Three for 31. That is how poorly the Butler University Bulldogs shot from inside the three-point line on Monday in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship in their 53-41 loss to the University of Connecticut Huskies. Butler had almost as many shots blocked (10) as field goals made (12).
UConn did not do much better, shooting 34.5 percent from the field (including one-of-11 from three) in what seems destined to be known as the worst championship game ever played.
But the final game should be a footnote on what was one of the greatest NCAA Tournaments in history, if not the absolute best. The Huskies may not have won in stunning fashion, but consider their story.
Starting three freshmen and no seniors, UConn entered the season unranked and looking nothing like the 2009 edition of the team that made the Final Four.
But over the course of an up-and-down season in which the Huskies finished ninth in the Big East in the regular season, junior point guard Kemba Walker emerged as one of the best players in the country. In the Big East tournament, Walker led the team to five victories in five nights, earning them a No. 3 seed in the West region of the NCAA Tournament and fought their way to an unprecedented national championship.
Of course, Connecticut was far from the only major story of the tournament. In its first year with a 68-team field, the selection committee forced 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University to participate in a play-in game against the University of Southern California for the right to play against Georgetown University on the first weekend of the tournament.
The Rams disposed of USC by 13, had a pair of dominant 18-point victories against higher-seeded Georgetown and Purdue University, escaped Florida State University in overtime and beat top-seeded Kansas University by 10 to advance to their first ever Final Four.
The University of Arizona Wildcats made the much-maligned Pac-10 look respectable with a dominant Sweet 16 performance against top-seeded Duke University, led by forward Derrick Williams’ 32 points and 13 rebounds. Unheralded Morehead State University delivered a stunning upset of the fourth-seeded University of Louisville in the second round, with the help of the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder, Kenneth Faried.
Naismith Award winner Jimmer Fredette of Brigham Young University wowed the country with his outrageous shooting range in games against Wofford University, Gonzaga University and the University of Florida.
Eight of the 32 opening weekend games were decided by three points or less, often coming down to the last shot. Most notably, the Final Four consisted of no one- or two-seeds for the first time ever, with a record-high combined seed total of 26. Despite the low-quality final, the semifinal mathcups of VCU-Butler and ConnecticutUniversity of Kentucky provided a lot of excitement. Brackets across the nation were busted early, and the tournament was a success because of it.
So don’t let a historically inept shooting performance in the championship game spoil the memory of this year’s NCAA Tournament. March Madness truly lived up to its nickname this year, and a tournament with this level of excitement is unlikely to happen again for a very long time.