When the Madness Ends, Louisville Begins
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The Louisville Cardinals are national champions, and that's the way it should be. I'm not saying that as a Louisville fan, but simply as an observer of the nation's best team—the one that fought through the most adversity along the way.
Michigan was a worthy adversary and had every right to oppose Louisville in Monday's final, but it was evident from the outset of this tournament that Rick Pitino's bunch was too deep and talented not to win the school's second national championship.
Lost in the hoopla of Florida Gulf Coast becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, Harvard's stunning win over New Mexico and La Salle's uprising from 13th-seeded obscurity was a team on a mission after being denied by its archrivals one year earlier in the national semifinals.
Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and unsung Final Four MVP Luke Hancock reminded us that for every Cinderella, underdog and little-engine-that-could in the field of 68, there is still the cream that ultimately rises when we reach the tournament's pinnacle.
Really, there are two schools of thought that basketball fans have when it comes to watching the NCAA tournament, and for the hardcore fans, those ideas end up getting meshed together. There are those who find that the only real thrills come in the first two rounds, when virtually any upset is possible and most of the brackets they filled out get crumpled up and thrown into the nearest trash bin.
There are those that choose to eschew some of the early madness to watch the sport's top teams duke it out for national supremacy because they have only really tuned in to games featuring teams ranked in the Top 10 all year anyway.
And for the true college basketball junkie, all 63 games (and maybe even the two additional play-in games) are of equal meaning. Whichever you classify yourself as, Monday's game and the team that won it had to be appreciated.
Louisville's Elite Eight victory over Duke was an impressive one. Avenging an earlier loss to the Blue Devils, the Cardinals turned a game that was tied five minutes into the second half into a complete runaway, doing so with a fast-paced offense, ferocious defense and an emotional uprising for a fallen teammate.
By now you know the Kevin Ware story. I don't need to remind you it was one of, if not the most, horrifying-looking injuries in basketball history. Though its coverage may have been a bit overblown—the great news in all this is Ware is expected to make a full recovery and could possibly resume his basketball career as well—what cannot be discounted is just how overwhelming it was for the young Cardinals players.
In addition to the emotional shock, Louisville needed to adjust to the loss of Ware's presence on the court. His teammates rose to the occasion, as champions do, and did not miss a beat.
A team's path to a championship can be constructed in countless ways, whether it's rising from the ashes to shock the world, overcoming injuries or holding serve as the top-billed team. Still, Louisville's run serves as a reminder that for all of March's madness, by April, sanity usually prevails.
To the chagrin of the Florida Gulf Coasts, Wichita States and Arizonas of the world, the best team usually wins.
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