Unpredictable 2013 NCAA Basketball Season, but Louisville a Predictable Champion
Your 2013 national championship game gave us Trey Burke at the start and all the Spike Albrecht we could believe—and Luke Hancock too.
We saw a first half that left us breathless. And then there was Peyton Siva's speed. It gave us Chane Behanan's beastly strength, Gorgui Dieng's sky hook and alley-oops. There were so many moments, you'll have to watch it three times to see them all.
It was beautiful, wasn't it?
The year that gave us absurdly low scores, poor officiating and enough parity to make us believe some school named Florida Gulf Coast could go and win the dang thing is over now.
Louisville beat Michigan 82-76 on Monday night in Atlanta, and if you want to talk about the officiating, stop.
If you want to talk about how there were no stars and no great teams in college basketball, stop.
We have the offseason to figure out how to reduce physical play and inconsistent whistles. Those are issues that need to be addressed.
But we spent too much of this season trying to figure out just who was the best team, and why it wasn't easier to figure it out.
Dominant from start to finish like Kentucky, they were not.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals needed some time to find their championship form, and that was just fine. Most champions do.
But maybe not exactly like this.
The Cardinals lost three straight games in January. Russ Smith, unlike any star you've ever seen, played a sloppy game—much like the one he played on Monday night—in a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9, which would turn out to be Louisville's last loss.
This was a team that was used to going through some crud to get where it needed to go.
So when Kevin Ware had one of the most gruesome injuries ever seen on a basketball court, the Cardinals, with tears in their eyes, lifted themselves up and smoked Duke by 22 in the Elite Eight.
When Wichita State had the perfect game plan and the feel of destiny on its side on Saturday night, a junior walk-on named Tim Henderson, who had made 17 shots in his entire career, hit back-to-back treys.
From there, Pitino put the ball in the hands of Hancock, a transfer from George Mason. He would score 14 of his 20 points in the second half to get his team to the championship game.
Hancock poured in another 22 on Monday night when Louisville's star, Smith, was so out of it that Pitino sat him at the start of the second half. Smith went 3-of-16 against Michigan, and it didn't matter.
Siva kept attacking the rim and kept attacking Michigan's ball-handlers. He'd finish with 18 points and four steals. Behanan (15 points and 12 rebounds) kept relentlessly hitting those boards. Dieng, who had four assists in the first five tourney games, kept finding the open man. He had a career-high six assists in what was likely his final collegiate game.
Michigan had the player of the year. Michigan had more NBA talent. Michigan had more Albrecht—where did that guy come from?
But Louisville was the team that could overcome anything.
The Cardinals spent exactly one week atop the Associated Press poll this year. Even so, when the tournament started, the Cardinals were a deserving top overall seed. And now that it's finished, there is absolutely no doubt they're a deserving champion.
In the end, the best team beat the most talented one, and they gave us a national championship that we'll be talking about for years.
Sometimes, it's worth it to wait it out and just watch.
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