This is the fourth and final dispatch between Chris and I to conclude the college basketball season. For background, read Parts One, Two, and Three.
As noted below, the end of March Madness is a sad time of year for me. After nearly a month of non-stop college hoops immersion, the withdrawal is particularly bitter. Let's conclude our 2006-07 basketball season hoops coverage with a tribute to this year's tournament and some sneak peeks at what lies ahead for next year.
Despite Florida being (more or less) comfortably ahead for the bulk of the game, I thought it was an entertaining contest. I know Billy Packer's commentary sort of ruins the experience for a lot of people, but I thought we witnessed a good basketball game that was a pretty nice microcosm of the tournament as a whole.
On the one hand, we saw Greg Oden continue to develop into one of the most fearsome players in all of college basketball. I'm starting to see a lot of, "What's Greg Oden really good for, anyway?" articles like this one these days, and frankly, I find them confusing. Even as recently as a month ago, I might have been on board with the sentiment, but I think he's proven his mettle this March. I also think that despite Oden's tremendous performance, the way Florida wore down Ohio State perfectly exemplified why we all thought they had a terrific chance to repeat. Despite Oden's effect on Noah and Horford, Florida still found ways to fill up the nets, showing why they're the most balanced offensive team in the country, and worthy (repeat) national title winners.
(By the way, I absolutely loved the style that Florida played throughout this tournament. They amped up into a fifth gear, and they did it with a real swagger. That term gets tossed about too carelessly at times, but the Gators absolutely played with the confidence of a champion. Every college coach in America who wants to teach his kids about how to exude a championship mentality needs to make his kids watch video of last night's title game over and over. As someone who knows what the "it" factor - or as it's known around these parts, the "VY" factor - can do for a team's chances of winning it all, the show the Gators put on this March is one to be soaked in by all title-aspiring teams.)
Despite the lack of drama in this year's NCAA tournament, I find myself oddly comforted by what we saw transpire. Four national-title winning sophomores shunned the NBA and returned to college for a chance at repeat glory. Two freshmen phenoms gave us a taste of what college hoops can and will be like with every great player heading to campus for at least one year. Better yet, they loved the experience, seemed to relish the "growing up" process, and have expressed genuine desire to return for more.
There are far too many reasons to be skeptical about sports these days, and this year's NCAA basketball field gave us quite a few stories we can feel good about: Young men who are less interested in money than in having a few good years in college. Guys who see college as the opportunity for growth as young men, as opposed to annoying stepping stones on the way to bigger and better things.
If we're really thinking about it, isn't that the big story of the 2006-07 basketball season? Not only were there not many villains in the sport this year, there were an unusually high number of inspiring kids.
Looking forward to next season. . . well, I may feel differently in two months than I do now. If Durant does what he says he wants to do and comes back for another year, I'll be the giddiest college hoops fan on the planet. If he decides that moving on to the professional ranks is the best decision for him, I'll be 100% supportive of him, but I'll also be tremendously sad.
Next year should be another great year for college hoops, and Bill Simmons was definitely right about one thing: college hoops is enjoying a renaissance. There are more high quality players in the game right now than there have been in some time, and that trend figures to continue. If we get Oden, Conley, and Durant back next season, we'll really be in for a treat. There are superstars playing college hoops. And I, for one, am loving it.