HOUSTON — Sadly, the NCAA tournament ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Monday’s championship game was a pretty horrid affair — people were still complaining about it at the airport the next day — and that’s a shame, because we just witnessed one of the best tournaments in years.
Sure, great players are leaving early, as they always have, and the fundamentals seem to be lacking more than ever, but there were still some exciting, edge-of-your-seat contests and many wild and thrilling endings with surprising winners.
Even though the Final Four was a bit of a dud, what came before it more than made up for it.
DEFENCE DOESN’T REST
Defence really does win championships. Connecticut shut down a very explosive Kentucky squad and then humiliated Butler — and even Butler got this far (two years in a row) by playing outstanding, physical defence.
Though they are kids and make mistakes, it was interesting to see the intensity and defensive pride they put into the game, unlike, say some of the Raptors I’ve watched play all season.
WHAT DOES FUTURE HOLD?
All logical signs point to most outstanding player Kemba Walker leaving Connecticut for the NBA. He graduates next month (in just three years) and his stock will never be higher, but he continues to insist nothing is set in stone.
Meanwhile, Duke’s Kyrie Irving and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes — both likely to-p three selections should they come out — said they need a couple more weeks to make up their mind about their future, while fellow Tar Heel John Henson said he isn’t sure about his plans either.
With a potential NBA lockout looming, more players in years will likely stay in school to avoid the uncertainty of losing a year of development without a payday.
As for 68-year-old Huskies coach Jim Calhoun?
“Can I give the kids everything humanly possible that I can? If I can, I’ll coach as long as I can keep on doing it,” Calhoun said after winning his third NCAA title.
“If I decide that I don’t, then I’ll move on to something because I do have an incredible life with my family and friends and other things that I do.”
STOCK UP, STOCK DOWN
No question Walker’s stock rose in the Final Four, even though he shot the ball very poorly.
He showed he can contribute in other areas (rebounding, guarding opponents) even when things weren’t going his way offensively.
He’s not a true point guard and this corner doubts he’ll be a starter in the NBA, but he has proven he’s a winner and should be a solid sparkplug off of a pro team’s bench.
Kentucky’s Terrence Jones was all over the place this year, but boosted his stock in the semifinal for sure after it had taken a hit. He was everywhere defensively, looking like a potential stopper at the next level.
His teammate Brandon Knight impressed in the tournament as a whole, but was horrendous against the Huskies in the semifinal.
Jeremy Lamb likely will stay at UConn, but he caught people’s attention by leading his team to the title with a great second half. Alex Oriakhi also stepped up his game when it mattered most.
Butler’s Shelvin Mack had a fabulous tournament and looked like a sure-fire pro before suffering through a bad night on Monday.
Houston did a nice job hosting the event though in smaller Indianapolis where everything seemed to be packed into one single area there was a better intimate, party-like atmosphere.
Perhaps the buzz would have been better if Kentucky and Virginia Commonwealth had made the championship game.
Those two fanbases were the best of the four — by a mile — and it was a shame they had to go home early. Wildcats and Rams fans were having a great time, right up until their teams went out.
Already looking forward to New Orleans next year — I’ve got Kentucky being there, for what it’s worth, their incoming class is one of the best in a decade.