Monday night, we got treated to a high-quality Louisville-Michigan final in the NCAA tournament, befitting the occasion. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say it was an all-time classic, but it was certainly top-shelf stuff.
You had Michigan shooting 52 percent, but losing. You had a combined 21 turnovers, a low number in a fast-paced game. You had the unlikely Spike Albrecht, filling in famously for Trey Burke in the first half (17 points) for Michigan, countered by the blinding late-first-half shooting of Louisville’s Luke Hancock. In the second half, you had one team flying downcourt for a fast-break bucket, and the other one responding with a spectacular dunk at the other end. The two teams went at each other. Good stuff.
What it lacked, if we’re talking the pantheon of great NCAA finals, was a classic finish. Louisville took a late 10-point lead and while Michigan cut into that deficit to make it a game, it never really rose to the cliffhanger level.
Remember, back in the 1980s, there was a stunning succession of classic finals, starting in 1982 with Michael Jordan’s jumper to beat Georgetown, and ending with Michigan’s overtime victory over Seton Hall at the Kingdome in 1989. In seven of those eight games — removing the 1984 final, also at the Kingdome, between Georgetown and Houston — the total margin was 14 points. Not to pin it all on whether a game is a nail-biter at the end, but let’s face it, that’s a big part of the equation in this beauty contest.
That 1982-89 period also included two upsets for the ages — Villanova’s “perfect game” over Georgetown in 1985, and North Carolina State’s knockoff of Houston in 1983, the Wolfpack climaxing a completely improbable run that began in the ACC tournament.
In recent years, ho-hum finals have been relatively common, which also makes Monday night’s game stand out. In fact, in this millennium, there have been six championship games won by double digits. The most pulsating games recently were Duke’s two-point win over Butler in Indy in 2010, and Kansas’ overtime victory over Memphis in 2008. At the other end of the spectrum was Connecticut’s 53-41 win over Butler in ’11, which — notwithstanding the fact Butler was, and is, a great story — had to be the most dreadful final I’ve ever seen. (Butler, you’ll recall, shot 18.8 percent.)
And what of the 2013 tournament as a whole? Have to admit, I was skeptical of those who predicted a completely unpredictable tournament based on the same kind of regular-season results. And I’m not sure the tournament really played out in far more wacky fashion than it ordinarily does; after all, the No. 1 overall seed just got done winning the thing.
But you did have Florida Gulf Coast becoming the first No. 15 seed to crash the Sweet 16, and you did have three No. 12 seeds beating No. 5 seeds on the first weekend (although 12th-seeded Oregon was widely conceded to have been the most mis-seeded team in the field). And you did have two No. 1 seeds gone before the Elite Eight, Gonzaga going out against Wichita State in the round of 32. So, yes, the event had it share of surprises. It’s just that the college game is marked by such relative parity that we shouldn’t attach too much importance to the seed number next to the name. Check the mostly skimpy point spreads for games involving those No. 12-5 seeds, and you realize what a level playing field it is.
The networks are saying that the tournament, now available on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, was the most-watched in 19 years. The championship drew a 14.0 rating and 22 share.
Overall, a good show. But when isn’t it?