As many of you know, I love Championship Monday. It's the sports convergence of two beginnings (Masters Week and baseball season) and one ending (college basketball season). On Monday night my inner fan got squashed at that usually glorious intersection when Villanova beat North Carolina 77-74. It's 18 hours later and I'm still, well, pissed.
The game was the kind of thrilling back and forth championship game all fans hope for, unless your team loses. Villanova winning at the buzzer will live on seemingly forever, only adding to the pain I already feel. In the media, so called experts are extolling the greatness of the 2016 the Men's National Championship game. You'll forgive me if I don't share that sentiment, and it has nothing to do with the outcome.
While I was working in television in the early 2000s, I commented that officiating in all sports at every level was getting worse. Last night, the only consistency was all three officials were terrible. Players for both teams got called for some bunk-ass nonsense.
In the first half during a scrum for a loose ball with neither team having gained possession or an advantage, Kennedy Meeks of North Carolina was called for a foul. Meeks, hadn't pushed, pulled or grapped anybody, yet Villanova got the ball. Kris Jenkins, who hit the game winner, was called for extending his arm trying to go up for a rebound. On College GameDay, Reese Davis gave viewers the officiating crew line up and mentioned they called a lot fewer fouls. Yeah, and I'm Elmer J. Fudd. This blind crew of whistle jockeys damn near ruined the game and got bailed out on a buzzer beater.
At the end of the first half Justin Jackson drove to the hole, got hit on both arms and in the chest (no call, but misdemeanor assault charges are pending...) Villanova gets the rebound and scores to close the half. A potential 10-point halftime lead is now five points. I stopped counting missed traveling calls at THIRTEEN, this crew in an attempt to stay out of the way let the game get away. The last straw was the Marcus Paige drive inside of three minutes left in the game where he got hit twice and got no call. Good thing Jenkins bailed out the refs.
Speaking of Jenkins, his game winner is an apt ending for a Carolina team brain cramping on defense in key moments all season long. The pundits fell in love with their effort on defense in the ACC tournament, basketball junkies saw the truth. They outrebounded their opposition, when the other team misses and your entire line up seals off the glass, you should do very well. Jenkins will be lauded for making his game winner and rightfully so. Let's face it, if you run the floor and catch a kick out from a teammate that is triple teamed, you should make a semi open 22 footer. I'm not saying ... I'm just saying. Jay Wright didn't put you on scholarship because he liked your haircut.
Speaking of JW, what a run in this tournament. His gameplan on Monday was smart, aggressive and more importantly, it worked. After failing to get past the first weekend since 2009, he cut the nets down in Houston. It's not his fault the number one seed in his region has a history of big game asphyxia. If not for Memphis wetting themselves at the line in the 2008 title game, Bill Self would still be looking for a ring. Villanova shot the lights out in their last three games. The demolition of Oklahoma was a clinic on offensive execution. Who saw this coming? I did.
Let me explain. All season as I watched Carolina, I got the same nagging feeling I had at the 1996 OSU-Michigan game at the Shoe, it wouldn't well for me or my squad. I hated the way they got lazy on defense, took bad shots and seemingly didn't care. Then, the ACC tournament happened. They mopped the floor with three straight opponents and cut down the nets. Next, the NCAA tournament happened. They rallied to beat Florida Gulf Coast. They put on a clinic beating Providence. Then, a little Philadelphia flavored payback against Indiana, and a regional championship beating of Notre Dame. Then, they cut down the nets again.
The Heels got to Houston and dispatched another ACC foe, Syracuse to reach Championship Monday for the first time since the 2009 championship season. Full Disclosure: I didn't pick the Heels. I couldn't bring myself to do it. So, here I was, full of hope and dreaming of Championship gear. I had deluded myself in believing that this team would cut down the nets one more time. The game, was not an instant classic, the ending was. It has been 33 years since a championship game was decided on a buzzer beater. The basketball gods, had waited long enough. Carolina, trailing by 10 made one more rally. The coach in me worried they'd be gassed if they managed to tie it up or force overtime. My inner fan, well I'll let him tell you.
We can make up the ten points, and we did. What's wrong with you man? We're winning this game. We got this. How could you not believe this team? We are balling here man! Look, we got this. Brice, Marcus, JJ. Come on man!!! Marcus! Marcus! NOOOOOOOO!!!! YES, OH YES. We got this. They need to go the length of the floor in 4.7 seconds. That's not going to happen. We don't lose games that way. NOOOOOOOO!!! NOOOOOOOO!!! Are you kidding me????
So, I'm face down on the living room floor in disbelief after Marcus Paige hits a three you don't take playing HORSE. I get up and get back on the couch and turn and tell my wife "we're still gonna lose." I just knew. Villanova has the ball, 4.7 seconds and 94 feet to the rim. Five seconds later I'm spiking my flip flops. Why? I'll tell you. I knew this team would have one final season ending brainlock and lose. They did and Jenkins drilled the game winner. I turned off the TV. All day I dreamt of One Shining Moment playing and dancing with my wife. I'd smile all summer long thinking of this team. Jenkins scored, confetti rained down the season ended. And just like that ...