It was one of the most exciting March Madness Tournaments ever.
We had close-game finishes, bizarre endings, lights out shooting, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, busted brackets across the country, every game on television, and it's capped off with two mid-majors making it to the Final Four.
For six rounds the tournament gave me everything that I expected and more. Then, there was last night’s championship game.
On one side of the court was the University of Connecticut. A team on an improbable run that began with an unprecedented five wins in the Big East Tournament. The Huskies were led by perhaps the best player in the country Kemba Walker and an emerging freshman in Jeremy Lamb.
While on the other side of the court you had the Butler Bulldogs. The Bulldogs, led by their own superstar Shelvin Mack and the team’s heartbeat senior Matt Howard, willed itself to the championship game for the second straight year.
We started with 68 and had made the journey to the final two, Connecticut vs. Butler. The Huskies are the power house in the world of basketball from the Big East; a conference with 11 teams making it to the Big Dance. The Bulldogs are the mid-major Cinderella from the Horizon League and won its conference tournament to receive the automatic bid and represent the little guys of the Horizon League.
Connecticut and Butler were the last two standing to give us a much-unexpected matchup. The Huskies were a team that didn’t even make the tournament last year and predicted to finish on the bottom side of their conference. Meanwhile, Butler had lost a key player in Gordon Hayward to the NBA and not many really believed that they could make the same run two years in a row. Heck, I took Old Dominion to beat them. Big mistake, but that certainly was not the last of them by me.
Regardless of what we thought about both teams at the beginning of the season, they were the last two standing. Butler’s Brad Stephens had done it again, becoming the youngest coach to reach his second Final Four at the age of 34. Jim Calhoun was attempting history of his own; a victory would make him the oldest coach to win the championship at 68. He would also become just the fifth coach to get to the top three or more times, joining an elite company that includes John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight.
With so much at stake and both teams defying the odds gave us what I thought would mark the conclusion of a memorable tournament with a great matchup in an even better venue in Houston, Texas at Reliant Stadium.
However, nothing is ever guaranteed and this year’s championship would be anything but memorable. At the end of the first both teams combined for a mere 41 total points and I had to make sure that I had not traveled back in time to the 1940s.
In the second half it did not really get better for either team, but it would get even worse for the Butler Bulldogs. Nothing fell for the Bulldogs and the Huskies overpowered Butler with a 51 to 40 advantage in rebounds and 10 to two advantage in blocks.
Sure, Kemba Walker was not his superstar self. But he had help from freshman Jeremy Lamb and sophomore Alex Oriakhi. Walker had a game-high 16, but it was Lamb’s 12, and a double-double from Oriakhi with 11 points and 11 rebounds that delivered the Huskies their third national championship.
It was Connecticut’s defense that won the game, especially Lamb’s effort on Butler’s Shelvin Mack and the Huskies frontcourt being too much for Matt Howard to have any effect on the game. Mack finished with just 13 points scoring only one point when Lamb had the defensive assignment. Howard shot just 1-for-13 from the field with seven points.
Even if Mack and Howard had been their normal selves, Butler would still have had a difficult time coming up with the win. The Bulldogs shot a tournament worst 3-of-31 from two-point field goals. In fact, Butler missed its first 21 shots in the paint. They shot 12-of-64 for the game, 18 percent and mustard only 41 points, narrowly beating out Oklahoma State’s 36-point showing in the 1949 championship.
Connecticut did not shoot much better, but they managed to get the basket in the hoop at a much better consistency than their opponent.
So, here we are. One of the worst championship games ever to be played, following one of the most exciting tournaments.
It has left me wondering is it worth it to root for the underdog? Do non-BCS schools really deserve a shot to try and compete with BCS schools? Is the March Madness Tournament really a good way to compare BCS and non-BCS schools? Does this loss take away from Butler’s last two years, or this year’s other Cinderella, VCU?
For me, I will still cheer for the underdogs. I think non-BCS schools can and should have the opportunity to compete with BCS schools. The March Madness is not a good instrument to use in comparing BCS and non-BCS schools because college football and basketball have two very different seasons.
A win during the regular season in basketball does not compare to the same marginal value of a win during the regular season in football, rivalries and upsets aside. But at the end of the day, if you have two teams that are competing in the same division with both standing the tallest at the end, then both should be given the same chance to be called the best.