One moment, one game is what we'll remember from college basketball season
Posted April 8, 2014
The answer: nothing.
The question: what does college basketball's regular season mean?
Well, that's not entirely true. There were many great moments and performances and victories of varying degrees along the way, it's just that in the end, what we'll remember the most is that the University of Connecticut defeated the University of Kentucky for the national championship – game most of the nation, including those in attendance at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, watched on televisions of varying sizes.
For the Huskies, it was the fourth title in the last 16 seasons placing UConn among the all-time greatest programs in terms of hardware. Only four have more NCAA championships than Connecticut, which ties with Duke for fifth in the annals of the sport: UCLA (11), Kentucky (8), North Carolina (5) and Indiana (5).
College basketball is really just like every other major sport, apart from college football, in that what happens during the regular season is often rendered moot once the playoffs begin.
How many times does the team with the best record win the Super Bowl? Okay, so the Seahawks were the NFL's best this year, but for the most part, it matters not. Just in the last decade, the Steelers, Packers and Giants came from the Wild Card to win the Lombardi Trophy. In 2011, the Giants were sitting at .500 heading to the final two weeks of the season, but won twice to finish 9-7 and capture the NFC East. Two weeks later the G-men went to Green Bay and beat the 15-1 Packers, who were at least two games better than everyone else in the NFL – five better than the next best in their own division. Of course, no one but the die hards remember how great they were since they lost to New York.
Same goes for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, who won 102 games, but were bounced out of the playoffs by the 90-win St. Louis Cardinals, who – don't you know – finished a distant second to the Brewers in the National League's Central Division, yet still managed to win the World Series. Effectively, the Cards "won" nothing during the regular season, other than the extra spot in the playoffs.
The Huskies did the same thing. They didn't win their league. They didn't even finish second. They were a distant third, a full three games behind Louisville and Cincinnati in the newborn American Athletic Conference. Then, they lost to the Cardinals in the semifinals of the AAC Tournament. However, since the NCAAs are accommodating to almost 40 teams that don't automatically play their way into the field, there was ample room for a Connecticut squad that finished the season with a 26-8 record.
For the record, I am absolutely not complaining, such are the ways of playoff sports. Had Kentucky managed to eke out a win Monday night, they would have been able to say the exact same thing. A team that failed to win anything of note during the regular season, got on a roll during the playoffs and nearly rode that wave to a championship.
In sports with developed playoffs – unlike college football which won't have one for several years – what you accomplished during the regular season matters little. In college hoops what you did over the first four and a half months doesn't count as much as what you do over the final two and a half weeks.
Florida entered the Final Four on a 30-game winning streak.
Doesn't matter. They didn't beat Connecticut Saturday night in Dallas.
Wichita State entered the first weekend of the NCAA tournament with a 35-0 record.
So? They lost to Kentucky three Sundays ago and thus, though they enjoyed a superb year, end up an afterthought.
What makes it worse for players, coaches and fans to stomach is that – like the NFL – it's a one-shot deal. Baseball, professional basketball and hockey have postseason series, theoretically making it more difficult for upsets to occur. In college basketball, where you can do a lot right and the ball still doesn't go in, the outcome is often a lot more fickle. This is how a Villanova can win a championship over a Georgetown or NC State can take down Houston or even two teams with a combined 19 losses can reach the final game of the year.
In playoff sports, all that really matters is what you do in that one shining moment.
That UConn hadn't actually "won" anything prior to Monday night didn't matter a single bit. In the end, the moment was theirs, and that's the most important image we'll take away from 2014.