Seventy-five thousand people packed into an NFL stadium. Hundreds of souvenir t-shirt shops lining the city. Free concerts from Dave Matthews Band, Macklemore and Sting.
None of this can detract from the unfortunate reality of the NCAA championship game: It might be the most anticlimactic title game in sports.
Think about it. Four weeks ago in this space, I wrote that the first two days of the tournament are “the best days of the year.” And after watching four games at the same time in the jPad that Thursday and Friday, my theory definitely held up. Then we fused all four screens to watch Marquette pull out a miracle win against Davidson. Talk about madness.
The second weekend of the tournament usually has the most exciting games. This year didn’t disappoint, producing such classics as the Trey Burke-led Michigan overtime comeback win over Kansas.
All the excitement of 64 win-or-go-home games boils down to three important contests during the tournament’s final weekend. If even one game ends up a blowout, the air of excitement fizzles out like someone popped a balloon. It’s the unfortunate reality the greatest tournament in sports has to grapple with every year.
However, the 2013 Final Four conquered the NCAA tournament’s persistent third weekend challenge.
It had everything. Louisville played the goliath as the number one overall seed from history’s greatest basketball conference, while Wichita State, a No. 9 seed from small-town Kansas, represented David. On the other side of the bracket, two storied basketball programs, one with the national player of the year and the other with the country’s most vaunted defense, went to war.
Both games were fights to the bitter end. Louisville used a 21-8 run and timely Luke Hancock shooting to sprint past Wichita State 72-68. In the other semifinal, Michigan provided the blueprint for how to break down the Syracuse zone, sinking eight three-pointers and using freshman center Mitch McGary in the high and low posts to lock up the 61-56 victory.
True to form, the final gave fans everything they wanted and more. In the first half, diminutive backup guard Spike Albrecht led Michigan to an early 12-point lead, but Hancock scored 14 points in two minutes to draw Louisville back within one at the half. The rest of the game went back and forth until a late surge from Peyton Siva earned the Cardinals the 2013 crown.
So, sure, the Final Four can be an anti-climax. But in a year where even November had fans on the edge of their seats, Atlanta’s 2013 iteration offered a fitting end to a wonderful season.