I’ve said before that I’m a casual sports fan at best. I don’t regularly follow any team in any sport. But I do occasionally enjoy a good college basketball game.
Last night’s NCAA men’s championship game was not a good college basketball game.
It was a spectacular game, a glorious game, one for the ages. Both Duke and Wisconsin did themselves, their schools and their sport proud.
A little background info is in order: I grew up in Kentucky, where college basketball is the unofficial state religion. Somehow I managed to avoid joining the Church of Big Blue, the diocese of the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Not being a believer in the Bluegrass State can make life difficult. The faithful are loud and proud, quite literally expecting nothing less than a championship every year. I have friends and family members who fall into this category, and this year has been particularly trying for apostates like me.
Kentucky was ranked #1 before the season began, and the Big Blue Nation was expecting the first perfect season in nearly 40 years, culminating in a celebration last night in Indianapolis. And they made no secret of it.
They almost made it, dispatching their opponents with ruthless efficiency and unbridled arrogance. Then came Wisconsin. Goofy, low-key, humble Wisconsin.
Smart, talented, focused Wisconsin. They dispatched the Kentucky kitties in a way that brought a welcome touch of schadenfreude to me. The Badgers were my new favorite team, so it seemed only right to tune in to the championship game to see if they could work miracles again and take out mighty Duke.
In the end, no, they couldn’t. But they came close. The game was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen. So many lead changes I lost count. The score tied at 31 at halftime.
This game was two great teams, battling for their lives. Both gave as good as they got. They kept it too close to call for virtually the entire game. It was pure basketball excitement. It was ego-free unselfish play.
It was breathtaking, brilliant, wonderful basketball.
Some may choose to quibble — on either side — about the officiating. That’s a part of any basketball game, let alone one at this level. Others may quarrel with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s embrace of the one-and-done ethos of the modern game that virtually guarantees most of this year’s starters won’t be back next fall. Or you could question Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s choice of old-school recruiting that downplays the one-and-done in a game that clearly favors it.
But no matter where your loyalties lie, there’s no denying that two great teams were right where they deserved to be last night — and that they brought the house down.