Frankly, I didn't think either of them could win

By By Stan Torgerson
April 4, 2002
When a good basketball team plays badly you get an upset. When two good basketball teams both play badly you get a mediocre NCAA championship game.
You know the old expression about someone putting a board across the basket? The way both teams shot in the first half I kept looking to see it.
It reminded me of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers. Both teams were decimated by the war, their best players off in the service, making do with a collection of over-age, physically unfit players who had been pressed into just keeping baseball alive in order to lift public morale. So they went through the motions of being major leaguers and when the season finally ended the Cubs and the Tigers were literally the only two teams left standing.
A famous Chicago sportswriter, Warren Brown if memory serves me correctly, wrote in his pre-World Series column these now immortal lines.
That's the thought that ran through my mind Monday evening. Frankly, the way they were playing I doubted if either one of them could win it.
There were turnovers of the not-paying-attention kind. There were more missed layups, blown breakaways, and under the basket off target crip shots than I believe I have ever seen in a game allegedly matching college basketball's two best teams.
The same Indiana team that in five tournament wins had shot 55% percent from everywhere and 53% from three point range ended their evening with only 35% from the field and 44% on threes. The only thing that saved them was Maryland was almost as bad. The Terps finished with 21-48, hardly championship level, and 2-9 on three pointers or 22 percent.
At one point the Hoosiers missed five free throws in a row. Don't ask me how you can have a higher shooting percentage from 3-point range than you can have from the free throw line. Beats me.
But let's be more or less reasonable. There was a reason for the mistakes, the poor shooting, the turnovers. It's called pressure. It's hard to play your game with over 53,000 wild-eyed people who either love you or hate you responding to every move you, and everyone else on the floor, makes. If the kids had trouble breathing out there because of that pressure, you'd be gasping for air as well.
This is not an alibi for the quality of play. It was poor, certainly not at NCAA Final Two level. But the crowd and the stakes were both a factor. I only wish they had both been able to shake it off and play the game which got them to the night of April 1, 2002 in the first place. But they couldn't and they didn't and the best team won. At least fate got that part right.
Jon Saraceno writing in USA Today on Tuesday said this. "Maryland, had it played its typical game, would have won by 30." He'll get no argument here. Even so, winning by 12 is more than adequate. Winning by one is adequate when you get right down to it. They just ask who won, not by how many.
A couple of other notes. Up until the final game I thought it was some of the most intense, well played basketball ever seen. The game has progressed to the point where college basketball players are certainly among this country's greatest athletes and they show it every time out.
Second, let's get the critics off the pairing committee's back. Once again a number one seed won the tournament, the fourth time in a row and the sixth time in the last eight tournaments. Kentucky in 1998 was a #2 and Arizona in 1997 was a #4. The rest were all #1s. The committee consistently gets it right.
Third, the officiating was outstanding. The zebras let the teams play but never let the situation get out of hand. First class whistle blowing all the way.
Fourth, Jim Nantz and Billy Packer just get better and better every year. The broadcasts were both entertaining and informative. No one does basketball better than those two.
And finally, why does the NCAA persist in make the championship trophy a piece of wood that looks like something a high school team would receive in a Christmas tournament? When you win the biggest college basketball event in the world it should be rewarded by a trophy it takes all five starters to lift and the school to knock out a wall in order to get space to show it off. Raise the price to CBS by another thousand and give the kids their just reward.
Next up the NBA playoffs. After all the thrills, excitement and fierce competition of the NCAA, does anybody really care to see these overpaid, play only when they really want to professionals present their version of this great sport.
Not if there's something good on television the same night.

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