April 6, 2016
I have been in sports and the sports/entertainment business for over 60 years. Those who are familiar with me, know that over the years, at different periods and sometimes at the same time, I have been a Sports Announcer of all sports, a college Basketball Coach and referee, a Pro team executive and from time-to-time, a team owner, President of a film studio’s Sports Division, a promoter of some exceptionally big world-class events, a personal manager and a TV advisor to a major Sports union.
All that being said, in my pomposity, I decided like millions of other Americans, I would fill out my own March Madness bracket. With all of the foregoing background, I considered myself an “Expert”. I should have remembered my late wife’s definition of an “Expert”.
Her definition of “Expert” is someone who is away from home. So, I filled out my bracket only to find out I was not only away from home, I was completely out to sea. I didn’t miss just one, or two of the teams, but by the second round, I had named only two of the teams correctly and they were soon to be eliminated in the next round. I completely fulfilled my late wife’s definition.
However, all was not lost! Thanks to my utilization of the electronic media, I was able to watch every game. To me, it was most gratifying.
In all my years, I do not believe I enjoyed any event that ran for a fortnight as much. Plus, from the Final Four on, I was on the edge of my seat.
I have this dear friend, Jerry Berger. His oldest granddaughter is a senior at Villanova. So, vicariously, I had a rooting interest. Boy, was I rewarded!
First, there was the game against the vaunted Oklahoma powerhouse. Without a doubt, up until that point Oklahoma had the one player who was head and shoulders above the rest as the possible MVP, (Most Valuable Player) in Buddy Hield. He appeared unstoppable.
He was hitting shots from all over the field and practically scoring from everywhere on the courts and almost at will. That is until Oklahoma bumped into Villanova. Buddy was held to just 9 points.
Villanova had not just one, or two players in double figures that night, but they had six players…a true team effort. They passed the ball and scored with ease, (they shot 71% for the game) while holding Oklahoma to slightly more than 30%. At one point in the second half, V ran off 25 unanswered points. As a result, Villanova won by the most lopsided score in Final Four history… 44 points, (the final score was 95-51. North Carolina, a perennial powerhouse beat Syracuse by a wide margin in the other Final Four game.
The Championship game was set. In the final, NC with its Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams, would be seeking its 6th NCAA Championship. Whereas, Villanova with its coach of 15 years, Jay Wright, had never reached the Finals.
Williams, up this point, had an over 80% win record with 14 consecutive NCAA appearances at both The University of Kansas and North Carolina. So far, he is the only coach in history to lead two different programs to the Final Four.
His coaching adversary was Jay Wright. Wright enjoys a pretty good resume himself. In his 15 years at Villanova, he has taken the Wildcats to 12 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. The last time Villanova won the tournament was 1985. It was their only championship. If it was to be, 2016, was to be their second.
As the game unfolded, it lived up to all the pre-game hype and better. Let me try to explain it. The words to best describe the game… How about “awesome. overwhelming, grand, breathtaking, splendid, tremendous, remarkable, amazing, awe-inspiring, or fearsome? It was all of these!
There were nine lead changes. The coaches were at the top of their game. Villanova, although they trailed 39-34 at the half, led for most of the second half … at one point, by ten points. With a 1:10 left to play UNC had cut the lead to 70-69.
A three point shot by North Carolina’s Paige tied the score at 74 all with 4.7 seconds left to play. But as they say, “It is not over until the obese chanteuse warbles, (the fat lady sings), so with 4.7 seconds left , Chris Jenkins matched the UNC three and with 1 second left gave Villanova the victory.
Wow! WOW! WOW!
Villanova’s Senior Captain Ryan Acidiacono, a local boy, was named MVP of the Final Four. Taking nothing away from him, he deserved it. However, as my friend Don Esters pointed out that all throughout the tournament, they won by a complete team effort.
To the best of my knowledge, an entire team has never been awarded this accolade. However, my friend Don Esters said “Why not?” I ask the same question…”Why not?”.
One last thing before I sign off! Jerry Berger pointed out to me that coach Jay Wright annually addresses the entire incoming Freshman class, not just the players, as to the importance of education and achieving good grades. To me and the results he has achieved, is a big plus for the student athlete… not the one and done employed by many of the so-called powerhouse Universities.
I applaud Coach Wright.
All-in-all, “March Madness” for four weeks made me a “Manic Depressive”. Villanova helped restore my sanity.