Tuesday, April 05, 2011
NCAA Basketball Finals 2011
There is a certain fanaticism surrounding the college basketball championships every spring in the United States. The entire nation embraces the game, and the hype surrounding the annual tournament never diminishes.
There are sixty-eight teams invited to participate in the championship tournament, often referred to as “The Dance”. Four teams are eliminated, resulting in the brackets. The sixty-four remaining teams are seeded, and the games begin: win, and you play again, lose, and you go home.
Even President Obama got into the action. He was interviewed while he carefully made his bracket selections, hoping to end up choosing the eventual winner. Alas, he did not choose perfectly, nor did most of the other basketball experts. In one contest consisting of five million entries, only two participants chose correctly.
I was pleased to be invited to take part in the process at poolside in Florida. There was a good deal of banter surrounding the process. One expert quipped, “What does the Canadian know about basketball?” Another suggested I stick to hockey pools. Ah! The challenge! So many choices, so little time.
I buckled down and gave a lot of consideration to my choices. Ohio State was a given. They led the country, and could be counted on to advance to the finals. Kentucky was strong, but faced Ohio State in the early going. Kansas was also a sure thing, as was BYU, led by “Jimmer” Fredette. (Fredette was named the outstanding player of the year, and received the Naismith Trophy at half time in the final.)
One by one, teams were eliminated as the tournament progressed. This is serious stuff, south of the Canadian border. One of the residents at our complex, the congenial Kentucky Colonel whose real name is “Phil from Louisville”, was devastated when his beloved Cardinals were eliminated by Morehead State in the first round.
When the final eight teams moved on, I was eliminated from the pool, the only player in that position. As luck would have it, all of the experts at Majestic Palms also went home empty handed. Carlo took home the cash. He is a wonderful guy, but very Italian, and has no interest whatsoever in basketball. He basically made his selections with coin flips.
Butler gained entry into the final with a victory over Virginia Commonwealth. Considered to be a Cinderella team to some extent, Butler was playing in its second consecutive National Championship. They would play the Connecticut Huskies, a powerful squad that had knocked off Kentucky in the semi-final.
NBA players take a keen interest in the game, especially if their colleges are represented. Ben Gordon of the Detroit Pistons, played for the Huskies. Butler got support from Gordon Hayward, now with the Utah Jazz.
When the final buzzer sounded last Monday night, the Huskies prevailed over the Butler Bulldogs 53-41. For a variety of reasons, Butler had difficulty putting the ball in the hoop. They made less than 20 % of their shots from the floor, the worst shooting percentage in the history of the tournament.
Kemba Walker hit key three point shots for the Huskies, and earned the player of the game award. His coach, Jim Calhoun had won his third NCAA Championship. He is, in fact, at 68 years of age, twice as old as the Butler coach, Brad Stevens.
The ladders were in place under the baskets at the trophy presentation. According to tradition, players on the winning team climb the ladders and cut the twine from the hoops. A most satisfying conclusion to a rather bizarre championship game.
James Hurst April 5, 2011