BY NEAL MALONE
Whewww! Is your heart still pounding? Mine sure is.
I don’t care if you prefer the NBA. I don’t care if you’re not a Duke or Butler fan. Heck, I don’t even care if you aren’t interested in sports…that game should have been seen by EVERYONE.
Going into tonight’s championship game, I heard a wide variety of opinions from a wide variety of personalities. Many were positive…which I totally get. I mean, you had the classic, Coach K-led Blue Devils against the lovable under-dawgs, Butler…and that’s the abridged version of the list of intriguing elements the championship matchup had to offer.
But then I heard all sorts of negative opinions towards the game. Here are a few examples of things I heard straight from people’s mouths…
- Where are the star players?
- I want to see the BEST teams play!
- This game is going to suck…Duke is going to kill them!
- Neither team has any flash to their game!
Ok, Negative Nancies…let’s address these issues then.
We’ll start with the “star players” issue, which probably comes from hardcore NBA fans trying to find something in college basketball to poke fun at.
I guess the argument depends on how you define a star player. If your idea of a star player is a high-flying, dunk-throwing, ankle-breaking, criss-crossing shooting guard, then sure…the game didn’t feature any stars. But you see…I define a star player differently. Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer are star players. So are Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward. Why?
Because they do it all…and they do it all the right way. Singler plays stunning defense, battles hard inside, and shoots the ball very well. Scheyer’s shooting stroke is among the best in the game…college or NBA. Howard, despite being undersized, dominates games in the paint with some of the most fundamental post moves I’ve ever seen. Hayward displays incredible versatility on offense and manages to get more loose balls on defense than anyone I can remember.
All of these guys play team basketball and do things on the court that exemplify the way the game of basketball is meant to be played. Sure, they may not have be able to put the exclamation point on many plays…but these guys are absolutely star players.
Now onto the issue of wanting to see the BEST teams play in the championship game. In my opinion, if you win a first round, second round, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four game in a row under pressure-packed tournament circumstances, you are one of the two best teams.
Yeah, this year’s championship game didn’t feature Kansas, Kentucky or Syracuse, but they didn’t deserve to be there. They didn’t demonstrate that they were one of the best. Bottom line.
I think in today’s sports culture, our minds get clouded with the ideas of flash and hype. Rim-rattling dunks and uber-athletic plays combine with sensationalistic media coverage to give you the idea that the high-profile team is far superior to the simple, mid-major team.
Don’t get me wrong, often times the most athletic team wins…or the team that gets the most media attention. But not all the time…and that’s what we learned tonight and throughout the entire tournament for that matter.
On paper, Butler had no chance against Duke. The media kept reminding people of that, so no one believed in the Bulldogs. But I never understood that. How could you count out an Indianapolis-based team that beat Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State in rapid succession?
Once again, they rose to the challenge. Although they fell short by just two points tonight, Butler taught college basketball a huge lesson. Here are a few things you can take away from their tournament run…
- Coaching and hard work can make no-name recruits look like blue-chips
- Effort and commitment can transcend athleticism and skill
- Size doesn’t always matter
- Team defense can take you as far as you want to go
- Well-executed gameplans can trouble even the best opponents
- Fundamentals are essential
- If you believe you can win, you’ll almost always have a chance
- Maybe one-and-done players aren’t the ones you want when building a program
So say what you want about programs like Butler and Duke that make their living on team basketball, but the formula clearly works. Maybe these teams aren’t chalked full of lottery picks. Maybe they don’t have a signature, muscle-flexing dance associated with their program.
But they have committed, 4-year players that play the game with the passion and the fundamentals needed to be successful…and THAT is what we saw tonight. THAT is why college basketball is so special.
No salaries. No selfishness. No egos. Just good, old-fashioned team basketball.
So thank you, Butler and Duke, you gave college basketball nation quite a ride!