Saturday, April 2, 2011

If We Learn From the Past

Once upon a time March Madness actually concluded its business in March.  It is true kids.  I am not making that up.  However a NCAA Championship completed in March is akin to a World Series whose last pitch is thrown in October or a Super Bowl whose over-produced and likely horrific (SB 43 not included) half-time show stinks up the field in January.  It is a ghost.  It has gone the way of T-Rex and the dodo bird.  It simply does not exist any longer.  Perhaps unlike the final pairing above, it has a chance at a return.  I would not hold my breath waiting for that happen.  Maybe you are more adventurous and daring than I am.  If so, then take one good, long, last deep breath.  Methinks you are going to be a while.

Tonight in the cozy confines of whatever the hell the name of the stadium is where the Houston Texans of the National Football League play their home games (and I promise that once the team actually becomes relevant I will give enough of a rat's ass to learn the name of the joint), the Final Four shall be contested.  This year's last quartet standing features two schools that are commonly referred to as 'mid-majors':  Butler from the Horizon League and Virginia Commonwealth University of the Colonial Athletic Association.  It also features two schools who have - in their respective histories - already captured this particular title on multiple occasions:  the University of Kentucky and the University of Connecticut. 

As luck would have it, the way the tournament was structured this year, the winners of the Southeast Region and the Southwest Region were slated to square off against one another in one National Semi-Final while the winners of the East Region and the West Region were paired off in the other.  Thus, if this year's Final Four is viewed as being equally divided between Davids and Goliaths, then the evenness continues on through the semi-final pairings themselves.  David will play David in the first game as Butler battles VCU while Goliaths shall square off in the nightcap as UK and U. Conn play each other.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the game between the "little guys" is the first game on tonight's schedule.  It reinforces the notion that Butler and VCU have crashed a party usually reserved for folks with a higher profile than they are perceived to possess.  It reinforces the notion as well that these two are the warm-up act - the JV game if you will prior to the night's main event.  "Smart money" will tell you that the winner of this year's National Championship will more likely than not be whichever Goliath is still standing at night's end tonight.  Monday's game?  Not a complete formality but....well,  perhaps it is.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes (or something like that).  An adage worth bearing in mind tonight if and when those in the know start speaking of a UK or U. Conn championship as a foregone conclusion.  Once upon a time, in the era when the Final Four was still contested in a venue where basketball was actually played, there was a vibe to the Final Four analogous to this year's dichotomy of the Haves vs. the Have Nots.  People went so far as to talk about the two teams that played that year in the first National Semi-Final as competing in the "J.V game" and playing simply for the right to lose to the victor of the second National Semi-Final. 

And that year, unlike this year, the two teams presumptively relegated to the undercard were from major conferences.  One was from the SEC, which is Kentucky's home.  The other was from the ACC, a grouping of schools that includes Duke and North Carolina and has been known to play a bit of high-caliber hoops every now and again. Their conference affiliations notwithstanding, neither team in the opener was given a snowball's chance in Albuquerque (for that is where they contested that year's Final Four) of defeating whichever behemoth emerged victorious from the nightcap, featuring as it did two schools whose starting fives featured future pros, including Hall-of-Famers.

Come Championship Monday, a funny thing happened on the way to the Coronation of the Behemoth.  It never happened.  Instead, a desperation jumpshot was miraculously tranformed from an airball into an Alley-Oop and the Have Not's coach ran around like the crazy, overjoyed Italian he was just looking for somebody to hug. And in 1983, in the winner-take-all game between the JV and the Varsity, the JV took home the hardware.

All it takes is one moment.  Just one.  So if this evening you hear anyone speaking in absolutes about the likelihood of either Kentucky or Connecticut winning this year's National Championship, remember to do two things.  First, to always take with a grain of salt the man who speaks in absolutes.  Ask yourself how many things really "ALWAYS" happen or "NEVER" happen and assess his prophecies accordingly.  Second, to ask yourself, "Haven't we been here before?" and leave your mind open to the possibility that Monday night's winner will be determined Monday night.....

.....and not one second sooner.

-AK

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