Posted: 7:33 a.m. Tuesday, April 9, 2013
By Zeke Smith
First of all, that was a really good game. For me it doesn't quite reach "instant classic" status because the late-game drama wasn't as heightened as it could potentially have been, but it was really refreshing to watch both teams playing at a high level and scoring coming from a lot of different players. I really felt like the game was especially well-coached, as Beilein and Pitino both threw a lot of different offensive and defensive looks at each other and made some in-game adjustments that led to a good back-and-forth stretch early in the second half before Louisville started to pad their lead. I feel like the 6-point margin in the final score was a fair representation on how (marginally) better the Cardinals were, and I don't feel like Michigan can play a lot of what-ifs about their team's performance, which is probably what you want as the losing team in a national title game. Trey Burke had the kind of game you want from your star player, the Wolverines got contributions off the bench in the unlikeliest of places with 17 points from Spike Albrecht, and they shot 52% for the game. Louisville is just a really, really good team that, quite honestly, deserved to win the National Championship. When you've overcome double-digit deficits in both of your Final Four games and win despite Russ Smith shooting 3-16.... yeah, that's pretty impressive.
About the officiating: I have pretty much given up trying to figure out what constitutes a foul in college basketball these days. I don't think either side has any reason to complain about the officiating being one-sided, but good gracious there were a number of sequences with guys getting absolutely mugged that drew no call whatsoever. Jay Bilas and a few others in the basketball media have been leading the charge this year on saying that the defensive physicality of the game is getting out of control and is preventing teams from effectively executing on offense. Fortunately I don't think the physical nature of the game last night affected how good both offenses were, but I think it was difficult not to notice how hard the two teams were knocking each other around. It was even apparent on offense a lot of times, where the Michigan guards were responding to Louisville's bumping-and-bruising full-court pressure by basically giving their defender a forearm shiver to create some space, and I don't recall anything ever being called. I'm all for preserving the flow of a game and not calling a lot of ticky-tack stuff, but there must be some kind of healthy middle ground the officials can hopefully find next year. (Also, let's make sure not to ever let Karl Hess ref another Final Four game, mmmmkay NCAA? Thanks. )
Biggest surprise of the night: You probably think this would go to Spike Albrecht's surreal 17-first-half-point performance, but no. Some of you know I live in England, and thus was forced to watch the game on ESPN's online international platform, where I am shocked to admit that... Dick Vitale was really enjoyable to listen to during the title game. Yes, you read that correctly. Vitale, as several outlets chronicled, was finally getting his first chance to announce an NCAA Championship game alongside play-by-play man Brad Nessler for ESPN's audience outside of America, and I thought Dickie V actually brought more to the table than he took off. He stayed on topic for the entirety of the game (usually his biggest flaw) and his enthusiasm rose and fell to match the tone of the game appropriately - he was getting fired up and shouting as Albrecht was knocking down threes but cooled down as the game had a more measured feel in the second half and contributed some decent analysis. With a game as good as that game was, you want some big-time gusto for big-time moments that often goes missing when you get someone as measured as Jim Nantz in the booth (and one of the main reasons college basketball fans bemoan the absence of Gus Johnson on CBS' tourney coverage). When Albrecht was raining threes and the Michigan fan base was exploding, Vitale responded by acknowledging the international viewing audience as only he could, exclaiming "Are you serious?? Canada, Italy, Germany, England - go wake up your friends! They need to be watching this game! They need to see this game babyyyyy!" I couldn't help but break into a smile.
From a rivalry perspective: One thing I kept thinking throughout the game was how surreal it must be for Kentucky fans to watch Rick Pitino coach Louisville to a National Championship. While UK-UofL doesn't have nearly the same fervor as Duke-Carolina, it would still be completely bizarre to watch a former Tar Heel turn around and coach Duke to an NCAA title, or vice versa. I'm sure the fact that UK won it last year and that their program is in the hands of a fantastic
cheater recruiter gives Wildcat fans plenty of solace, but imagining it happening on Tobacco Road makes my skin crawl. I doubt anything like that could ever happen given how different circumstances are with Duke and UNC, but let's pray that it never does.