Thursday, April 7, 2011

NCAA Tournament Final

Before the lights go out and the courts are rolled up at the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament, I need to comment on the championship. Not on the game which I thought was as enjoyable to watch as any other tournament final. I am in the minority apparently. The "expert" basketball commentators pretty much put a man to man press on it. It was the "worst" championship game ever; it was "ugly"; it was "pathetic"; it was a "disgrace", and so on, ad nauseum. The CBS lineup of experts tried to out - commentate each other describing how awful the Butler Bulldogs were. More like Butler kittens, they were. True, they shot poorly and could not adjust to their poor shooting. That, they only lost by about ten points was not due to their defense but to UConn's woeful shooting as well. Charles Barkley who was often insightful throughout the tourney bailed out and said it was the worst basketball game he had ever seen (or championship game - I don't remember exactly). Granted I watched the game as an amateur fan who has played a little basketball not as an expert commentator. Maybe that is why I saw a different game than the experts. I just muted them after a while, a short while. I saw two teams playing their hearts out trying to find a way to win when their shots were not falling. Most of us non-experts know what that feels like. I saw two coaches keep their poise and continue to try to find ways and combinations of players to give them the best chance to win. I never saw a coach berate or lose his temper with a player. It was obvious they were playing hard and there were not many mental errors. For Butler playing against a very good defense shots that normally fall did not.

Although UConn was bigger and longer, Butler had beaten such teams in the tournament such as Florida State and Pitt. Butler had a way off night. After the game Dan Wetzel of Yahoo sports reported the glum Butler locker room scene with several players crying and taking the blame for the loss. Ron Norad who had a particularly poor shooting night including missing several free throws began to pick the guys up. He reminded them of what this was, a game, not life. No one player was to blame. They were not there to point fingers but to take care of each other. Soon, the players were supporting each other as the brothers they had become over the year.

Butler is a school with 4,300 students. Their program graduates 90% of their athletes which is one of the highest of all the NCAA schools in the tournament. There has not been a hint of scandal in their program. Their athletic budget is dwarfed by UConn's, Brad Stevens salary is many times less than Jim Calhouns. It was a david vs goliath game. Midmajor vs Big East. Some would say Butler overachieved all year (or for two years!). Hardly, they are a quality program. They played their hearts outs and came out on the losing end. They didn't win any style points and the shots weren't dropping. But, they were a class act in defeat. No one has a good game every game. Sometimes in sports things happen that you can't explain. What is important is how you deal with it and how you respond to it. That's what I was watching. Too bad Charles missed it.