Unlike the World Series and, of late, the NBA Finals, the NCAA Championship Game is usually pretty good. There are your occasional clunkers, like last year’s North Carolina trouncing of Michigan State, but generally, we’ve had some nice ones: 2008’s Kansas-Memphis, 2007’s Florida–Ohio State, 2005’s North Carolina–Illinois. But no one will ever forget last night’s. Butler might have lost to Duke, but Butler did not lose. To quote Kevin Kaduk, a baseball writer using a baseball metaphor, “Butler is Josh Hamilton. Duke is Justin Morneau. We’ll remember what we remember.”
An argument sprung up last night after Gordon Heyward’s shot — that amazing, God let it go in half-court shot at the buzzer — just bounced out: If it had gone in, would it have been the best ending to a game in the history of basketball? You can make a very strong argument for it: “Plucky” underdog against hated historic power, in front of their hometown fans, coached by a cherubic idealist who doesn’t curse, in front of a pulsating crowd in a back and forth Balboa-Creed battle, the star Jimmy Chitwood making up for a previous miss (on a shot that looked perfect) with the impossible shot right as the horn sounded. It already might be the most exciting title game in history — if not necessarily the most beautifully played — without that shot. Had that gone in … well, it would have been some lovely magic last night, wouldn’t it?
Alas. Duke (one of the least hateable Duke teams to win the title, we think) wins its title, but everyone will always hold on to Butler. It is still very possible the NCAA Tournament will look very different next year than it did this year and has in the past. This might have a devastating effect, or it might not do anything at all. We don’t know. But if this was the last hurrah, if this is the last time the tournament is perfect, it’s difficult to imagine a better way for it to go out.
Okay, there would have been one better way: if the goddamned shot would have gone in.