NCAA hoops: Menís tournament was chock full of special moments
By MIKE LOPRESTI
INDIANAPOLIS - The party's over, with a championship game of such ferocity, it was a privilege to watch.
Time to put away college basketball. But first, six things we know now that we didn't know three weeks ago.
1. Duke is back.
Anyone still want to argue the Blue Devils didn't deserve that No. 1 seed?
Easy to lose in the feel-good aura of Butler's run was the return to power in Durham, engineered by a team with no glittering marquee names. Duke had supposedly lost a step in recent years. Not anymore.
"As good as the Butler story is, was and will be," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his players, "their story's pretty good, too."
In many ways, this was a true Krzyzewski production, with a relatively unglamorous team that had to grit its way to the trophy podium. And shouldn't four titles feel special?
"Tonight is not about that," he said Monday. "That's like, 10 years from now."
2. It's a new age at Butler.
Watch what happens to applications and donations. The university couldn't buy all this good publicity with gold bars.
Watch what happens to the pre-season poll for 2010-11. Butler as No. 1 or 2? Is that possible? Why not, with four starters back from a team that finished one shot from the national championship?
"It's changed the school," Krzyzewski said, from the outside looking in. "Butler will no longer be what it has been, which has been pretty darn good.
"Everything that's been good about Butler will now have a chance to be seen in many areas, not just basketball. . . . So what can that do for a school that's really good? I just think it's scary good."
3. The scrapbook of classics has a new page.
It is invariably tempting to name whatever moment that just happened as unforgettable, when the time span to remember is about three hours. But Monday night will linger, as a championship fight between a blueblood and an upstart, neither willing to blink.
A fight-to-the-last-breath duel is often more compelling that merely a parade of highlight plays. Also, harder to lose.
"It will become an historic game," Krzyzewski said.
"I can't imagine what those guys are feeling like," Duke's Jon Scheyer said of Butler.
The night, and the tournament, ended with a couple of intriguing ifs.
If Gordan Hayward's last heave goes in . . . could it have been argued as one of the most dramatic title-winning finishes ever in sport?
If that shot falls . . . would Krzyzewski's decision to Brian Zoubek to intentionally miss a free throw in the final seconds have lived in infamy forever, or just as long as Cameron Indoor Stadium stood? Imagine one of the greatest minds in the history of the game, thinking his way out of a championship.
4. It just got harder to dislike Bob Huggins.
You might know him as the great stone face of West Virginia. But the most poignant moment of the entire tournament was Huggins on his knees at the Final Four, whispering comfort to a young man in agony.
Da'Sean Butler had just wrecked his knee. Huggins had just proven why his players love him.
Now, if only he'd smile once a week.
5. It just got harder for the NCAA selection committee to dismiss mid-majors on the bubble.
All those teams need do to make their point is take out the list of 2010: Butler . . . Northern Iowa . . . Cornell . . . Saint Mary's.
Who could tell them no?
6. Behold, a vintage March.
Duke outlasted Butler in an absolute epic.
Kansas State's 101-96 win over Xavier in two overtimes might have been even better.
Ali Farokhmanesh took a shot for Northern Iowa that 99 out of 100 players would have been too shy to take, and gunned down Kansas.
Ohio was ninth seed in the Mid-American Conference, and crushed Georgetown.
Michigan State lost its best player and went to the Final Four. Down went Kentucky, up came Cornell.
And look's who's the last one standing. The ACC just won its fifth national championship in 10 years.
Butler changed so much. But not everything.