see open shooters period.
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That's because determined defenders hungrily hounded their men, swiftly executed switches or fought through screens. A lack of offensive fireworks doesn't always decrease the quality of a sporting event.
Those who dare to look beyond the stats, overlook their own NCAA allegiances and just appreciate the great sport of college basketball certainly enjoyed every frantic second of Monday night's championship game.
And let's not forget the excellent coaching that went into it either. Duke's legendary Mike Krzyzewski showed great trust in foul-prone big man Brian Zoubek and called only smart and strategic timeouts. His 33-year-old counterpart, Brad Stevens, substituted wisely down the stretch, bringing in one four-foul big man for another, trading offense for defense with Matt Howard and Avery Jukes.
Lastly, usually logical ESPN talk host Colin Cowherd accuses Monday night's admirers of getting caught up in the emotion that comes with a seemingly outmatched underdog hanging in against an established giant. Well, that's exactly what I did and I loved every minute of it. All the side stories about David and Goliath, Cinderella and "Hoosiers" were great build-ups and all of those labels were almost legitimized when fresh-faced Gordon Hayward's 47-footer almost banked in and gave deadline writers a reason to reach for the Rolaids.
Some have gone overboard and said it might have been the best NCAA championship game ever, but I'm not going that far. Had Hayward's shot gone in, perhaps it would command as lofty a ranking as that North Carolina State-Houston thriller in 1983. But I'll bet the passage of time will allow the legend to marinate some, giving storytellers some room to ponder.
Regardless of how memorable you think Monday night's game will prove to be over time, one thing is for sure: It was at least a fitting end to one of the best tournaments in recent NCAA history.