The title game of the NCAA tournament tonight was, no question, a fitting end to what has been an unbelievably good three weeks of college basketball.
I can't remember a better tournament, overall, and that would have still been the case even if Duke had won in a walk. But how classic would it have been if Gordon Hayward had hit his Evan Turner-esque prayer at the buzzer?
He certainly got a good look at it. This was because The Big 'Stache, Butler's Matt Howard, absolutely crushed a Dookie at half court with a wicked pick to get his teammate clear.
Then Hayward nailed the trajectory, hit glass, and BAM!—off front rim, no good. Literally two inches less bounce, and you're looking at one of the biggest upsets in tourney history, for a small school playing in their own backyard , with tens of thousands of fans in attendance.
Too bad Gus Johnson doesn't get to call the final game.
If that shot had gone in, it wouldn't just have been the best shot of the NCAA tourney. Nor, even, of the year in college basketball (Ohio State's Turner gets to hold on to that honor for his buzzer beater against Michigan, unless you think Ali Farokhmanesh's double order of onions was slightly better)—No, Heyward's shot would have been the greatest in college basketball history.
Maybe in basketball history, period. Who could top it in the NBA? Michael Jordan, maybe, but none of his buzzer beaters were from 40 feet out!
Think about it. Butler, a 5 seed, the classic David despite their sterling play, versus the most hated team in basketball. A nail biter of a game. Hayward didn't even get to catch the ball off an inbounds pass! No, he had to drive the length of the court through a capable Duke defense and fire away on two dribbles AFTER snagging the rebound off an intentionally missed free throw (no easy feat in itself).
It's honestly too bad he was even in the position to have to throw up a half court shot. On Butler's next-to-last possession, Brian Zoubek's 7'1" frame forced Hayward into a desperate fade-away. Honestly, I thought he got a better look at his game-ender than he did on that jumper.
It's a little early to criticize Butler for that play, but I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway. They played such a great game, and coach Brad Stevens handled Duke so well, that it was a HUGE disappointment to see their penultimate play—to win a national title, no less—turn into a frantic halfway drive and foiled shot with six seconds still to go.
With Zoubek having four fouls, I can't see how you don't drive straight to the hole and try for the old-fashioned three-point play.
Then again, hindsight is 20/20.
I'll just say this. Tonight's 61-59 classic was one of the finest college basketball games I've seen in a long time. When you combine it with other epics such as Xavier-Kansas State , or Northern Iowa-Kansas, or Maryland-Michigan State, I think there is a clear case for the 2010 edition of March Madness as the finest ever.
Even if Duke did win.
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