And then there were two.
From the field of 68 they have come, outpacing the rest of the field after achieving the near impossible; getting a group of college athletes to play at a consistently high level for two weeks straight.
They are Louisville, the number one overall seed and consensus favorite, and Michigan, a team that could have challenged for the same role had they played the same way in December and January as they have in March. As national championships go, this one seems to have a surprisingly high level of balance in a year that has been characterized by inconsistency. I’m not here to call a winner — frankly I have no ties to either program this season, financial or otherwise.
But, along with the rest of sporting America, I will be tuned in to witness the summit of amateur basketball with a controlled level of anticipation. The amount of return I get on my investment of time will depend on the details of the game. Even if the game turns out to be a blowout, now is the time to envision the game ending on a fadeaway 50 footer and going down as one of the best nights in hoops history. Here is my wish list for tonight’s NCAA Championship, right down to the time of the game when I want it to happen. May the best team win, but only after the runner-up gives them a challenge for the ages.
19:30– Trey Burke and Russ Smith hit back to back pull up threes to start the game. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a quick score on both ends to start a game.
17:00- Gorgui Dieng is clearly getting the best of Mitch McGary on both ends of the floor. I don’t have any deep rooted angst directed toward the Michigan center, but his star seems to be rising a bit too rapidly after playing a few good games in the tournament. Leave it to an undervalued big man like Dieng to put McGary in his place.
12:00- The camera cuts to Kevin Ware for only the tenth time. I feel bad for the guy, but jeez, he’s just sitting on the sidelines. This story has already played its’ way out, and then some. Let’s keep the cameras pointed towards the hardwood.
2:30- Louisville goes up by 12. Preferably on a barrage of Russ Smith deep balls so that I can continue adding insult to injury in the buckets pool.
0:01- Trey Burke hits the second of two consecutive deep threes to cut the Louisville lead in half before intermission. Foreshadowing, folks, foreshadowing.
Halftime- A vintage Charles Barkley quote. It doesn’t have to be one for the ages, it just has to show how Barkley is only commentating on college basketball because people don’t watch before/at half/after games for any kind of meaningful analysis and would rather see Barkley and Kenny Smith argue over anything and everything. And frankly, I can get behind that as well. Bring us some television gold, Charles.
17:00- A three minute brickfest to make up for the blazing start to the game. Sometimes sloppy play builds as much suspense as torching the nets.
14:00- A good old fashioned showdown of bench players. Both of these teams are mad deep, so there are a variety of options, but a short lived showdown between two reserves would be an awesome interlude. My ideal battle would be between Wayne Blackshear and Jon Horford, who have been overshadowed by Anthony Davis and Al Horford, respectively.
11:00- Jordan Morgan plays a handful of meaningful minutes. The charge that Morgan took at the end of the Syracuse game was one of the most underrated feel good moments from the Final Four. Here’s hoping that Morgan doesn’t go down as Michigan’s Wally Pipp.
5:00- Tim Hardaway, Trey Burke, Russ Smith and Peyton Siva turn the game into their own private two on two. There might not be a better match up of four guards anywhere in college basketball, so it’s only natural that they all throw down for the title of best back court.
3:00- Michigan pulls ahead by five after a Nic Stauskas three. The announcers refrain from referencing any of Stauskas’ high school shooting drills.
2:00- A productive starter fouls out for Louisville. Preferably not one of their stars, but someone who will have enough of an impact so that the Cardinals will have to start to have doubts creep into their minds.
2:00- Louisville calls a timeout, and Kevin Ware gets up on his crutches to deliver a motivational speech. Rick Pitino says less than five words during the entire stoppage, but Louisville comes out of the huddle with a fire in their eyes. Also, CBS will have a legitimate opportunity to televise Kevin Ware.
1:30- Chane Behanan ties the game on an elbow jumper. Russ Smith slams his palms against the floor on defense, bringing the crowd to a deafening roar.
1:00- Down two, Trey Burke takes the ball to the rim and goes down, hard. A flagrant foul seems imminent but isn’t called, but Burke calmly nets both free throws to tie the game once again.
0:02- (Player) hits a shot from (Place) to win the game for (Team). Fill in the Mad Lib as you may, I can envision at least ten different scenarios that will leave me cheering in equal measure. As long as the game ends in walk-off fashion, you can’t go wrong.
Post Game Trophy Presentation- No matter who wins, it better look like they’ve just reached the summit of Everest after the game. Because there truly is no greater joy for an amateur athlete.
Enjoy the National Championship, and no matter who you may love or hate, hope for some twists and turns along the way. Constant uncertainty is the magic during March Madness, hopefully the momentum will continue through the 8th of April.