Last night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball championship game was as disappointing as the Star Wars prequels. I really am lacking in words to describe the awfulness of it, particularly the second half. This will not be a long post.
First of all, congrats to UCONN, Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker for an incredible season. UCONN was unranked entering the season, and after going 9-9 in the Big East (9th in conference) and having to play in the opening round of the conference tournament, they rattled off eleven wins in a row, the final one being a 53-41 win over Butler in the Championship game. I don’t think you can put into words the type of season that Kemba Walker had. I know Jimmer Fredette put up monster numbers (and congrats to him for winning the Naismith and AP Player of Year), but Killa Kemba from the Sweet Sixteen onward proved himself to be the most dynamic player on the court. Teams started stressing about having to guard him that it left Jeremy Lamb open and able to have big games. He was the most feared player in the game the past two weeks. It wasn’t just scoring, which he did at a 23 PPG clip in the tournament, but making plays off the ball, saving balls from going out of bounds, passing, he was terrific in ever aspect.
Butler… wow, what can I say? I feel so bad for Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. To have a two year run in the tournament, come inches away from a championship last year, and then play like they did in the second half last night is heart-breaking. Butler shot an NCAA Championship record low 19% from the field. Nothing worked. Lay-ups, threes, jumpers, hook shots, FTs. Nothing would go in. Sometimes in basketball, it’s just about making shots (obviously that’s the purpose, but there’s more to the game than that), and last night is the perfect example. For as bad as they played with turnovers and being beat on the rebounds, if they had shot just 30% this would have been a different game! When Chase Stigall sunk a three to open the second half for Butler and put them up by a game-high 6 points, I thought they were on the precipice of a championship. Just the way the game was going, sloppy, gritty, Butler-style basketball, I thought that if they just played decently the rest of the way that they would have a chance to win it. What we saw instead, was an exercise in futility at a level we have never seen. I sincerely believe that if Butler had played like that against either of the teams in the Women’s Championship game (who’s pumped for Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M tonight?), that they STILL would have lost. 19 percent. You could be going against high school kids, that still will not translate to wins. I have the utmost respect for Mack and Howard, but last night was ugly. I do hope that head coach Brad Stevens is able to keep this great program going, and hopefully we’ll see them in another Final Four next year. A program as likable as Butler is good for the game of basketball. Even if they did put on the worst championship performance in the history of the sport.